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When people think about wireless technology, smart phones, laptops, or routers (that magic box that gives you Wi-Fi) usually come to mind. Yet wireless capabilities have spread into more novel applications. The most exciting of these uses is machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, which enables any number of connected devices to be monitored and controlled remotely. Tesla, for example, updates their vehicles wirelessly, and companies like Nest Labs have long been pushing the concept of a “smart home” sporting a network of intelligently connected appliances and devices. Nestlé SA is the first coffee company to extensively utilize M2M tech in coffee machines, adding significant measures of value and control for Nestlé’s professional customers, enabling the spread of specialty coffee choices, and providing an excellent case-study on how the coffee industry can utilize M2M and wireless technology.
Nestlé’s first M2M capable machine came in 2012 with the Nespresso Zenius, a pod-based machine from Nespresso’s business line. In the Zenius, M2M allows remote tracking of maintenance procedures, alerting staff if maintenance is required. Machine temperature and pressure are also tracked, and can be remotely adjusted to ensure a consistent brew. 2013 saw the introduction of the Nescafé Milano Lounge model, a self-serve machine capable of brewing a variety of speciality coffee beverages. Equipped with wireless capabilities similar to the Zenius, it also allows customers to remotely track consumption data so that they might better utilize the machine’s targeted promotion features.
However, Nestlé’s most advanced use of M2M comes with the Nescafé Milano 2.0, also released in 2013. Similar to the Lounge model, the Milano 2.0 has all the remote management and tracking features of the Zenius and Lounge models but expands these capabilities to not just one, but an entire fleet of machines via a cloud service. A customer can remotely configure and service their entire fleet, and each of the machines relays consumption data to sales and marketing teams. This swath of information enables a customer to remotely customize recipes or introduce new ones based on factors such as the time of day, year, and geographic location. M2M gives Milano 2.0 owners the tools needed to more effectively utilize however many machines they own, wherever they are.
Clearly, when looking at all of the ways Nestlé utilizes M2M features, business customers reap numerous benefits. This makes the machines more enticing to purchase, and helps drive sales in the out-of-home coffee category for Nestlé. M2M also makes the services that often come with the machines more valuable. Take a service like menu consultation: since Nestlé gathers consumption data from each of their machines, they have a better picture of trends and preferences than any of their individual customers. Thus, menu consultation can be tailored to the latest and most relevant information available, maximizing its value to businesses.
Still, M2M helps Nestlé in other ways. Maintenance tracking helps reduce Nestlé’s costs. Technical issues can be detected before they escalate, and some servicing can even be done remotely. Connection to a cloud service enables remote software updates, which is much cheaper than sending out a technician. When designing new generations of coffee machines, instead of relying only on customer feedback, the maintenance data available to Nestlé can help them identify problem areas in both hardware and software that need to be addressed.
Nestlé’s use of M2M has been targeted towards machines that provide flavourful, specialty coffee. While it is doubtful that these machines can exceed the quality of specialist coffee outlets, they may not need to. What these innovations can do is help foodservice customers without expertise in specialty coffee trends satisfy consumers who demand better and more varied coffee options.
The increasing number of specialist coffee outlets, up 31% over 2009-2014, and the higher standards of consistency, quality and variety of in-home coffee (in large part because of pod-based retail coffee systems), have elevated consumer expectations. No matter where they are, consumers want better coffee, but in some locations, they can be left unsatisfied with present options; in particular, non-coffee specialists like bakeries, fast food chains, or hotels. These venues are the ideal customers for Nestlé’s wireless coffee machines. Without investing in barista training, non-coffee specialists can offer higher quality specialty coffee beverages, with the ability to smoothly introduce new recipes and tailor current ones to buyers’ whims and recent consumer trends in terms of coffee format and flavour.
Given the internet connectivity of wireless coffee machines, the future might see the integration of digital wallet payment systems into vending machines via technologies like Near Field Communication (NFC) chips. To minimize risk, this feature could be integrated only when digital wallet payments become more prevalent in other outlets, enough to justify the cost of implementing such a feature. This capability bodes especially well for coffee machines like the Milano, which are capable of brewing a large variety of customizable beverages. Digital wallet payment can be paired with a smartphone or smartwatch app where customers can customize their orders beforehand and then simultaneously pay and order when they reach the machine. Furthermore, thanks to M2M, consumption tracking data can be used as a basis for a suggested or most popular drinks feature on an ordering app. Such an application can also be used to push the same targeted promotions that appear on the coffee machines themselves.
Presently, coffee machines with wireless capabilities exist almost exclusively in business settings, with only a few retail filter coffee machines that can be controlled over Wi-Fi with a smart phone. In regards to wireless capabilities, consumer coffee machines are far behind their business counterparts, but even they have room for further advancement. So will we ever see more wireless tech in consumer coffee machines? Perhaps, but it depends on the type of machine. The retail coffee industry’s current juggernaut, pod-based machines, are unlikely to see any wireless features. As mentioned previously, the pod-based Nespresso Zenius has a number of remote proactive maintenance measures, but integrating similar features on the consumer side would entail more expensive machines, and complicate installation when simply offering a warranty that can satisfy most customers. When it comes to filter coffee or espresso machines, existing smartphone control features with possible integration into a smart-home system seem like a viable evolution. For today’s Wi-Fi connected models, software tweaks can enable smart-home integration, and together with small hardware additions, convenient features like replenishment reminders could also be added
For home coffee machine users then, wireless technology will not be nearly as ground-breaking as it will be for business users. The ability to deftly manage entire fleets of machines, use those machines as a means of gathering useful data and better connecting to consumers through their mobile devices is simply something the coffee industry hasn’t seen before. Furthermore, as wireless technology facilitates the spread of speciality coffee, consumers can be more confident that their expectations of coffee quality and variety will be satisfied, even outside their favourite coffeehouse. As the costs of networking devices come down, expect to see more players in the coffee industry make use of, and further expand wireless applications to further tap the world’s growing ecosystem of mobile devices.