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High Tech Vending Machines Transform IT Support At Facebook 210

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-mouse-got-stuck-against-the-glass dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "While getting power cords, replacement keyboards, and other sundry computer accessories to employees who need them sounds easy enough, at many companies the process requires filling out order forms that can take IT departments days to fulfill. That's why Facebook CIO Tim Campos decided to take a more user-friendly approach to this common problem, installing custom-made vending machines around the Facebook campus that dispense computer accessories instead of snacks and sodas. When Facebook engineers spill coffee on their keyboard (a common mishap), they head to a nearby vending machine instead of hitting up their IT guy or just grabbing a replacement from a nearby cabinet. They swipe their badge, key in their selection and voila — a brand new keyboard drops down for them to take. According to Campos, they've reduced the cost of managing replacement accessories by about 35%. While products found in the vending machines are free, items are clearly marked with price tags so employees can see the retail value of each accessory they take. The new vending machines also require all employees to swipe their badge before making a selection. That means each and every power cord, keyboard and screen wipe they take can be traced back to their name, ensuring that the system won't be abused. 'I like the assumption that employees will do the right thing,' writes Alexis Madrigal. 'The swipe means that everyone's requests are tracked and I'm sure some algorithm somewhere is constantly sorting the data to see if anyone has pulled 10 sets of headphones out of the system.'"
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High Tech Vending Machines Transform IT Support At Facebook

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  • by Umuri (897961) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:11AM (#43156215)

    Do employees have to trek across campus to get the vending machine they like that stocks their particular favored model of headset, mouse or keyboard?(Model M preferably)
    Do they sometime get stuck requiring quickly looking around to make sure no one is looking then banging the machine a few times?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  • Going through IT for every goofy little peripheral isn't terribly sensible(and IT generally doesn't love spending time being the supply cabinet); but I'd be curious to know whether the additional complexity and cost of the vending machines are sufficiently defrayed by the 'surveillance effect' and inventory tracking they provide.

    'Just have a supply closet' is not a sexy strategy; but it sure is KISS-compliant.

    • Have a supply closet behind a locked door so you need your badge to open it up and a motion activated camera taking shots of you while you take whatever you want.

      If inventory starts to drop then look at the photos to see if anyone is abusing the system.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "Have a supply closet behind a locked door so you need your badge to open it up and a motion activated camera taking shots of you while you take whatever you want."

        You'll end up with a lot of sex-tapes and hence, sticky keyboards.
        Vending machines can prevent both.

    • by isopropanol (1936936) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:57AM (#43156413) Journal

      Acklands Grainger actually rents these machines out stocked with whatever you want that's relevant to your business... the display model in our local distributor has boxcutters, pens, high-viz vests, etc...

      • by Futurepower(R) (558542) <MJennings.USA@NOT_any_of_THISgmail.com> on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @04:48AM (#43157245) Homepage
        They are not "High Tech Vending Machines". They are normal vending machines loaded with computer accessories. "Facebook CIO Tim Campos decided to take a more user-friendly approach" should be "a computer support employee recommended using vending machines", according to the story.
        • Modern vending machines are high tech devices. Normal vending machines (like when I was a kid) took a few quarters and shit out a twinkie or a coke which then became jammed in the mechanisms. The new machines do inventory control, report on their status (am I jammed?), and in this case report which user got the equipment rather than payment processing.

        • Coke vending machines are not Coke vending machines. They're normal vending machines loaded with Coke.
          Do you realize how stupid that sounds?
          They're vending high tech, not made of it.
          Although this being Facebook, they're probably aggregating the data for marketing...
          "Bob, you've used 3 keyboards in the last month! How would you like to try out.....

          ACME keyboard protector!!!!!!11!!1!1!@@!!1"

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      as opposed to just having the receptionist have a cabinet with the stuff who can hand it out? yeah. We did this same thing at Comcast 10 years ago, except instead of vending machines we used the receptionist at each office as the vending machine... worked great.

      • by Inda (580031)
        I prefer the method at my company.

        1. Order whatever I like using a form on the intranet

        2. Boss gets an automatic email that says "Click this link to authorise..."

        3. Boss calls me over to ask what the email is about.

        4. "Just click the link" I say.

        5. Hardware arrives a week later.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:20AM (#43156257)

    Intel has been using these, at least in our campus, for a few years now.

