Connecting the Dots

Networking, remote access to stir NACStech discussion

By 
Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Bill McCollough

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As advancements in everything from mobile payment to equipment diagnostics descend into the convenience store environment, retailers preparing for next week's NACStech conference may be hunting for solutions to connect all the devices and software solutions emerging onto the scene.

Now more than ever, solutions that tackle parts or the entire system are growing in demand, say many providers preparing to exhibit at next week's annual industry technology conference in Nashville.

"In networking, the trend is definitely toward more robust managed services, particularly for the larger retailers," said Bill McCollough, executive director of petroleum for Heartland Payment Systems, Plano, Texas. "The challenge of managing more and more sites is creating opportunities for reduced costs that can only be achieved by fully utilizing new technologies."

He said the key and primary issue is a network that supports the multiple applications and devices at the multiple sites. New technologies, from loyalty to back office to remote pricing on digital signs and tank monitoring, all play roles in keeping costs down and maximizing returns for multi-site operations.

"Secure and easy remote access for servicing, updates, upgrades and data access is going to be the critical issue in the next few years," he said.

Secure, reliable and centrally managed networks are key to moving sales journals, scan data, as well as shift and daily summary totals from point-of-sale (POS) systems to the home office, said Randall Richardson, president of FuelLogix, Winter Park, Fla. He said data needs to be available for management analysis as quickly as possible. With today's technology, retailers can monitor data, drive tasks either by event or schedule driven and receive summaries via dashboards at corporate.

"Some time ago, we recognized the need to securely and reliably route files between remote sites and the corporate office," Richardson said. "We focused R&D on this area and developed [our product] with the co-operation of our clients."

He said highlighted the product's ability to track in real time fuel price changes at the retail site from the corporate office and the top down view dashboards which provide all the information needed for a single person to quickly manage many remote sites at one time.

As data connection and use involves a greater use of third parties, so does the housing of data. Retailers are hearing more and more of "cloud" services that can host hardware, software and even database information off site.

"We think of ourselves as a provider or trusted network services," said Tom Yemington, vice president of business development, Acumera, Austin, Texas. "We'll keep you data in a [payment card industry] PCI compliant network. We're making sure they can run their biz."

The task of connecting disparate devices while maintaining a secure environment in this industry is a difficult task, Yemington said, but solution providers exist to establish a platform for retailers to do business as they wish.

Retailers today expect remote capabilities, said Nick Otter, CEO of SIGMA Oil Corp., La Mesa, Calif. He said their focus was to give retailers "real-time data" and accessibility via iPad or iPhone.

Otter provided a short list of where his company feels retailers are headed:

  • "Value for money" regarding backoffice solutions.
  • Flexible and quick changing to take advantage of new technology as it is released.
  • Be able to display data very quickly on different platforms from large database sources.
  • Be responsive to clients so the end user feels comfortable.

The annual NACStech conference will be held in Nashville, Tenn., May 21-23. Hundreds of retailers, suppliers and consultants will be on hand for workshops and show-floor exhibits.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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