Pitney Bowes, the company that makes the giant and not-so-giant postage machines for businesses, is connecting its postage meters to the Internet using technology from a startup called Electric Imp.
Roger Pilc, chief innovation officer of Pitney Bowes, says the $4 billion company connected the franking machines for a variety of reasons, but they all had to do with sharing more data. The primary reason was to track problems with the machines' and to create a maintenance program so customers could avoid outages that would prevent them from sending mail.
The web connected machines will also automatically be able to share codes describing any problems so that customer service representatives wouldn't have to ask for a description over the phone.
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That same connectivity can also be put to use as part of an ink replenishment service similar to what HP or Amazon offers their printer customers. Under the new program, customers can tell their machines to automatically re-order ink from Pitney when they are running low.
Customers also will get updates on how much ink they use, the number of envelopes sent, and other data related to the machine.
Pilc sees more services being added in the future. "One of our strategic objectives is an increasingly digital relationship with our clients," he says. Over time, the goal is to build services that customers might pay extra for on top of the digital platform of basic services. However, Pitney doesn't want higher costs keeping customers from using connected postage meters
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As for the technology involved, Pilc says he chose Electric Imp because Pitney Bowes (pbi) could add wireless connectivity to the meters without having to make any changes to existing machines in customer's offices. Any tweaks require the approval of the postage organization of the country involved, so the company avoids them unless absolutely necessary.
Hugo Fiennes, CEO of Electric Imp underscored this point in a conversation with Fortune, "You don't want to rip your product apart for the sake of IoT," he says, referring to the Internet of things, or connected devices. "The world is how it is and you don't want to change it."
That's good advice for startups seeking to build connected anything for old-line, enterprise customers.