By Paul Hepperla, vice president of North American solution sales, Emerson Climate Technologies
Just as the Internet has revolutionized the everyday lives of consumers, the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming operational performance for convenience stores.
IoT is a network of physical items within the store – refrigerated cases, ovens and other facility systems – implanted with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that enable the collection and exchange of data. Convenience store retailers grow more agile with the use of IoT because they can access and analyze data insights to improve operations.
As convenience store retailers expand their foodservice offerings to increase revenue, the store environment becomes more complex. Effective monitoring and management for all facility systems, including kitchen equipment, becomes even more important as productivity and food quality can directly affect the consumer experience, and eventually impact the bottom line. By integrating the management of process equipment with traditional building controls for HVAC, refrigeration and lighting, organizations can use one platform to control all systems and optimize facility operations, reduce energy consumption, lower equipment downtime and decrease maintenance costs.
Convenience store operators need to capture their actual system operating levels using real-time performance data of their stores. The move toward IoT and more intelligent, connected stores can be beneficial in providing these valuable insights.
Equipment Control and Monitoring
With connected facility technology, a convenience store operator can remotely monitor all store equipment—from ovens and other cooking equipment to the buildings HVAC system and refrigerated cases—across an entire chain of stores. This visibility and control enables equipment efficiency, energy efficiency and maintenance for consistent product quality. Sensors provide system data that can be accessed remotely by technicians and third party monitoring centers to perform equipment analysis, generate reports and offer recommendations for improvement. In addition, retailers will receive real-time alerts of potential problems, which can be processed, triaged and resolved to reduce maintenance costs and avoid equipment failure.
Efficient, Accurate Equipment Updates
Many retail store environments are populated with legacy equipment and new generations of devices functioning on different operating systems. By connecting all equipment with the latest facility management technology, convenience stores can remotely upgrade their systems with the latest software. Embedded electronics allow the retailer to remotely monitor equipment for quality control, improve on-time production and decrease unnecessary service calls.
IoT Enables Connected Kitchens
To remain competitive, convenience stores are offering more foodservice items and variety is important to their consumers. Making menu changes in kitchen equipment programs has traditionally been a slow, manual process. For example, to add new items to ovens across a chain of stores, USB drives or manual instructions would be mailed to each location and they would rely on local store staff to individually upload the file before they could start selling that new item to customers. This scenario could take months, and there is no way to monitor for brand and food quality consistency. By leveraging IoT and connecting kitchen equipment to integrated facility controls, menu programs can be installed remotely, ensuring consistency and accuracy across the region. This new IoT-enabled process can be done in minutes, allowing convenience stores the flexibility to update menu items more often to adapt to seasonal and consumer food trends.
Safeguarding Fresh Foods
Avoiding equipment failure also allows convenience store retailers to maintain food safety and quality for the fresh foods they offer. With the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), detailed monitoring, record keeping and reporting of food temperatures for commercial food producers and suppliers, including convenience stores, will be critical. Connected store equipment can provide real-time updates of temperature and other necessary data for compliance with new food safety regulations. Equipment sensors allow store managers to be alerted of system performance issues that could compromise food safety, giving them the insights needed to fix potential problems before they impact the shopper. The data can also be used to archive records of foodservice equipment cooking temperatures and times to ensure they are consistently monitoring food quality.
Making Insights Actionable
Intelligent, connected facility technologies are already installed in many retail environments – using building controls for lighting and HVACR, in the back of house and within the foodservice areas. Integrating all convenience store systems through connected, IoT technology enables actionable insights to improve operational efficiency and enhance equipment performance as retailers collect, process and analyze the valuable data available.
Paul Hepperla is vice president of North American solution sales at Emerson Climate Technologies. In his current role, Paul is responsible for developing new opportunities, strategic growth and sales for Emerson’s Enterprise Services within key retail end user verticals.