How WMF is serving up the future of coffee
In a world of rapid technological change, it is no surprise that the coffee industry is also targeting digital solutions. At the forefront is heavyweight WMF.
By the time WMF started manufacturing commercial coffee machines in 1927, the company was already three-quarters of a century old. Turning out coffee machines was no great leap, says Martin Grupp, WMF’s Vice-President Projects Global Business Unit PCM, and a mechanical engineer by training: the company had long been making household metalware such as pressure cookers and cutlery.
In the decades since, coffee’s popularity has continued to grow, as has WMF’s global footprint. Today, the German-based firm supplies its professional range of products including superautomatics, specialty machines, and filter coffee machines to the hospitality sector, restaurants, fast-food chains and a bevy of other clients in Europe, Japan, the United States and beyond.
This is a highly competitive arena. And in a world where technology advances ever more quickly, yet where the science behind extracting coffee is little changed, it is the extras that companies can provide that could differentiate the winners from the also-rans.
That’s where WMF’s concept of Digital Coffee comes in.
“Of course, by that we at WMF don’t mean that the coffee itself is digital,” Grupp says. “It is still black or white, Americano or cappuccino. What we mean by Digital Coffee is digitalised services, and that is all about lifting what our customers sell to another level.”
Digital Coffee, then, is about helping WMF’s clients do what they already do – just better: more efficiently, more reliably and more profitably. It has technology at its heart. In March, WMF will launch a digital platform called WMF CoffeeConnect, an app that clients can access via their smartphone, tablet and computer.
“At the most basic level, we need to fulfil our customers’ needs, and those come down to his or her menu and the number of beverages they make money from,” Grupp says.
For those clients that sign up, the technology underpinning WMF CoffeeConnect will collect, analyse and process performance and service data from WMF’s machines anywhere in the world, using Big Data to shift more coffee.
“Specifically, this solution is about the intelligent handling of that data, which is, after all, the basis for more efficient and more economic business models in the digital age,” he says.
Digitisation can bring “massive economic potential” in this area, says Grupp, in terms of streamlining processes, ensuring costs and handling remain in line with benchmarks, and customising products and offerings in real time. In short, WMF CoffeeConnect is structured to make data meaningful to customers’ businesses. To achieve this, CoffeeConnect has four key components: connecting the machines to a centralised data point; knowing the location of each machine; collating information on repairs and supply levels, and leveraging the knowledge of WMF’s staff involved in maintaining and repairing its machines. “Collecting all of that data makes resolving problems quicker and helps us to avoid other issues too,” says Grupp.
Setting up a vast internet of things covering many of WMF’s 100,000-plus machines will generate huge amounts of data. When parsed, that should provide customers with significant advantages, as WMF showed in October when it introduced WMF CoffeeConnect at its stand at the Host exhibition in Milan. Visitors saw how WMF CoffeeConnect would help a facilities manager: the app provides a real-time condition report of all the coffee machines in the building, allowing the manager to plan the day efficiently. One machine, for instance, might have run out of coffee beans; another might have jammed.
“You can imagine how useful it is to a services manager if the machine tells him that it’s running low on supplies,” says Grupp. “Or if it can tell the facilities manager that its water-tank is broken, and then directly links her to the site where she can buy a replacement water-tank with a tap of the button on her smartphone.”
And if the manager was unable to fix the problem on-site, they could access the knowledge base through the app or file a service ticket asking the call centre for help. WMF CoffeeConnect will also let the facilities manager know, for instance, how to clean a machine.
“After all, who consults the user manual these days?” he says. “What’s useful is providing the particular content of the user manual in the app at the moment where it is needed. Or to take another example: every engineer out there who repairs a machine – that repair is a solution. Collating this information allows us to provide that solution to others who might have the same problem.
“The knowledge base, the text mining, the repair data – we want to take all of this and combine it with telemetry, with the internet of things, this deep actual knowledge that we have, and provide it to our customers,” he says. “I can tell you that in the conversations I had with our customers at Host, the feedback was great.
Useful though that is, WMF CoffeeConnect does more: it monitors what is being sold from which machines, and whether sales are up or down. That allows a food-chain manager, for example, to analyse performance in a particular location and decide whether to add machines or to set up promotions to boost revenues – all through the app, as visitors to WMF’s stand at Host saw with a hands-on preview of WMF CoffeeConnect.
“We showed them the live system – system-wise, architecture-wise, it’s there,” says Grupp. “People understood the value of this business intelligence and the incident management areas that WMF CoffeeConnect provides. Now we need to go deeper, helping our customers use this business intelligence so that they can understand their customers better.”
The process of trialling and refining WMF CoffeeConnect is already underway.
“Ultimately, we need to be able to adopt new requirements based on feedback, to analyse data quickly and to change the app quickly where needed,” he says.
Ultimately, Grupp says, WMF CoffeeConnect is about providing WMF’s customer with transparency.
“And that’s really what we want to show. It means we can better understand what is happening with someone’s coffee machine, and it lets us know how we can help the customer if something is abnormal.”
All of which raises the question: In this fast-changing environment, what technological advancement is WMF looking at next?
“We ask that internally and we ask IT companies what is close to broad usage, and it’s Augmented Reality for sure,” he says. “Take Apple’s new operating system – it has AR capability, and we can see this technology is picking up and becoming easier to make use of. The vision is that by 2019 or 2020, depending on the circumstances, we will be getting the most out of that technology.”
For now, though, Grupp and his team are focused on refining WMF CoffeeConnect ahead of its launch. Grupp is confident it will be well received.
“And why? Because our guiding principle all along was to ask the customer what they need, and only then to look at what IT solutions could provide that,” he says. “This is the process that has brought us to WMF CoffeeConnect. We were always thinking: ‘What is the added value for them?’ At the end of the day, how can we help our customers to make more money?”