Magazine Article | June 21, 2006

How Can Networking Devices Improve Your Business?

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Networking devices can extend the life of your POS system, increase the speed of payment processing, and enable remote management of POS hardware.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, July 2006

Upgrading a POS application and/or hardware can be very expensive, and the driving force to do so can vary from one retailer to the next. Accordingly, there might be alternatives to this expensive and time-consuming task. A network upgrade, or the installation of network connectivity devices, is one substitute for a large-scale equipment overhaul. For instance, the inclusion of network-connector devices can often improve the speed of your POS network. Moreover, if the upgrade you are looking for is remote access to your POS system, you may not have to overhaul your existing POS infrastructure.

Extend Shelf-Life Of POS Hardware
When your budget for upgrades is low or nonexistent, you can extend the life and functionality of your POS hardware by using serial-to-Ethernet connection devices. These devices IP (Internet Protocol)-enable your older POS stations (those containing only serial ports), so you can reduce network cabling, gather data remotely, or simply monitor and control your serial devices regardless of their location. “We engineer and manufacture all of our serial port devices at our own facility,” says Lewis Fedyna, senior engineer at LAVA Computer Manufacturing. “We want to ensure the highest degree of interoperability with other manufacturers’ software and hardware. Therefore, we don’t just provide a networked serial input/output port on a PC, but a port that is 100% transparent because it appears to any system as if it was attached during manufacturing.”

Accessibility to network information is a hot topic in the retail world. Being able to retrieve near real-time information presents an opportunity for faster decisions, thus increased reaction time. Connecting POS terminals to an Ethernet network can expedite several processes in your organization. “By linking devices together and transferring information via Ethernet, information can be stored rapidly and transferred to other software programs, as well,” says Charles Chen, national product sales manager at Moxa. “For example, credit card information can immediately be transferred to banks; loyalty information can be stored in a CRM [customer relationship management] system; and all POS transaction information can be transferred from the local store system to the store headquarters for more rapid use.” Managers can access real-time data and make immediate updates to in-store marketing solutions like digital signage.

Another benefit from directly interfacing a POS machine to a high-speed network is LP (loss prevention) surveillance. With LP equipment (i.e. security cameras, digital video recorders) available on a network, managers can monitor real-time POS activities, including transaction data, from almost any location. Having this ability allows managers to approach employees performing questionable activities much sooner than they could if they surveyed taped materials.  

Often, several peripheral devices exist at the POS. By connecting these peripherals to Ethernet and/or IP networks, you can receive many benefits. Multiport expansion devices are available that improve POS connections to multiple pieces of equipment. These devices can connect the POS hardware device (e.g. PC, terminal) to other peripherals,  including receipt printers, keypads, scales, pole displays, credit card readers, and bar code readers at each checkout station.

Enable Remote POS, Peripheral Access
The space available at the POS is usually limited and can quickly become cluttered. Devices exist that can completely remove the PC/workstation from the POS area. “Our ConnectPort Display technology tunnels any type of connection to an IP network,” says Steve Popovich, senior VP at Digi International. “This display connects devices with serial and/or USB ports to an Ethernet connection, thus providing access to an IP network. Having that access allows remote management of devices such as kiosks, ATMs, and pay-at-the-pump machines. These remote locations can exist without the CPU [central processing unit] at the customer interface.”

Usually, the total costs of networking connection devices, like ConnectPort Display, are much less than the cost to upgrade PCs. The benefits encountered by providing additional space and reducing the power requirements at the POS include more convenience for your customers and more room for them at the checkout. Engaging customers in other ways (e.g. viewing last-minute products) at the POS can lead to additional sales, as well.

Facilitate Remote Kiosks
Kiosks provide customers services such as price checks, gift registry information, loyalty program applications, and coupon disbursement. However, kiosks usually include only two serial ports, and one is used for network access. A port expansion device is used to connect additional devices such as scanners, credit card readers, keypads, and printers.

Additionally, ATMs (automated teller machines that work similarly to kiosks) and kiosks often transmit information from remote areas through modem-based communications. This type of transmission is limited to the speed available on phone lines, which can easily be converted, via a networking device, to the speed of an IP-based transmission. Whether you are considering the connection of kiosks, ATMs, or payment terminals to your Ethernet/IP networks, you can reap several benefits. For instance, not only does this connection allow speed and ease of transmission, it reduces service costs (e.g. long-distance).

Moreover, by using IP-based communications to remote machines, you can update the software on those machines from distant locations through the network, without the pain of slow transmission. This reduces downtime on the kiosk or ATM, as well as eliminating the need for an employee or service technician to physically visit and update the machine. The same approach can be used for payment terminals at the POS.

Increase Payment Processing Speed, Security
Dial-up connections for credit card verifications are too slow compared with the faster high-speed connections that are readily available. More consumers are paying via credit and debit transactions than ever before. As a result, streamlining this process and ensuring secure transactions can improve the chances that customers will return to your store. Most vendors offer payment terminals that can increase the speed of payment transactions. These devices transmit data with secured socket layers, which is a Web security protocol, to allow secure transmission of data.

So, if you’re looking to get more out of your existing POS infrastructure, consider network connectivity devices. They likely will offer a more cost-effective solution compared with replacing your existing hardware.