Pitney Bowes' SmartLink Connects Metering Machines to the Cloud

By retrofitting its postage meters, the company hopes to make it easier for its small and midsize customers to use and update the machines via the IoT.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 21, 2016

The very nature of communication has changed dramatically since 1920, the year in which Pitney Bowes, a $3.6 billion provider of mailing and shipping services, started selling postage and metering equipment to businesses. Last year, the company began using General Electric's Predix software to evaluate how it could make data from the mail-handling and -sorting machinery it sells to large enterprise customers more accessible to maintenance and technician teams (it now offers this as a software-as-a-service platform called Clarity). Now, working with IoT platform provider Electric Imp, Pitney Bowes is rolling out an IoT product for its small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers.

The product, called SmartLink, is a device that connects the metering machines that Pitney Bowes leases to SMBs to the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud, through which the machines are automatically updated whenever postage rates change. The cloud service also monitors each connected metering machine for ink and prepaid postage levels, alerting customers when they are running low—and customers who order ink refills through SmartLink receive a 20 percent discount. The SmartLink device also transmits the machine's diagnostic data to the cloud, enabling both its customers and metering machine technicians to access and respond to error notifications.

The SmartLink device
"We are rolling out SmartLink in a variety of ways," says Mark Shearer, the president of Pitney Bowes' global SMB solutions business. SmartLink is compatible with Pitney Bowes' low- and mid-volume mailing systems, including the K700 (Mailstation2), DM100i and DM200L models, and will be included in any new leases on those machines, without an additional charge. The device will also be sent, gratis, to customers who renew leases on those machines. Customers who are mid-stream on their leases can purchase SmartLink for $99.

Pitney Bowes will also embed the SmartLink into the new metering machines it is currently developing for the SMB market. (The U.S. Postal Service requires that meter manufacturers retain ownership of metering machines used within the United States, so all U.S. customers lease them.) Pitney Bowes has a total of 1.5 million clients globally, approximately 400,000 of which are SMB customers in the United States.

Shearer says Pitney Bowes developed SmartLink in response to research that showed customers want digital tools that make using the meters easier and more convenient. The company first engaged Electric Imp, which had initially been focused on the consumer market, in 2014, according to Oliver Hutaff, Electric Imp's chief operational and financial officer. He says the high level of data security that the metering machines already use, and the ability to access a machine's diagnostics data via its USB port—which works in a manner similar to a car's OBD port—aided in the development process.

Postal meters are highly secure, Hutaff says, "because they're essentially printing currency," so while Electric Imp carried out security and penetration testing with Pitney Bowes to ensure that the internet link between the SmartLink device and the Commerce Cloud was secure, Pitney Bowes did not need to increase the data security of the meters themselves.

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