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[Another face of SII]

A Challenge for SII e-Solution:

Interfacing with Consumers through the Food Service Industry in Search of Popular Wearable Computers


Seiko Instruments corporation (SII)

In 1983, the world's first wearable computer that had a CPU and screen built into a wristwatch and could interface with a small keyboard through noncontact electromagnetic induction was developed and introduced by Seiko Instruments Inc. (SII). This innovative computer watch (wrist computer) had a significant impact on the world market. By applying their unique concept on wearable computers, which was established through the research and development efforts on the above product, SII created the world's first order entry terminal (ES-1000, 1985) targeting the food service industry. That familiar scene at restaurants --- "May I repeat your order?" your order taker says while working with a handheld terminal, "A hamburger meal with onion soup and a coffee, is that right?" --- is now part of the standard workflow in the industry. The essential element here, the restaurant ordering system, represents an advanced form of SII's innovation.

In this article, far from such a common point of view, you will see SII e-Solution offerings in terms of both hardware and software, including not only terminals but also more advanced POS and management systems. These solutions are widely used by food service operators such as pub establishments and hotels, as well as conventional restaurants.

II Solutions for the Food Service Industry

Servers and kitchen staff can smoothly carry out their duties without errors. The owner can tackle strategic management based on data collected through daily operations. Everyone involved with the restaurant's operations finds it easy to work and can offer customer satisfying service, which results in a successful business. These are what you can expect from the solutions provided by SII for the food service industry.

As mentioned above, in search of new directions for development, food service businesses are undertaking a variety of measures. Above all, there are two strong needs: improving services available to customers, such as better prices, menu enhancement, and accurate and quick service; and, sharing and correlating data acquired through such processes throughout the company and organizations as value-added information available to further strengthen management.

To meet these calls, SII, which developed the world's first order entry system for the food service industry, has introduced a variety of restaurant ordering systems, including the market-leading "Order Shuttle" series. The company also provides "e-Store Biz" as a restaurant management solution that combines software with Internet technologies. These are the results of SII's efforts in research and development of hardware and software that better respond to the requirements of the industry, as well as in promoting 24/7 customer support.

The workflow starting from order taking, order ticket generation and serving, and ending at checking, which is often entirely handled by an order entry system, can be referred to as time-series vertical consolidation. The e-Store Biz solution, on the other hand, focuses on horizontal consolidation, in which individual stores' vertical flows are unified to allow networked information processing across locations (including headquarters, suppliers and stores). These vertical and horizontal consolidations, as well as their environment construction, are all implemented based on SII's original IT technology.

Now, let's listen to some of the stories from SII's expert staff to see how these hardware and software products and their support system have been developed.

Working Together with Customers for the Single Goal of Hardware Development

Shigetaka Okina(翁茂孝様のR)名前の読み方はこれでよろしいでしょうC)。)

Chief, IS Development Section, Product Planning Department, Information Systems Division(翁様のR)書き「情報システム事業部 商品企画部 IS開発課 主査」の英語正式名称をご教示ください。)

e-Solution Business

After working in the wrist computer development team, I was involved with the development of hardware for order entry systems, striving to find new applications for wrist computer technologies. Following the evolution of model ES-1000 into ES-3000, I am now participating in the development of hardware products for SII e-Solution.

As a development member for these products, I would like to emphasize that "everything stemmed from our watch-oriented PDA technologies, and our products have been advanced working together with our customers as we continue to improve and enhance many features according to their comments." "Originally, wristwatches have been based on special technologies to enable small sizes, light weight, water-resistance, and low energy consumption to keep them ticking over several years. Upon these bases, particular attention was paid during development to operability at the front lines of the food service industry, namely in restaurants.

In addition to conventional goals such as greater management efficiency for service improvement, streamlined operation and maintenance, ease of use (even for new part-time employees), steady operation and long-term durability (i.e. no breakdown) in humid and greasy kitchen environments, many other functions and ideas suited for actual use were built into the products. However, initial models experienced a number of problems because accidents occurred in the field where the environment went beyond our imagination.

For example, one day I received a surprising complaint from a customer.

They claimed that their order ticket printer wouldn't work. We didn't expect our machine to break down so easily because its prototypes had been through every possible tolerance test against a wide range of conditions from humidity, greasiness, impacts, falling, bending, and scrubbing to communication noise. This report stunned both our hardware and software staffs.

