Why Retailers Should Support PCATS

Greg Gilkerson, President, PDI

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How would you like to invest in something that will lower your cost of doing business, and give you the freedom to more easily choose technology suppliers that are offering features that can save or make you even more money? Sounds good? Read on.

It has been almost 20 years since Scott Hartman sent a letter appealing to Kerley LeBoeuf and NACS to establish standards for exchanging data within the c-store industry. In that appeal, Scott rightly suggested that it was very time-consuming and expensive for his future POS vendor to integrate into his home office pricebook and a back-room PC. What has happened since has been nothing short of amazing. Teri Richman took the lead and the industry came together in Chicago for a meeting to assess interest in the idea. The response was overwhelming.

At first, the initiative was under the auspices of the NACS Technology Committee. We struggled for a couple of years trying to decide between Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) files and some other format. EDI was expensive and out of reach for many suppliers and retailers. Yet I will never forget dropping into aNACStech seminar session being offered by John Hervey, who had been hired to lead the NACS standards efforts. He was espousing a technology called Extensible Mark-Up Language (XML) as the medium for transporting data between retailers and suppliers. XML had arrived with the Internet in the mid-’70s. The magic of XML is that it was very userfriendly and did not require an EDI translator. John was onto something.

Over the next few years, the data standards for the industry evolved into meaningful standards that allowed software providers to do things they had never done before. With standards, we could now start an integration project much further down the road; it became less time-consuming and much more cost-effective. Standards were starting to pay their way.

Next came the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards(PCATS) and a new initiative to get retailers and suppliers to the table as equals. Early on, PCATS suffered from a lack of retailer interest. Because our industry has heavily outsourced systems to third parties, it was logical for retailers to believe it was the suppliers’ responsibility to create and maintain standards.

Abundant Benefits

Now, with almost 20 years of hindsight, it is easy to see that retailers need to beat the table when standards are being discussed and developed. Fortunately, people such as Hartman, Loring Perez, Hank Armour, Ed Collupy, James Maxey,Avsha Klachuk and many others worked tirelessly to promote standards and thePCATS organization that now is back under the NACS umbrella. By doing so, they have paved the way for retailers to benefit in several ways:

Lower Costs: Remember Scott’s plea to NACS? PCATS standards have decreased or eliminated the need for expensive integration projects. Previously, these were funded by the retailer and increased the cost of doing business

Freedom of Choice: With the widespread supplier adoption of PCATS standards, retailers now have fewer barriers to making a technology change. It’s still not “plug and play,” as Teri had hoped, but it’s a lot closer than if we had never started.

More Functionality: At one time, PDI had six developers on our “integration team.” These guys did integration projects for retailers wanting to interface with anew system. Not too many years into the standards initiatives, we freed up this group to work on new features instead of integration projects. While we missed the revenue, we knew the direction was right, and we looked forward to working on features. I would assume that many other suppliers did the same. Lower costs, freedom of choice, more function and better speed to market—it almost sounds too good to be true. So my point is: Retailers have much to gain by being part of the PCATS process. We still need more retail participations the standards truly reflect the needs of the industry. We must be thankful for the early standards pioneers, such as Hartman, Richman, Hervey and others mentioned above, who came together in a powerful way. It’s good for all of us! 

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