MegaZone (zonereyrie) wrote,

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Woo-hoo! We've rolled out!

Ok, people who know me and/or have been reading my journal have probably noticed that I've been putting it a fair bit of time at work the past several weeks. That's because we were in the final stretch to our big product rollout. When I say 'big' I mean "If this project fails we're all looking for work." This is make-or-break for the company. If it succeeds, even slightly, it buys us some time to bring in more customers and develop more big deals like this one. If it doesn't, the investors will cut their losses.

Well, so far, so good.

For those who don't know, I work for a small company called Cyphermint. We have an online payment technology, called PayCash, used to make cash payments over the Internet, but we're a startup so there aren't many users yet. The technology makes for a good general purpose payment conduit, and that's what this project is about - we're partnered with 7-Eleven and NCR on the 7-11 VCOM kiosk project. Our part of the project is two fold: 1) we sell the advertising space on the kiosk - the upper loop monitor and the 'banner ads' on the kiosk touch screen and 2) we've created the entire shopping section of the kiosk, and our payment system is what handles the cash payments at the kiosk, gets the order info to the vendors securely, etc. The latter is the stuff I work on - mainly on the merchant side, helping them integrate our scripts into their order systems. (As well as developing the scripts in the first place, as in the oft mentioned Perl port I'm finishing.) But I also have had a role in many other areas - 7-Eleven required us to undergo a security audit, and I have a network security background. So I was involved in sorting out our network and making sure we passed (we did). I've also been involved in developing some of the engineering requirements for the system, and I've provided a little bit of my web technology expertise to the kiosk team when they got stuck with some JavaScript bugs. And we had a *lot* of work with the QA and testing process, especially over the past several weeks, it was intense.

Over the past few days 7-Eleven has rolled out our software on 850+ kiosks in their stores across several states. They're continually rolling out the hardware to new stores, and now as they do our software will be going live on them. The intial phase is 1000 stores (some stores may have multiple units) - if it continues to go well, it could be 3,500 stores this year - and eventually around 6,000 stores total if they go all the way. (This is a US deployment, who knows what they might do overseas - they already have a system in Japan with different features, none of the shopping stuff.)

So, if you live in an area where the 7-Eleven's have a 'VCOM' unit - do me a favor, go buy a CD or a DVD or something. :-)

To start with there are CDs, DVDs, and books. In the near future we should have 1-800-Flowers up (there was a push to have them on before Mother's Day, but it looks like that isn't gonna happen), jewelry, posters and prints (, consumer electronics, etc. We have Best Buy signed up, but large companies tend to take a little while to get implemented. Ok, if you're reading this you'd probably just buy these things via the web instead of a kiosk with a limited selection (each merchant will generally list 6-24 items for now) - it is mainly targetted at people who don't normally access the web, or for impulse purchases.

These units are full-fledged ATMs (3' wide, 8' tall, 2200#) with a lot of features. NCR's HW is impressive. It does check cashing and money order vending. It is a Western Union terminal - so you can send or receive money transfers. It does some online bill paymenr (I know Verizon is signed up for that). The coolest thing about the unit is the bill accepter. Instead of putting bills in an envelope and waiting for someone to confirm it, or feeding bills in one by one, you can stick in a wad of up to 32 bills at once! The unit will separate and sort them, and determine how much you've inserted. So it makes cash payments easy, and the cash you feed in is instantly 'spendable'. So when you make a deposit, cash a check, or receive a money transfer, the unit will offer you the chance to go shopping with the money in the units memory. So all those people who cash their checks at 7-Eleven (and that's a LOT of people), will be presented with a chance to spend their pay before it is dispensed. Yeah, I know, that's kind of evil. ;-)

This project has drawn the attention of some other chains, and we've also been talking with some other hardware vendors. NCR makes some impressive stuff, but it is overkill for many, and they're expensive. We're hoping to use the momentum to land some other kiosk deals since we're the only vendor with a complete, working, deployed solution of this kind.

Also, the scripts used for the kiosk are a superset of those used for the PayCash online payment system. So the vendord we're signing up for the kiosk should be adding us to their ecommerce sites over time as well. (It is actually part of the kiosk contracts that they do so.)

We also have several other projects in the works to take us into new areas.

It is a little stressful working for a company just getting on its feet, and working hard to make the grade. But when things work it is all the more satisfying. I'm very happy that this phase has finally rolled out. But now we have to focus on signing up more vendors for the kiosk, and PayCash only vendors. Plus we have to work on the spec for Rev1.1 - we already know there are several things missing from the code that rolled out, based on vendor feedback.

Never a dull moment.
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