  • by Artea (2527062) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:24AM (#43156275)
    The price tag idea is fantastic, I can steal Frank's badge, and grab myself 10 of everything. List it on ebay at the tagged price and make a nice bonus every week.
    • by Shimdaddy (898354)
      Yeah there's no way that's gunna backfire and get you fired / thrown in jail.
      • Re:Easy resale! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by lightknight (213164) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @01:51AM (#43156665) Homepage

        Amazing, isn't it? All this technology, education, and one hell of a legal system, and people still steal. Weird, right?

        And here's the funny thing. Most of the time they get away with it.

        What more, there's no sure fire way to prevent theft, even if everyone had a chip in their heads, and a supercomputer was dedicated to thought crime. Even the most dedicate, read-only AI with the best intents would, IMHO, go completely nuts after several generations of exposure to humanity; you either have a drift of values from the time the AI was initialized (what was once a social vice is now not), or you have an accumulating error (good luck with that), or even spontaneous errors (a problem that the designers never imagined the AI would encounter, and CANNOT adapt around). Those are just a few of the possible error conditions.

        Finally, we haven't considered, though this is way out here on the fringe branch, that morality is a weapon, used by groups to subjugate individuals to their agendas, whether it benefits them or not. I say this, because the first thing any would-be aggressor does is establish the moral high-ground in any given scenario, nullifies the current set of group beliefs and replaces it with their own, then directs the group against those now outside the group.

        On the other hand, I am currently taking some migraine meds which have some fairly horrific side-effects (feels like my skin is on fire right now...like I'm in an oven), so perhaps I am not in the best frame of mind to consider the more philosophical points of civility tonight. Topamax is a crazy drug.

        • Hmm, I always end up buying parts for the company on my own credit card, because the purchasing process is too slow and cumbersome. So what is that, reverse stealing?
          • I've had to do that on more than a few occasions too. Some of the things we've needed are so specialised they can't be obtained from the 'approved suppliers' list. A few of them are only readily available through ebay stores.

            • by peragrin (659227)

              then your accounting dept needs to stop hobbling the purchasing dept.

              as a company purchaser i have access to a company credit for such things.

    • by Grayhand (2610049)

      The price tag idea is fantastic, I can steal Frank's badge, and grab myself 10 of everything. List it on ebay at the tagged price and make a nice bonus every week.

      Except Frank borrowed your badge and is selling a 100 per week at a lower price on Ebay. FYI your boss wants to have a word with you.

    • by JosKarith (757063)
      And the chances of a discreet camera being fitted either in or near the machine are...?
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:32AM (#43156301)

    how do they track jam's and double drops?

    At least it's free so you have some kicking the shit out of it when it eats your cash.

    • by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @01:12AM (#43156487) Homepage

      Favorite IT story: So back in 1999, a traveling sales engineer drops his laptop off at my desk in a huff stating "it's broken, damn screen broke". Looking at the screen, it looks like something fell on the LCD screen and cracked it in three places. Oh, something fell on it alright. His fist! The angle and placement of three knuckles lined up perfectly with a right hand punch. My shock and dismay quickly followed by laughter. Ya right, broken my ass! It sure is now tough guy.

    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @01:25AM (#43156543) Homepage Journal
      You just push the button for a keyboard, hoping that it will fall on top of the mouse you wanted and dislodge it.
    • Most top of the line vending machines can report to central command when they are jammed, along with their apparent inventory level.

      Eventually a real life human will have to go re-fill the machine and at the same time do a stock take. When there's a big enough discrepancy between the stock level and the inventory level an engineer goes and checks the machine out to see why it's double dropping. And perhaps fits a camera at the same time to look for employees who are being less than honest

  • Vending Machines, hmm?

    How long until the vending system gets a Facebook page? Then when everyone orders Such&Such keyboard and headphones, the machine can post "Joe Smith Likes this!" Then they can sell that data to advertisers!

    Do Vending Machines have Friends?

    The fun never stops!

  • by WaterDamage (719017) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:52AM (#43156387)
    Great, I guess the keyboard or whatever shitty peripheral will get stuck and then after beating and shaking the vending machine for 10 fucking minutes you'll end-up calling help-desk to complain that you swiped and you never got your item so they'll send out an vending service guy and spend $400/hr to fix the fucking crappy vending machine rather keep a stack of $2 dollar keyboards in a closet next to the receptionist or secretary. Then again It's Facebook, so I guess their developers/admins must jiz a lot all over their keyboards while they porn surf through user profiles of hot bitches.
    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @02:26AM (#43156819) Homepage Journal

      I can do better than that: the photo supplied shows what appears to be standard SATA hard drives in no more protection than an anti-static bag. On the second row. Near the top.

