Advanced Networking Means New Opportunities For VARs
Retailers' new struggle with connecting information kiosks, price checkers, and self-checkout lines creates a profitable market for POS VARs.
Every time a customer makes a purchase a POS (point of sale) network is used to support the transaction process. Think about that ... everywhere a purchase is made there is a need for a network, therefore a solid network is the cornerstone of any type of retail business. The good news for VARs is these networks evolve as the needs of end users change. This opens up a world of opportunities for POS VARs that is often overlooked. Right now there is a new need for networking; end users must connect multiple points of interaction. End users have never had to do this before, therefore implementing this type of technology can be a very painful experience. As a VAR, you have the power to ease their pain and increase your profits. Right now these solutions are available, but it is up to you as a POS VAR to take advantage of this market.
In this age of convenience, retailers are focused on expediency and customer service; this leads to more and more self-help solutions. According to Stephen Popovich, COO at Inside Out Networks, a Digi International Company, (Austin, TX), "We will see the integration of more self-help solutions such as price checkers, self-checkout solutions, and information kiosks placed throughout a store. All of these products require a high degree of integration and connectivity in existing POS networks." Retailers simply do not have the knowledge to implement this type of network on their own. Customers are now interacting with technology inside and outside of stores. All of these different interactions, from the self-checkout to the pay-at-the-pump fill-up, have to be networked. This self-service trend gives POS VARs a chance to become, and sell themselves as, networking experts. Popovich explains why implementing this type of POS network is complicated. "Take the example of recently added customer benefits of a new large supermarket. Today's advanced supermarkets have price checkers, self-checkout lines, computer-generated information displays, a pay-at-the-pump gas station, and a convenience store for those quick stops. All of these systems require connectivity from the peripheral level, to the store level, to the regional/corporate level," Popovich explains. As the need for these types of luxury conveniences grows in society, the opportunity for VARs to implement this type of technology will grow.
Solving End User Anguish
Networking can be very complex, making it a pain point for the end user. VARs need to identify exactly what the needs of the end user are, so implementing this complex network will appear valuable. One way of calming end users' fears is by showing them how to build a plug and play network that is easy to maintain. Ben O'Hanlan, director of sales at Sealevel Systems, Inc. (Liberty, SC), believes Ethernet serial servers are a future trend. "Look for Ethernet serial servers to be widely used to facilitate networking of legacy serial equipment such as bar code readers and signature capture devices," O'Hanlan states. Building your POS network with Ethernet serial servers eases the peripheral connectivity burden and expands the range of the network. To prepare for future expansions, O'Hanlan believes VARs need to install systems with end users' needs in mind. "VARs need to carefully implement their overall system architecture to make sure they are planning for the future. On the front end the need for additional I/O [input/output] and new peripherals should be considered, while the back end should take into account future requirements for additional processing and storage capabilities as well as software upgrades."
New VAR Opportunity
Lee Stagni, president and COO at Comtrol Corporation (Maple Grove, MN), believes the future holds what he refers to as "network-centric computing." This means today's general-purpose application servers will be replaced with application-specific embedded computers that operate independently, but stay interconnected through the WAN (wide area network), LAN, or Internet. "Each application appliance will run only the software required to perform a specific task or related set of tasks. Since they operate independently, the failure of one does not result in an overall outage of the system," states Stagni. "If this operation is combined with centralized monitoring and management via the Internet, you'll have a fail-safe system." This means less downtime, better customer service, and real-time management information. To prepare now, Stagni believes VARs need to become familiar with this new trend. "POS VARs should start working with the new generation of device server appliances so they gain both hands-on experience and topological design experience."
Don't overlook the network as a revenue generator in POS. End users experience severe pain when they try to build new applications on old infrastructures. They'll pay you to make that pain go away. If you're looking to enjoy the margins of a total solution provider, getting a grip on the latest networking options is a great way to start. Continual change and development is a guarantee, but preparation for what is to come is up to the VAR.