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

The SmartLink device is powered through mains power and is plugged into a meter's USB port and then connected either directly to the office's internet service, via an Ethernet cable, or wirelessly, by configuring the device's Wi-Fi modem to join the network. (The SmartLink installation process does not require the meter to be reprogrammed or its firmware to be updated, Shearer notes, which were important design considerations aimed at making the device very easy to use.)

Once the device is connected, a user logs on to the Pitney Bowes website, pb.com (many customers already use the website to receive invoices, as well as order ink or other supplies from Pitney Bowes) and accesses the Commerce Cloud, the private cloud server where the SmartLink device transmits diagnostics, postage usage and ink levels from the meter.

Pitney Bowes' Mark Shearer
Benefits Beyond Cheap Ink
Shearer says that connecting meters to the Commerce Cloud offers customers benefits beyond receiving notices of low ink or reminders to purchase more postage (which it does by analyzing past usage patterns to predict when a user is likely to consume a large amount of postage, such as while sending out monthly or quarterly statements). Currently, postage meters are linked to the Pitney Bowes network via a phone line, which is used to connect with the meter every 90 days, at which time any applicable postage rate increases are made to the machine. But should postage increase during that 90-day gap between connections, and if a user is unaware of the increase and sends mail at the old rate, the USPS can penalize that user and delay the delivery of the mail being sent. With SmartLink, any rate updates are made to the machine automatically.

"Plus," Shearer says, "some customers that do not use traditional telephone service pay $30 or $50 a month just to have an old-fashioned analog line, so [for them] using SmartLink will remove that cost."

As for the benefits that SmartLink provides to Pitney Bowes, Shearer says, customers' ability to access the meters' diagnostics data through Commerce Cloud could reduce demands on its customer service and technician teams, since those customers will be more easily able to fix some mechanical issues on their own, without having to call Pitney Bowes for help.

"What is so exciting about the SmartLink device is that we're able to retrofit hundreds of thousands of meters," Shearer states, noting that he first understood the promise of retrofitting existing systems when he installed Nest thermostats in his home. He sees some parallels between Nest and SmartLink, since they both add analog systems to the internet. "With Nest, I'm saving 40 percent of my oil consumption but using the same furnace [I already had]."

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