      *clunk*

      *smash*

      • If those hard drives experience a 250G+ shock(shock tolerance of modern hard drives when not powered) when hitting the bottom of the vending machine I'd be surprised. Especially since it seems to bottom is slightly padded, for sound deadening and protecting against damage.

        Or did you mean using them as a means to unstuck other items?

      • I'm pretty sure they'd have just maybe thought this through.

        A SATA HDD isn't an external peripheral. It's something that needs the case cracked open to install, I don't see anything else like that in there. My conclusion: it's something else in the bags. In fact, that row has two things on the left, which aren't rectangular enough to be HDDs, and something in a standard impossible-to-open bubble package that's probably a USB key or memory card.

    • by dcollins (135727)

      "keep a stack of $2 dollar keyboards in a closet next to the receptionist or secretary"

      Sure, because then the secretary gets to play gatekeeper with the key to the closet, and take out her aggression with power-plays against the higher-paid developers whose work she doesn't understand, refusing to open the closet for insane reasons or claiming it's empty or the key's missing to anyone who hasn't properly sucked up to her recently.

  • by niftydude (1745144) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @12:52AM (#43156389)

    'I like the assumption that employees will do the right thing,' writes Alexis Madrigal. 'The swipe means that everyone's requests are tracked and I'm sure some algorithm somewhere is constantly sorting the data to see if anyone has pulled 10 sets of headphones out of the system.'

    I do not think that the word "assumption" means what Alexis thinks it means.

  • when people spill coffee on their keyboard to dock their pay for destruction

    people stop spilling coffee, course I come from a time when computers and time cost money, and drinking coffee at your desk is prohibited if your a dumbass spilling your drink on a production machine.

    • by Kreigaffe (765218)

      I just don't understand spilling coffee on a keyboard to the point it ruins it.
      I drink a great deal of coffee at my computer. It's the first thing I do in the morning, if I'm to do anything for the first 3 hours after I wake up..
      I think I can count on one hand how many times I've dribbled coffee onto my keyboard. It's usually into my lap, if anywhere, or a small splash from overly-groggy pouring of the water into my french press.. yeah that happens.

      Keyboard? Just fine.

      Now, BEER? I've spilled me some be

    • by aussie_a (778472)

      How grubby are facebook employees? I've had maybe five broken keyboards in the past 3 years. One of them was from a spilled drink onto the keyboard. That's 0.3 people a year due to a spilled drink. Now sure, we only have 250 staff. So let's assume facebook has 30,0000 staff. That's 40 keyboards a year. I can't believe these vending machines are cheaper then ordering 40 keyboards a year.

      Just how messy are facebook employees to need enough keyboards due to coffee spills? Is it an American thing?

  • Mountain Dew, Hot pockets and Xena DVDs. For the geek reference on the last two refer to the movie "The Core.
    • by mjwx (966435)

      For the geek reference on the last two refer to the movie "The Core.

      Please dont.

  • phones and PCs seem like some that the older way works better and a keypad / touch screen is not the best to fill out a report on why you need or to get a sign off that you need it for project X.

    Also stocking PC's when it's easier to keep them the older way so you can add ram bigger HDD's without having a vending system with different 4-10+ configs and if your needs are not part of the system then you going the older way is not at X2-4 of the time it used to take.

  • "Want to see something hilarious? Get Tim the intern to check out a Monster HDMI cable; he's only $400 away from tripping the employee-theft algorithm."
    Seriously though, interns will have much larger "bills" on these machines.
  • 'I like the assumption that employees will do the right thing,'

    If only that assumption could be applied to the company itself.

    The swipe means that everyone's requests are tracked and I'm sure some algorithm somewhere is constantly sorting the data to see if anyone has pulled 10 sets of headphones out of the system.'"

    Ya, like Facebook can track user data... :-)

  • Common mishap? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @01:15AM (#43156503)

    When Facebook engineers spill coffee on their keyboard (a common mishap),

    I've been a system programmer/administrator for over 25 years and routinely eat and drink at my desk and have *never* spilled anything on my equipment - computer or otherwise. What kind of monkeys do they hire at Facebook?

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @01:25AM (#43156539)

    Ok. So I'm assuming this is for people that aren't supporting datacenter based equipment. Y'know the guys that have to plug in thousands of powercords...

