Ten Years of Tech

PCATS celebrates anniversary of standards effort

LAS VEGAS -- Aclink of plastic champagne glasses marked the 10th anniversary of what began as an industry-standards effort designed to improve integration between various convenience store technologies.

About 20 people congregated in a suite overlooking the trade show floor at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) annual convention held this past week in Las Vegas. Many of those in attendance (including this reporter) were present in Chicago at the group's first meeting, held 10 years ago under the auspices of the Alexandria, Va.-based [image-nocss] association's technology standards effort.

That committee evolved to become the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS), an entity separate from NACS also based in Alexandria, Va. It continues efforts to draw up and encourage the use of common computer protocols designed to ease the task of tying together everything from tank gauges to accounting software, point-of-sale registers to electronic pole signs.

At the time, the technology effort was the single, largest commitment of dollars that NACS had given to any objective, remembered Hank Armour, who back then was a West Coast retailer and has since taken on the role of president and CEO of NACS.

Scott Hartman, president, Rutter's Farm Stores, York, Pa., also a founding participant, recalled asking for $10,000 from NACS with officials not sure for what. When the association approved the dollars, Hartman further recollected, Then when I asked for $40,000, I thought [my NACS contact] would fall off of his chair.

At the ceremony, organizers displayed old documents going back to the group's first meeting. Among these items were informational summaries and attendee lists.

Edward McGunn, president and CEO, Corporate Safe Specialists (CSS), Posen, Ill., gave special credit to PCATS founding member John Hervey, who was with NACS at the time and now leads PCATS. He blazed the trail, McGunn said. It's now easier to become involved.

PCATS has accomplished much in its short history, including the development of a common protocol language used for things such as device integration, bill-of-lading communication and lottery transactions. McGunn said the challenge now is to get more retailers and suppliers to join the organization and use the standards.

Many people are fearful of standards, McGunn said. Everyone feels their unique, proprietary way of doing things is their product strength. But just as with the bar code, [standards make] the industry stronger.