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Learning To Manage Workspaces

August 1, 2014

PART-TIME TELEWORK SEEMS LIKE THE PERFECT compromise: You get to reduce your commute, eliminate some distractions, and occasionally work in your bathrobe, while still scoring a significant amount of face time at the office.

telecommuteSo what’s the catch? Well, just when you get used to one workspace, you’re back at the other; you can never keep track of your files; and your coworkers and clients can never keep track of you.

Indeed, bouncing between home and office can be bumpy, as Judith Lederman, owner of JSL Publicity & Marketing in Irvington, N.Y., found when a client asked her to work on-site three days a week. “It’s been a tremendous adjustment,” says Lederman, who’s been homebased since 1989. With the blare of speakerphones, the general buzz of office chatter, and her client’s too-tight quarters, “it’s been very difficult to get used to,” she adds.

On the positive side, Lederman has learned that cubicle life has some advantages, not least of which is her client’s speedy T1 line for Internet access. Then there’s the human touch: “Just having people around to brainstorm or schmooze with can be invigorating,” Lederman admits. “That’s the kind of thing being in a traditional office is good for.”

These ups and downs are typical, says Gil Gordon, owner of Gil Gordon Associates in Monmouth Junction, N.J., which consults with companies on telecommuting and virtual office programs. “Until you really settle in, that switching-back-and-forth thing can be a little disconcerting.”

Fortunately, with some planning and a few adjustments, you can make an alternating arrangement work in your favor. These six tips will help.

Be Flexible Rather than expecting to accomplish the same things wherever you are, a better approach is to use the different work environments to your advantage. “Plan your week and figure out what you’ll work on at home and at the office,” suggests Martha Buxton, director of marketing at TeleCommute Solutions in Atlanta, which implements large-scale corporate telework programs.

For example, use time in the office for face-to-face meetings and group planning sessions, and save solitary computer and phone work for home. Matching your tasks to the environment also makes it easier to anticipate which files and equipment you’ll need for the day.

Make Yourself at Home If you’re a part-time telecommuter who has a desk at headquarters to call your own, you’re lucky. Many companies can’t afford to have workspace go unused and instead use a “hoteling” system in which workers reserve space in advance.

“We hotel on a first-come, first-served basis,” explains Buxton–which means late arrivers are out of luck, although the company does provide each teleworker a locking cabinet for file storage. When Lederman arrives at her client’s office, she’s directed to whatever space is available that day–a nomadic arrangement that usually means schlepping files from cube to cube.

To feel more comfortable and less temporary, bring a few small items from home, such as a picture of the kids or your favorite mousepad or headset. But “always leave your workspace the way you found it,” Lederman advises. Hopefully, others who use the space will do the same for you.

Learn to Share It’s easy to get used to always being the first one–make that the only one–in line for the fax machine. “At home, I have my own printer, my own fax,” says Lederman. But at her client’s office, a staff of 60 shares just one of each.

Again, plan your tasks for your location. For example, save print and fax jobs for days when you’re home; in the office, take advantage of any equipment you don’t have at home, such as a heavy-duty copier that collates and staples, or a large-format or color laser printer.

Take It With You

Toting your laptop from home to office? Make sure you always have all the necessary connection gear on hand, advises Jim Sinocchi, director of executive and internal communications for the Personal Systems Group at IBM. Sinocchi works at home one day a week and spends the rest of his time shuttling between IBM’s main and satellite offices.

To stay productive, he’s loaded onto his hard disk the appropriate drivers for printers in each of the locations, and he keeps plenty of extra cables in his bag. Anything that minimizes setup time and frustration when switching offices–whether it’s a notebook port replicator or docking station for quick connection and disconnection from multiple cables, or remote-access and file-syncing software such as Symantec’s pcTelecommute ($100; 800-441-7234, www.symantec.com)–is a smart investment, agrees Gordon.

Be Easy to Find

Shuttling back and forth can make it hard for clients and colleagues to find you. At the very least, change your voice-mail message each day at home and at work to clarify where you’ll be.

Better still, to avoid confusing everyone–including yourself–with your changing numbers and whereabouts, forward calls from one location to the other. More simply, you can use a cell phone so callers can reach you wherever you are, or consider a “follow-you-anywhere” phone service such as Ameritech’s EnRoute.

Stick to Your Schedule Depending on the nature of their work, full-time telecommuters may be able to sleep all day and toil in the wee hours, but part-timers should proceed with caution. “While [you] might be tempted to adopt a radically different schedule [at home], it’s probably not a good idea,” says Gordon. “The less you stray from what would be comfortable at the office, the better. The bottom line is to assume that you might have to go into the office.”

Gordon also cautions against major lifestyle changes, such as moving farther away from the corporate office or starting a macrobiotic diet you’ve always wanted to try. If your work schedule changes and you wind up back at the office full time, you’ll face a longer commute or the challenge of keeping up with a high-maintenance diet at the corporate cafeteria.

FACTS & STATS

Desktop Pressure Cooker

Technology can be a double-edged sword for teleworkers and office-bound employees alike: While 55 percent of respondents to a recent Kensington Technology Group survey said technology makes them more productive, almost as many (47 percent) blame it for increasing stress as noted below.

Fortunately, today’s competitive job market is putting pressure on employers to sweeten the pot by offering flexible work schedules and telecommuting options, as well as higher compensation and incentives.

