Keeping An Eye On The Store - InformationWeek

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Keeping An Eye On The Store

Apigent's device-monitoring features collect data from Opto 22 monitors installed at a customer's restaurants or stores and transmits the information to a centralized Oracle database.

Remote-diagnostics technology is finding its way into a variety of places, from restaurants to the Federal Aviation Administration. In May, Apigent Solutions Inc. in Oklahoma City launched an operations management service for fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offers device monitoring as an option.

Customers install the system to increase security and prevent loss, reduce energy costs, and detect equipment failures or the need for preventative maintenance, says Jim Melvin, CEO of Apigent. As with many new technologies, "there's some expense, but customers have to understand the ROI involved with this," he says. "One freezer's worth of saved foods is going to pay for this system."

The device-monitoring option, part of Apigent's service, short for Zero-Latency Enterprise Operations Management, collects data from Opto 22 monitors installed at a customer's restaurants or stores and transmits the information to a centralized Oracle database. Opto 22 designs monitoring tools that employ Ethernet, TCP/IP, and Simple Network Management Protocol technology to connect real-world devices directly to a network, the company says.

Apigent runs the data through its own ZEOM operations management application to create real-time or historic reports or to issue customer alerts. Customers can choose which conditions will trigger alerts and what levels of alerts will be issued in response to various conditions. In one case, a restaurant owner frustrated with a chronically-late manager asked to be paged 15 minutes after the restaurant's scheduled opening time if the restaurant's front door was stilled closed.

Apigent provides its base service at about 600 sites, and nine of those sites have opted for the device-monitoring service level. Within 45 days, Apigent expects to have at least 25 sites subscribing to the service.

So far, Apigent customers include franchise groups that own and operate chains of Burger King, Pizza Pizza, Taco Bell, or Sonics fast-food restaurants. Places where Apigent's sensors can be installed include front doors, back doors, safes, bathroom doors, windows, coolers, freezers, steam tables, and cash registers. The devices can sense and report on factors ranging from current weather conditions to the amount of money in a cash register or the number of patrons that visited a restaurant's bathroom during a given time period.

The inclusion of device monitoring as part of the larger service "really fleshes out our ability to paint brush stroke by brush stroke exactly what's happening inside a facility," Melvin says. Furthermore, the application of business rules to the data lets Apigent customize the format of the reports and the data it reports to customers, he adds.

"A lot of it is being proactive and knowing when something is going to break down before it happens," says Steve Pazol, president of Professional Consulting Services Inc. in Chicago. The company offers packages of managed remote-diagnostic and CRM-type services to corporations that need to monitor assets and respond appropriately to events.

The company has clients in the wireless telecommunications, energy, and retail industries. Its services rely on on-site Opto 22 remote-diagnostic equipment, which senses events and transmits event data to Professional Consulting, where it is warehoused in an SQL Server database and fed into a Computer Associates Unicenter Service Desk application.

"That's where the workflow and business policies are implemented, such as service level tracking, notification, and escalation," Pazol says. One type of site the company monitors is the cellular telephone tower. Remote sensors track such parameters as the status of beacons and markers, status of network access, temperature, operation of lighting controllers, and power conditions, including the status of backup generators.

"The neat thing is that something happens in the physical environment, we sense it, and without any intervention, we're responding," Pazol says. The application can even do things as mundane as faxing a notification to the Federal Aviation Administration if the aircraft warning lights on a cellular telephone tower go out, according to Pazol.

To date, the company provides managed remote-diagnostic services to about a half dozen customers, which brings the number of sites being monitored to about 10,000.

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