Cross Talk 4 <Extech shortest development of a "three-way" currency exchange system
Extech has developed a foreign currency exchange machine that is compact and features simple maintenance and operation. As a start-up company, they had a very limited budget and a tight schedule, but the strong follow-up from pluszero was essential to the smooth development and operation of the machine.
Cross Talk 4＜エクステック＞ トレーラー
Development from board design with flexible ideas and high technology
We are a manufacturer of foreign currency exchange machines, which are ATM-like machines that allow inbound travelers to exchange foreign currencies. Since we have to expand our business nationwide, it was important for us to find a way to operate the machines (foreign currency exchange machines) at low cost.
In order to achieve low-cost operation, the company should not spend a lot of manpower. The concept was to combine the existing web system, etc., and make it possible for one or two people to run the operation. We made a lot of efforts to create management screens and reports, and to make software upgrades as simple as possible so that they could be reflected on dozens of machines at once.
Yes, that's right.
The system is designed to be upgraded like a web system, and the machine is controlled as an IoT. In order to make this happen, we had to work together from the design of the board and prototyping.
If we had sent this to a factory or a design company separately, it would have taken months just to coordinate the conversation. In this respect, I think that having pluszero from the beginning was a big part of our success.
I have a lot of memories of designing the coin board. We decided to use a ready-made coin hopper, but the circuit board that controls the coins had to be ordered separately. In addition, it would take even longer for us to start development to incorporate the ordered product. That's why we decided to build our own infrastructure to control the coins, and since we had people in our company who could do it, we did.
When I mentioned that I wanted to reduce not only the development cost but also the operation and maintenance cost, you did a market research on all the USB cables and hubs, and suggested that these are cheaper, these manufacturers are more stable, and these can be operated for a long period of time, so the cost can be reduced, which was a big help for us.
I think it's difficult to achieve essential optimization unless you have a system that has comprehensive knowledge of various hardware products and is able to adapt the software to them.
For example, I think there are many engineering companies that can just make what you want, but I think pluszero is really outstanding in its ability to make proposals that utilize what is already in the world and can be obtained cheaply and in large quantities, while at the same time demonstrating its originality.
Maximize client benefits with an AI-based automatic rate setting system
In developing the foreign currency exchange machine, the most important thing was to create a system to set the rate for each machine in the country according to the daily changing exchange rate.
I think it's hard to figure out what rates to set for the many money changers and how to maximize profits in an analog way every day. By automating this process, we have created a system that allows you to update and optimize the rates with just a few clicks.
This is what our customers appreciate the most. They appreciate the fact that it is done automatically and with very little man-hours so that they can maximize their own profits while offering good rates to travelers.
The key point that we devised this time was not simply to look at the point that maximizes the profit for each transaction, but also to optimize the AI to determine "how to set the rate to maximize the profit for each location" in the face of multiple trade-offs, for example, when taking into account the cost of reloading money.
Close communication enables both low cost and speedy development
pluszero understood all of our operations and did everything from initial design to tuning in order to keep low-costs.
When we were first approached, Extech wanted to release the product to the market as soon as possible. If we had to create everything from the beginning, we would never have enough time, so the key was how to divide up the work (e.g., by using existing things).
For example, in the case of the administration screen, we had a very intensive exchange of ideas such as, "This part is necessary from the beginning, but this part can be done after the release.
Our foreign currency exchange machine is an IoT machine that is similar type to a bank ATM, but its IT architecture is quite similar to a web system or a game, and it can be upgraded on a daily basis.
In response to the needs of the business side, "We want to get to market quickly, but we also want to include functions," we were able to build a system that could meet all of these requirements without giving up, just by adjusting the schedule.
I think the reason we were able to release it in less than half a year was because we were able to coordinate these things well.
When I think back on it, I feel that I was quite reckless. We are basically a venture company that raises funds as we go along, so even though we approached them when we didn't have a dime to our name, they said, "Sounds interesting." After we were able to raise funds, we started development, and by that time, we had already decided on the release date, which was a reckless move.
Mr. Mori provided us with the architecture and the plan for later version upgrades, and we quickly decided that this would be enough to meet our expectations as a business and were able to proceed.
Mr. Koshimizu has a lot of ideas, and even before and after the release, he came up with a lot of ideas and concepts for what he wanted to do and what functions he wanted to implement. Normally, there would be a division of labor, with this company doing the software and that company doing the hardware, but in our case, we can handle it in the company as one-stop team, so we were able to respond quickly to his requests.
Space-saving and easy to maintain. The highly expandable foreign currency exchange machine is the fruit of pluszero's technological expertise.
In our business, the small size of the machine has a great cost value.
For example, when we rent a place to do business, the cost of space is determined by the area of installation, and the larger the machine, the more it costs for transportation.
That's why we've been working with pluszero, but again, the smaller the size, the more complicated the internal structure becomes, and it becomes necessary to control the fan more frequently to prevent heat damage. We were aware of these issues from the initial design stage, and were able to respond quickly when problems arose during the testing phase. Without this, it would have been difficult to achieve miniaturization.
If you turn the fan as fast as you can, it will cool down, but it will be noisy. For example, if you were to put it in a hotel, it might be rejected. That's why we went through a lot of trial and error to adjust the fan so that it would be as quiet as possible, but not too hot.
Upgrading a machine is an unexpectedly time-consuming task. In general, we have to remotely desktop each machine and replace the software, but with EXTEC's system, we can upload a signed file, and the updated software will be automatically distributed to the exchange machines. The software is updated on the next startup.
This makes it easy to add new features and change the look and feel of the UI and the way it transitions.
We highly appreciate the upgrade system. With a normal system, we would have to make minor corrections for a certain period of time before finally upgrading, but with this system, we can make small corrections right away, even on a daily basis.
We are very grateful to have a system that can handle both major and minor revisions in the same way.
I remember once a hotel told me that they wanted to "stop the operation in the middle of the night (because the bright screen would affect them)." However, once the power was turned off, the system could not automatically start up, so we decided to make the screen completely dark, and created and released a system that would sleep at regular intervals and restart when the time came in about a week.
We receive a variety of needs from people who are actually using the money changers. We have responded to these needs in the past, and I think we can easily respond to new ones that will come up in the future.
I think one of the best things about this project was that we had an organization and system that could respond to such issues in an agile manner.
You have been working with us from the basic design to the upgrade of the foreign currency exchange machines, and we are thinking about optimizing the advertising for foreign visitors to Japan, for example, in order to make the foreign currency exchange machines even more advanced in the future. We are also thinking about automatic teller machines and vending machines as second products.
We believe that we can apply the same architecture to these as well, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with you.
Since I started working with Extech on their money changers, there have been various updates to the technology. I'd like to make use of the knowledge and assets I've gained so far, and also use the latest technology to create something that can be operated more stably and at lower cost.
The fact that it is very tightly connected to the Internet is a very big point. Since we can also add a camera, I expect that we can develop higher-order functional elements such as personalization that can be used for advertising.
I would love to work with you.