    So if you're outfitting your cube/desk area, how many keyboards and power cords do you go through? Also, do most FB employees standardize on the 'vending machine' keyboard, or do they have their own personal preference?

    • by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @02:02AM (#43156721)

      Ok. So I'm assuming this is for people that aren't supporting datacenter based equipment. Y'know the guys that have to plug in thousands of powercords...

      So if you're outfitting your cube/desk area, how many keyboards and power cords do you go through? Also, do most FB employees standardize on the 'vending machine' keyboard, or do they have their own personal preference?

      I can tell you I wear out a keyboard in about three months and before I switched to "cheapie" Logitech mice, $10 a pop, I was burning through expensive mice every other month. It all depends on how much work you do. After two months the "A" on my keyboard is badly worn and at three months a dozen keys are showing wear. I would say keyboard wear is a good sign of how much work you do. If you can last two or three years on a keyboard you are probably over paid.

      • by Anubis350 (772791)

        Ok. So I'm assuming this is for people that aren't supporting datacenter based equipment. Y'know the guys that have to plug in thousands of powercords...

        So if you're outfitting your cube/desk area, how many keyboards and power cords do you go through? Also, do most FB employees standardize on the 'vending machine' keyboard, or do they have their own personal preference?

        I can tell you I wear out a keyboard in about three months and before I switched to "cheapie" Logitech mice, $10 a pop, I was burning through expensive mice every other month. It all depends on how much work you do. After two months the "A" on my keyboard is badly worn and at three months a dozen keys are showing wear. I would say keyboard wear is a good sign of how much work you do. If you can last two or three years on a keyboard you are probably over paid.

        I hear you, I absolutely obliterate keyboard, something about the way I type. It's the main reason I switched to Model Ms (and one F) at home: Not being retro, not coolness, but the fact that they actually survive me.

        • by sconeu (64226)

          I suspect keyboard obliteration is more common among older devs, who learned to touch type on a manual typewriter. For you young'uns, that's somehting that looks like an integrated keyboard/printer without a cord, CPU or monitor.

        • Hmm. Sidestepping that "GUI's mean you aren't doing work", my keyboard of choice for some 5+ years now has been a couple of Microsoft wireless keyboard-mice combos. (Just something about the layout and action speeds.) It's dirty as all get out, but the letters aren't wearing out. I think that's because mice don't show wear in the same fashion, so when your workflow all day consists of some mix of running reports off the accounting software, exporting the data into reports, and then on other days messing aro

      • Without meaning to be an ass, might I suggest you examine your typing style. You might be letting yourself in for a world of pain in RSI.

      • How do you wear out an optical mouse?

        You do know that you can replace the batteries for wireless keyboard/mice instead of throwing them out.

  • Fastenal uses the exact same vending machine (minus all the photos of course!).
    • by Animats (122034)

      Fastenal uses the exact same vending machine (minus all the photos of course!).

      Right. It's an Edge 5000 Industrial Vending Machine [apexindustrial.com] from Apex Supply Chain Technologies. Fastenall has about 30,000 installed. Facebook, not so many.

      These industrial vending machines look like candy machines, but they're more versatile. They can be configured for a wide range of item sizes, they have an IR beam system to make sure the item actually is dispensed, and there are options available for soft handling of fragile items. The machines have an Internet connection, report who got what, and tell the s

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @01:51AM (#43156671) Homepage

    Facebook isn't being original here. Fastenall, which sells cutting tools, bolts, and other useful things used by people who make Real Stuff, has special vending machines for industrial plants. [fastenal.com] Employees use their employee badge or a PIN to get tools and supplies. The machines report back to Fastenall, and they restock the machines. The customer only pays for items when they're vended.

    Here's the Youtube video. [youtube.com] Fastenall vends electric drills and WD-40, rather than keyboards and cables. They have little machines for things like drill bits, and locker-sized bins for big items. So they're already doing what Facebook is only talking about.

    • by dcollins (135727)

      Interesting to see that Fastenal was rated as the 24th worst companies to work for in the country (by nonscientific employee survey).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fastenal#Worker_satisfaction_survey

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @02:27AM (#43156821)

    'I like the assumption that employees will do the right thing,'

    Does this guy actually believe that bullshit? All they've done is increase the monitoring (insert obligatory facebook derogatory tracking comment) - there is less assumption of doing the right thing in this system than there is a with a human IT department.

