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In this blog, I talk a lot about mobile payments, machine-to-machine technology, the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing… We often look at each thing in isolation. But when the technology gets really exciting is when it all comes together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

For the second year in a row, SAP (my employer) showed off its smart vending machine at the February Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

A vending machine is a humble device. But don’t let that limit your thinking about what it can do.

When we demonstrate it, we have people download a mobile wallet app onto their phones or another NFC device, such as this year’s MWC conference badges. We load up some spending money on their app, spin them around three times, and point them at the vending machine.

Once you get close enough, the machine recognises you, and displays a welcome message on a giant touchscreen with your name in it, plus an assortment of snacks available to purchase. You select the one you want. The machine deducts the purchase price from your mobile wallet app, and dispenses your choice. No money required.

Each time you return to the machine—or another one like it—the machine learns a little more about your preferences. Over time, it’ll offer deals on snacks you buy most often. You can even select to buy a gift snack for someone you know, and send a claim voucher to his or her own device.

That’s just the consumer experience. On the backend, it’s just as impressive, if not more so. The SAP smart vending machine is full of sensors that keep track of internal temperature, maintenance status, and inventory levels; accelerometers that measure when someone shakes it in frustration; and even cameras that measure traffic patterns. The machines can also send all of that data back to a home base, so that the company that owns the machine can proactively restock and repair the machines, dynamically re-routing truck drivers to the locations that need service.

The real point to all this isn’t so much to build such a posh vending machine, but to demonstrate how all these technologies work, and more important, how they work together to create real business value. Instead of a network of vending machines, this could be a network of ATMs, supply lines, windmills, or turbines. All of the technology for such a smart, connected network exists—and is made by SAP. How could it help your business?

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