Magazine Article | March 1, 2003

Java POS: Lower TCO And Better Performance?

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Retailers demand better performance and lower TCO (total cost of ownership) from their POS systems. Java POS is proving it can meet both requirements.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, March 2003

Just about any technology adoption trend has cost savings as part of its raison d'etre nowadays. Most of the time, users have to deploy a technology for up to three years before they can experience the breakeven point. But, for retailers that are rolling out Java-based POS solutions in new stores, it's not uncommon to realize 30% savings right away compared to rolling out non-Java-based POS solutions. After you consider all the fringe benefits that come with Java, you'll see why many retailers - from small to large - are going with this new technology.

From Client-Based To Server-Based
The first factor behind Java POS' cost saving capabilities is that Java can be run on the server as well as the client, giving it thin client and thick client flexibility. Behind this feature is the J2EE [Java 2 enterprise edition] platform. "The J2EE platform works well as a Web-based, thin client solution, enabling retailers to migrate data to a central location, thereby reducing the amount of hardware and support required at the individual store level," says Richard Smith, CEO of POS vendor PCMS Datafit, Inc. (Cincinnati), the software division of PCMS Group (United Kingdom). But, less hardware and less IT support are not the only two factors driving the adoption of Java POS.

Object-Oriented Programs Trump Action-Oriented Programs
Just like it's not wise to judge a book by its cover, make sure you're not judging your programming by its language alone. Java makes object-oriented (OO) analysis, design, and modeling easier. It's important to understand that this new programming concept represents more than just a different language. It represents a different way of thinking about data. Traditional programming focuses on lines of code and the logical order of the code. The classic code analogy is the "if ... then" statement, which tells the computer, "If a certain criterion is met after a value is input, then perform a specific command, such as send an alert to all users or go to another line of code statements."

The new breed of POS applications written in Java take advantage of OO modeling. Rather than emphasize data logic, newer applications focuses on the objects, such as items, payments, and promotions. Users can modify the behavior of objects stored together in a library. "The value of object-oriented design and analysis can be seen with a marina analogy," says Peter Baskins, VP of store strategy for Retek Inc. (Minneapolis). "A marina comprises several kinds of boats ranging from ferryboats to speedboats. But, even though each boat has unique characteristics and functions, they all share many similarities. For instance, each boat may have a similar shaped rudder, which steers the boat, or each boat may use a similar anchor. When building a new boat, we don't have to reinvent a rudder. Likewise, object libraries focus on these similarities and greatly reduce redundant programming." By being able to share various components, the overall amount of code and, therefore, the complexity is kept to a minimum.

This feature is further enhanced by various standards such as ARTS (Association for Retail Technology Standards), TCP/IP (an open computer communications language), and J2EE. "It is faster and less costly to do the necessary integration with other store and enterprise applications if the applications at both ends use the same store, Internet, and enterprise standards such as ARTS, TCP/IP, and J2EE," says Christine Lowry, chief marketing officer of store system solutions vendor 360Commerce (Austin, TX). The real challenge, according to Lowry, isn't deploying the standards, rather it's being able to judge whether Java POS vendors are really using them. "ARTS now has a certification program to help retailers find compliant vendors and weed out those who only offer lip service," says Lowry. By making use of the aforementioned standards, retailers are able to create more efficient object libraries and to offer tighter integration among their enterprise applications.

XML, Web Services Complement Java
Unlike its DOS (disk operating system)-based program counterparts, Java was designed with the Web in mind. Java's object-oriented, open architecture lend it to being deployed over the Internet. "Meta languages such as XML [extensible markup language] are being used with Java systems to enable near real-time sales audits, inventory checks, and price updates from ERP [enterprise resource planning] or merchandising applications," says Paul Kaye, technical director of PCMS Datafit, Inc. "Another complementary standard to Java is Web services. Retailers are using Web services to complete managed service offerings in POS." This trend enables smaller retailers to have more functional POS systems by enabling them to outsource specific parts of their POS solutions to third party service providers. Using Web services, retailers can rent the needed Java code for a fraction of the cost of hiring programmers to write it for them. "The real benefit the Java/Web services combo provides is vendor competition," says Smith. "By having Web services providers bid for the additional POS functions they seek, costs are driven down and functionality goes up."

Software ads abound that claim to deliver the future now. A world is pictured where multiple technologies work together seamlessly in real time. While that world is years away for many businesses, the Web-enabled world of Java is several steps in the right direction. And, with many retailers discovering the flexibility and cost savings that Java-based POS solutions can offer, that goal may be closer than many skeptics are willing to admit.