Magazine Article | September 1, 2003

Paving The Road To JavaPOS

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Before $2.6 billion Burlington Coat Factory could launch JavaPOS on its Linux OS (operating system), it had to put an end to hardware failure.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, September 2003

It's tough to shovel snow when you know there's a snowblower just out of reach.

I went to junior high school before there was a computer in every classroom. Back then, the relevance of PCs was just being realized, and their presence in education was somewhat limited. The machines we had in our school's single computer lab were old. I learned to type on a glorified DOS word processor that took a great big floppy disk. By the time I was a junior, kids like me were going home to Pentium-powered computers running Windows. But the machines in the lab at school did not change. That made it pretty frustrating to go back to school and work on those DOS dogs every day. That level of frustration with inferior equipment is something we've all been exposed to at one time or another. For salesclerks at Burlington Coat Factory (Burlington, NJ), that time of frustration was only a few years ago, prior to the company's recent POS upgrade.

In the years leading up to 2001, it became evident to Brad Friedman, VP of IS at Burlington Coat Factory, that Burlington's geriatric POS system simply couldn't take the company into the future. The memory limitations of the DOS 3.3 environment in which it operated constricted the retailer's ability to add functionality at the POS. These features include customer loyalty and CRM (customer relationship management) programs, layaway functions, and employee purchase tracking. "We wanted to move toward a Java-based, graphical solution that could support some of the requirements for today's POS experience," says Friedman. Not only was Burlington unable to add new POS software, the computers suffered operational issues due to their age. The open chassis and big fan mounted on the old hardware invited a buildup of dust and grime. "Dust had a lot to do with premature failure of our existing POS machines," Friedman says. In its effort to clean up the system, Burlington decided to sweep the age-old equipment out the door along with the dust.

Planning A New POS
Friedman's team started by identifying Burlington's ideal POS system. Before any software upgrades could be performed, it was critical that the hardware situation be stabilized. At the top of the company's wish list was a machine that would lock out dust and other contaminants that can kill a power supply and hard drive. Next, the company wanted the ability to run a Java software system on a Linux OS (operating system). Finally, the retailer wanted something that would accept future peripheral configuration changes, while maintaining its current peripheral configuration in the present. The company's current peripherals include an Epson TM-H6000 receipt printer that can read MICR (magnetic ink character recognition)-encoded checks, the MS9540 VoyagerCG scanner from Metrologic, NEC and EMAX flat-panel LCD monitors, PartnerTech keyboards with touch pads and MSRs (magnetic stripe readers), EP-127 cash drawers from M-S Cash Drawer, and debit terminals from Ingenico and Symbol Technologies.

After a year-long evaluation of its options, the Burlington team chose the BEETLE /S from Wincor Nixdorf (Austin, TX). The machine features a custom external power supply and lacks a fan in the CPU (central processing unit) chassis, allowing the manufacturer to completely seal the unit. The BEETLE /S allowed the company to join the minority (4%, according to IHL Consulting Group) of retailers running on Red Hat's Linux OS. Burlington's choice of Linux was based on anticipated OS licensing fee savings and reduced maintenance costs compared to Windows systems, as well as ease of remote administration, better security, and better stability. Also, Burlington's IT staff was familiar with the Linux environment. The company had been using Linux for in-store POS processing for several years, in addition to more than a decade of experience working with its cousin UNIX. Linux also gave Burlington the ability to manage its POS systems remotely with as few as a dozen administrators and enabled the deployment of Web services.

In 2002, Wincor's staging and integration services team installed the pre-configured BEETLE /S systems in 38 of the retailer's more than 340 stores. Following a successful pilot, the company estimated 3-year enterprise-wide savings in hardware maintenance ranging from $700,000 to $1.2 million per year. These figures compelled Burlington to sign with Wincor to install systems in its remaining stores. Those installations were completed in July 2003. Wincor integrates all of Burlington's third party POS peripherals with the BEETLE and ships ready-to-install systems to each location as Burlington rolls out additional stores.

Buttoning Up The Burlington Configuration
The configuration selected by Burlington includes the BEETLE /S system with an Intel Celeron 566 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, an external power supply, a hard drive, an Ethernet network connection via a PCI (peripheral component interconnect) adapter, and no vent holes - providing a totally sealed unit. Unlike traditional PCs and POS systems that rely on a fan to circulate air through the chassis and cool the CPU, the unit selected by Burlington utilizes passive, fanless technology to dissipate heat. The BEETLE /S systems at Burlington run the Red Hat Linux 7.2 OS.

Once fully installed, the BEETLE /S units will be part of a network that allows Burlington Coat Factory to process transactions seamlessly. The POS units, which can run in an integrated or distributed environment, will transmit transaction data to Linux-based in-store processors in each store via an Ethernet connection. The data is then sent from the in-store processors to headquarters via a frame relay network, where it is imported into a series of Oracle databases housed on IBM (formerly Sequent) minicomputers.

Java Is Next
Once the POS units are fully installed, Burlington will complete a long-anticipated switch from a proprietary C-based system to a JavaPOS application. "We want to move to a JavaPOS environment, which will allow us to add functionality as we see fit. Java will give us the control we need," Friedman explains. As a matter of fact, the retailer committed to implementing 360Commerce's (Austin, TX) Web-enabled ExtendYourStore POS solution within the next 12 months. With the 360Commerce implementation, Burlington will join a host of tier-one retailers converting to or running a JavaPOS system. Most cite the ease of change enabled by the object-oriented language and the APIs (application programming interfaces) it features, which make integration with third party software applications easier. While Burlington Coat Factory chose to upgrade its POS hardware for a multitude of reasons prior to its Java rollout, many retailers don't have to recreate their hardware configuration to introduce Java. Proponents say it will run on any hardware or OS and can even allow retailers to run thin client architecture on their old machines.

But with a new hardware setup, Burlington chose its JavaPOS software to empower its employees and better service its customers. The ExtendYourStore solution will enable multiple item and transaction discount options, gift registry sales, and more flexible, multi-tender options. 360Commerce offers modules to ExtendYourStore, including CrossReach, a cross-channel customer service desk that connects the cashier with the retailer's Web store. This feature enables customers to reserve items on the Web and pick them up in the store or buy them on the Web and return them to the store. The StoreCentral module is a browser-based back office tool that allows retailers to manage store operations and application configurations from anywhere.

Adding this kind of Java-enabled functionality to a stable hardware environment will help Burlington meet its customer service and sales goals. Equally important, it will no doubt keep employees from getting frustrated, as well.