We brought the machine back to our office to fully investigate the cause. Then, with our development staff standing around me watching intensely, when I started taking it apart we all saw a cockroach run out of it. As I continued, more and more were found, one after another scampering from the machine, which must have been a perfect place for them. All of us got goose bumps at the sight. As it turned out, those cockroaches were coming in and out of the printer through its paper exit, as they found the place comfortable to stay in, and, eventually, one of the naughty ones caused a short circuit. From then, in addition to making the paper exit smaller and thinner as a physical preventive measure, we continued our cutting-edge technological development efforts buy such methods as keeping cockroaches to study their electrical resistance (what advanced research!) with our eyes directed to the future. Now we are determined to provide detailed hardware product lines to meet operation styles, field environments, management scales of a variety of businesses including restaurant chains, pub chains, hotels and single store establishments, so that we can build up SII's originality in the ever-changing food service industry.

System Construction Based on Full Analysis of Field Needs

Nozomu Yamamoto(山本望様のR)名前の読み方はこれでよろしいでしょうC)。)

Manager of the IS System Section, Product Planning Department, Information Systems Division(山本様のR)書き「情報システム事業部 商品企画部 ISシステム課長」の英語正式名称をご教示ください。)

e-Solution Business

The concept of SII's "e-Store Biz" solution, announced and released on August 1, is to significantly reduce the costs of system acquisition, administration and maintenance while constructing an IT environment that provides ease of use. Unlike conventional solutions designed for food businesses, which basically target large restaurant chains, our e-Store Biz product series are capable of meeting the needs of various customers regardless of their scale and operating style.

Our e-Store Biz allows servers to focus on serving, kitchen staff to make the most of their skill and knowledge on cooking and food presentation, and head office staff to engage in overall management with business-oriented views. The concept here is "when staff in each division dedicate themselves to their individual professional responsibilities, essential customer service improvement will be the result." For example, menu items and ordering patterns completely differ between family restaurants and pubs. A family restaurant customer usually orders everything during the initial order, with little possibility of additional orders. On the other hand, a pub restaurant customer typically places random orders in an unexpected pattern, such as "A beer, a skewered grilled chicken plate and steamed vegetables for now" followed by another order like "a cocktail and a chilled tofu dish." Furthermore, one of the hardest challenges for a restaurant solution is how to deal with "individual checks" in which each person in a group pays for orders separately. Our products are ready for such special procedures. We, software development experts, are working on proposing (constructing) the best system suited for each business, with a view to different order patterns and varieties of offerings.

Personally, I think our main development theme should be a grand human technology of how to open up new opportunities in the food service industry by allowing an efficient interface between store operations (vertical consolidation), which is the industry's front line, and business management (horizontal consolidation). I hope to provide efficient food distribution in such efforts and eventually advance the current system into a technology that is friendly to people and their environment, with the help of IT. This, I believe, is a social responsibility of SII, the company who first developed a solution for this field.

24/7 Support and Maintenance

Junichiro Inoue

Support Section 1, System Service Department(井上淳一郎様のご所属、「システムサービス部 サポート一課」の英語正式名称をご教示ください。)

Seiko I Infotech Inc.

SII e-Solution is fail-safe due to its duplex or triplex structures in case of accidents like a system crash. But, however reliable it may be, an unexpected hardware/software problem may occur during full operations under a harsh environment. Especially, problems during busy hours (i.e. profitable hours), when ordering, serving and checking are being processed by the second, can be fatal. To prevent such accidents, as well as to deal with them if they occur quickly and precisely, more than 1,000 experienced Customer Engineers (CE) of Seiko I Infotech Inc. are ready to support customers 24/7 at 70 locations nationwide with their expertise.

As CEs, we have another responsibility of listening to the opinions of users, who are actually operating the systems in the field, and finding new needs within them. What we directly hear from these users are the voices from the front lines of the restaurant industry. Feedback of such opinions provides important clues in developing next generation systems. In fact, we are actively exchanging ideas with SII engineers (for software and hardware).

As many consumers may have noticed, in a society that is said to be in a deflation phase, food service companies are trying to develop their unique concepts to stand out, while offering more detailed menu options. This trend makes the situation more demanding for support professionals like us, requiring fully detailed troubleshooting techniques and broader knowledge. Although it is easy to imagine different chains offering different menus with different top-selling items, even restaurants belonging to the same chain often offer slightly varied menus as well as prices. To address such a challenging environment, we will further enhance our current support framework by standardizing support techniques, providing help desk service for engineers, and clarifying each machine's support history with available databases, while continuing to accumulate our know-how.

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