    With a human from the IT department in the loop that human has discretion in accounting for the costs of the hardware. If he knows a group has a tight budget but really needs a replacement doohickey, he can fudge the reporting - push it to the next quarter or put on another group that's got a budget surplus. This system removes all slack.

    Maybe right now while facebook is flush with cash it ain't economical to bother looking at the reports from these vending machines beyond crazy outliers that would indicate fraud. But when budgets get tight, this system has the potential to be be far more rigid than one with that extra layer of humans in it.

    This way may be a good thing, but lying about its strengths is not a good sign. Don't roofie me and call it romance...

    • Some would consider the slack a form of lying, or bad accounting. There is no more or less assumption of doing the right thing either way. If you have to wait 3 hours for an IT guy to show up to install a keyboard or some other little thing that's quite a large productivity loss, you can afford to lose two or three actual keyboard and still come out ahead.

  • ".. algorithm ... if anyone has pulled 10 sets of headphones out of the system" If you they really need an algorithm to make that determination then they must have a shitload of engineers twirling their thumbs.
  • I suspect (Score:4, Funny)

    by codeButcher (223668) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @03:05AM (#43156913)

    The swipe means that everyone's requests are tracked and I'm sure some algorithm somewhere is constantly sorting the data ...

    So there's a screen on the front of the vending machine that displays targeted advertising then?

  • There will, of course, be a vending machine vending machine, in case any of the vending machines break.
    • by dcollins (135727)

      The CEO of the Fastenal company (someone posted a video above) does in fact call the corporate support structure for vending machines like these "the machine behind the machine".

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @04:15AM (#43157153)

    One could just "swipe" the desired accessory from someone else's desk. That would be much more difficult to track.

  • [QUOTE] 'I like the assumption that employees will do the right thing,' writes Alexis Madrigal.[/QUOTE] The system they have set up with recording the number of times a keyboard or mouse is replaced is NOT assuming employees will do the right thing. Rather, the assumption is made that an employee will abuse accessory replacements necessitating a system to record accessory replacement and track it down to the individual user. This system is in place precisely because the company does not trust its employe
  • by ls671 (1122017) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @07:36AM (#43157939) Homepage

    When Facebook engineers spill coffee on their keyboard

    A company like Facebook doesn't need any engineers although some might work for them. Engineers typically work for companies like Intel, Cisco, etc.

    I am a software architect but not an engineer by trade. The "engineer" term is abused a lot. The funniest thing I have heard is the "engineer" driving the locomotive on a railway train. His title is "engine man" in realty. Apparently, if you say it quickly enough many times, "engine man" becomes "engineer". Michael Schumacher should be called an "engineer" before anybody driving a train !

    Just see how the following links do not add up if you believe a locomotive driver is an "engineer" and apply the same to Facebook engineers :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineer [wikipedia.org]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railroad_engineer [wikipedia.org]

  • When Facebook engineers spill coffee on their keyboard (a common mishap)

    So instead of NOT drinking coffee over your keyboard or leaving your cup/mug right next to the keyboard, the solution is to let people randomly go to a machine to replace a part they broke/misused and get a free replacement.

    If someone can't grasp the simple idea of NOT eating/drinking/cutting finger/toenails above a keyboard, one can only imagine what kind of work they do and how much they cost your organization.

    Once agai
    • by ledow (319597)

      Or, the cost of the occasional replacement keyboard is nothing compared to the 5 minutes of time it makes that person out-of-action while they arrange a replacement, or even that the cost of replacing it is NOTHING compared to the lost time, effort and money spent telling people - who earn a relative fortune - not to drink coffee over the keyboard.

      Sometimes you just have to accept the trade-off. I'm run the IT for schools. I have a large cup of cold water next to my laptop here. The cost of any potential

  • by jedrek (79264) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @08:10AM (#43158099) Homepage

    I don't understand why everybody assumes that there's some kind of sinister going-ons behind having users ID themselves when getting equipment. Facebook is a data-driven company, why wouldn't they want to have this kind of data? You can automate procurement, so you effectively never run out of equipment. You can see what kind of equipment your users prefer. And the realization that you're not completely anonymous keeps people honest - not just as far as theft goes (and I can assure you, it doesn't matter how much people make, they will steal the most trite, insignificant crap), but general absentmindedness or practical jokes.

  • By Michal Lev-Ram, writer July 6, 2011: 8:55 AM ET

    Seriosly. A cnn story from 2011. NEWS for nerds?!?

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