You wake up on Sunday morning. The laundry has already been open for four hours. You stumble into your home office and pull up the store’s sales figures for the day, in real time. Your next task is to glance at the store’s surveillance system on your PC — it looks pretty busy this morning; a typical early Sunday crowd.At last, all of your computers at all of your locations are seamlessly connected together.For years, this kind of connectivity was only available to big companies with deep pockets. Now, this technology’s been perfected to the point where it’s readily available to everyone — and it’s inexpensive. Small businesses, such as coin laundries, can now access their entire operation from anywhere with the click of a mouse.As coin laundry owners strive to automate and expand their operations by tracking washer and dryer usage with card systems, tracking over-the-counter sales and drop-off service revenue with their point-of-sale systems, monitoring video surveillance systems remotely, and utilizing burglar alarms and Wi-Fi, automation technology will be the glue that will allow them to tie everything together.At Kimbark Laundry in Chicago, automation technology is the cornerstone of our business model. As a result, we have a much better understanding of our operating revenue and expenses, and better inventory control. We can even regulate our HVAC system remotely. We’re open 16 hours a day, and since we can’t be there all day, automation gives us a virtual way to work in the store.ENABLING TECHNOLOGIESNow that you have a brief idea of what can be done, let’s talk a bit about some of the technology that will be needed to automate all of your locations.Virtual Private Networks — Virtual Private Networks (VPN) use a public network (the Internet) to pass messages called data packets using a technique called tunneling. When these packets of information are sent through the tunnel, they are encrypted, or scrambled, to prevent them from being seen by anyone except the intended parties. That means that the user has a secure, private connection over a public network.Whether you own a single laundry or several laundries, you can track your sales and monitor your store from your business office, your laptop when you travel, your smart phone, and, yes, even your home office. VPNs will provide the conduit that makes all of this possible.The router is the key component of the VPN. Routers are readily available and can be purchased at most electronic stores. A business-class router can cost anywhere from $100 and up, depending on its features and the level of sophistication.There are many factors that can influence the cost of installation, such as how many locations are involved, how many workstations are in place, the level of security, and so on.VPN implementation can be a little tricky and will probably require the services of a computer professional. Once the VPN is installed and properly configured, it will require little maintenance. However, you may want to consider purchasing a service contract so that when there is a need for maintenance or configuration changes, you can keep the system down time to a minimum.Here are some familiar applications that can be greatly enhanced with VPN technology:Card systems — In addition to taking money out of play, card systems allow you to monitor machine usage and collect and monitor status information about all of your machines across all locations.Point-of-Sale — Collect sales information and create consolidated financial reports for all locations.Remote desktop — Work on your office PC from your home office in real time, travel anywhere in the world and access your office computer remotely, accessing your files, programs, e-mail and network as if you were sitting in your office. Remote desktop can increase your work flexibility and productivity.Automated data backup — Protect your data against fire, theft and vandalism so it can be recovered if/when disaster strikes. VPN technology will allow you to automatically back up and store your laundry data at an off-site location (possibly your home office). If some type of structure burns to the ground, your data won’t burn up with it.Remote control — You can remotely monitor and control doors, lights, dampers, burglar alarm systems, HVAC systems, surveillance equipment and many other systems that are vital to your laundry’s success.In future articles, I will take a more detailed look at applications such as Wi-Fi, video surveillance, integrated website marketing, remote control systems and more. If there are any laundry topics you would like me to explore, or if you are interested in implementing this technology at your location(s), please let me know. Send an e-mail to [email protected].