Not All Remote Devices Are Mobile: Managing Intelligent Connected Devices

Have you ever been shopping at one of your favorite stores, gotten up to the register, and been unable to locate your card for that particular shop? (This always happens to me when I stop to pick up something at the grocery store because my wife carries those cards.) The cashier is usually happy to offer to look up your account by phone number or some other identifier right through the register. Now, have you ever thought of how that's made possible? Obviously they don't have a complete customer database in the register, or even at the store level.

Fortunately, companies such as Odyssey Software have been thinking about this very thing—remote device management for "intelligent connected devices." This point has been highlighted by Odyssey Software's announcement this week that the Coca-Cola Company is using the company's Athena remote management software, in conjunction with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 (SCCM), to remotely manage the new and state-of-the-art Coca-Cola Freestyle beverage dispensers.

First, a little bit about what these drink dispenser do. In this digital age of overwhelming choice, this fountain dispenser fits right in: A single dispenser provides an intuitive touch screen display with over 100 different beverage choices to quench your thirst from various Coca-Cola brands, including Coke, Diet Coke, Fanta, Dasani, and Minute Maid. You can also add additional flavors, such as orange or raspberry, to create flavors that aren't otherwise commercially available. The poor is based on microdosing technology, originally developed in the medical field, and the machine itself is outfitted with flavor or ingredient packets that are much like ink jet cartridges. The ingredients are injected directly into the poor stream, and from all accounts, the flavors are as pure as anything you've seen from Coke since its earliest days.

Through the remote management piece, Coca-Cola is able to monitor and collect data both on the overall health of the machines as well as specific sales information. You can see a video below from CNBC that shows the Freestyle dispenser in action as well as some of its reporting features. Coca-Cola is still testing them in limited, though expanding, markets; you can see a list of current locations on the Coca-Cola Freestyle Facebook page. Personally, as an only-Coke-no-Pepsi person, I can't wait to give one a try.

Odyssey Software partnered with Microsoft to work with Coca-Cola on this project, which has been ongoing for several years. As Odyssey Software CEO Mark Gentile explained, they were evaluated against other remote management contenders and ultimately Coke chose the Athena/SCCM combination for the project. "Configuration Manager is the back end infrastructure, the management console . . . the single pane of glass for all the management tasks, whether its provisioning, or remote control, or things like that," Gentile said. "Athena is both used on the device side, so it’s our agent that's exclusively on the device side that's being used. And then on the ConfigMan side, we have some extensions that we install into the Configuration Manager environment so it adds new features to the console to do things with these embedded devices or mobile devices that you typically can't do out of the box with ConfigMan."

I've spoken with Odyssey Software and looked at the Athena product several times over the years, but always as a mobile device management platform. However, as Gentile explained, the company is seeing things somewhat differently these days. "There's a need to manage mobile devices," Gentile said. "But really the category that we're in is about managing intelligent connected devices. Mobile is one segment of an intelligent connected device—that's one type. Smartphones are one type of an intelligent connected device. So is a cash register." And it's no surprise, therefore, that Athena is also licensed to companies that do the sort of cash register management that lets stores look up your various loyalty program cards when you wander in without them.

It's exciting technology: both what Coca-Cola is doing with its innovative new fountain, and what Odyssey is doing with remote device management. I love it when some of my favorite things come together in unexpected ways.

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