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Things That You Have To Know About Hard Drive Crash

March 1, 2013

hard-drive-crash-problemsHard drive crashes are still common despite the advancements in technology. Computers users must create a backup plan so they will not be too troubled when their hard drive crashes. There are software products that can retrieve deleted files these days. But it is still better to know when it is time to replace the hard drive. You may have heard about some reasons that may prompt hard drive crashes such as saving too much information or deleting information too often. These are considered as least likely reasons to cause a disk failure. The most common reason for hard drive crash is the physical damage. You have to be alert about if there is a clicking or buzzing noise emanating from the disk. If the disk produces a noise, you have to have the computer examined by a computer technician. Hard drives could acquire damages over time. Some people think that purchasing the most expensive unit can save them from experiencing hard drive crashes but it is not a certain solution. You should also watch out for frequent blue screen messages and notifications that the hard drive has to been formatted when it has already been formatted. You should back up your files if these appear on the screen.

 Know the Causes of Hard Drive Crash

Hard drive crashes appear to be quite inevitable. Your important documents, memorable family photos and favorite songs could be deleted when the hard drive crashes. But you can avoid being on the devastating situation by creating a backup for your files. There are software products that can retrieve files which lost during a hard drive crash but it is still better to have a backup plan. This is because recovery software products come with a cost and the number of files that they can recover has limitations. The type of failure that the hard drive experienced can influence the number of files that can be possibly retrieved.

It is essential to be informed about the elements that surround a hard drive crash. It would be helpful for a computer user to be oriented about the things that can cause hard drive crash so he would know how to prevent it. A hard drive crash can be caused by a physical or logical failure. A logical failure may occur due accidental deletion of crucial registry components or key files and existence of a virus.

The hard drive can still be recognized by the BIOS but the data contained within it may appear inaccessible. Physical failure may occur due to spindle motor failure. This could happen due to excessive heat.

 Understanding the Root of Hard Drive Crashes And Failures

Hard drive crashes are still not uncommon even with the existence of advanced technologies. This is because there several reasons that can predispose hard drive crash which are very difficult to control.

Computer users must be oriented about the safety measures that they can take to prevent a hard drive crash from happening. This can be possible if computer users are also well-informed about the things that can cause hard drive failure.

There are two types of failure that can prompt a hard drive crash.

These are physical and logical failure. If the crashed is instigated by a file-system corruption, it should be considered as a logical failure. This can root from the existence of a virus or unintentional deletion of vital registry components. Your data can still be intact within the drive but they may appear inaccessible. Physical failure is subdivided into two different forms, mechanical and electronic. A mechanical failure may occur if the spindle motor fails. An electronic failure may occur if the electronic circuit becomes damaged due to improper installation or faulty components. The amount of data that can be recovered can be influenced by the magnitude of damage to the hard drive. There are data recovery firms that can help you in the event that your disk fails.

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Control Your Business With POS Software

September 24, 2012

POS software is used for the retailer merchants for the calculation of the sale ratio and run the cash drawer. At this time, the POS software system is very appealing. This system is widely used throughout the world for different types of businesses. There are many kinds of POS software applications, which may range from the simple to extreme software.

One big advantage of point of sale software is that you do your business and all the sale and transactions are quickly and easily recorded in real time on the computer. This is one of the safest and easiest ways to do business. Hence, it is a complete system through which your business can be served in many areas and it can help you to remember all the daily sales, cash and taxes. Through this software, you can discover just what your sales patterns are, and how they work.

In short, the software includes many applications such as to track your inventory, automate pricing, keep your computer updated, record every day’s sale, do payroll, customer tracking and much more. Hence, POS software has different features and you should purchase this software according to the needs of your business.

In our rapidly developing world, POS software has become a significant tool in the world of retail. Therefore, if you intend to run a business that involves the tasks to be performed by this software, it is advisable to have one. It has various functions, for instance, it can be used to stream sales transactions, maintain customer relationships and for provision of relevant financial details of the business.

A good point of sale software can also be used to meet certain needs of a business. It is therefore important for those seeking to achieve their dreams in business to use this software. By performing this task of analyzing your market and business, you will be able to realize the progress in your business and the profit in it.

For a business to grow intensively you need to use a good quality POS software system in your business as it help in the sales transaction. When a sale is made, it automatically updates it.

Of all the kinds of POS software, the retail software is the most popular within the market. The technological assistance it offers to the businesses ensures both smooth efficiency and minimum losses. Most of the point of sale software products are customized to fit exactly to the needs of the business at hand. This is the most unique feature of the software. You get the software you want cut out for your business after consulting extensively with the service provider to facilitate it.

So to enjoy the use of the POS software it has to be installed to your computer. Work becomes very easy because the manual calculations you had to do previously will disappear. Unaccounted losses through theft and unpaid for services becomes a thing of the past. All transactions are accompanied by a receipt and the information regarding all of the transactions is stored in a central data base for reference purposes. Without the POS software, we could be fall behind in the business world. Actually, the running of businesses would be a nightmare and losses would be the order of the day.

When electronic cash registers were invented, they came in handy for the running of businesses. This technology made shocked many people because of the many uses that it came with. People embraced the technology then in the 1970s and enjoyed the good things that came with it like cleaner receipts, exact numbering and better information management in case one of the systems broke. The best, however, was still to come and it came with the invention of POS software. When this was introduced to the market it was embraced by many people.

This software was so different from the electronic cash registers because it could take care of very many tasks; thus bringing in efficiency in the business. They handle returns, purchases, customer accounts, layaways, sale history and many other more unique features. It is also user friendly because one does not need to go through rigorous training to use the POS system. When you engage the right POS software in your business the running becomes easier. This has been a very important innovation in our time and it can only get better as days come on. It will be interesting to find out how the Point of sale software can be improved on.

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POS Software And Inventory

September 19, 2012

Small businesses such as coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, and others require transactions of the products purchased by customers. These establishments use POS software that is specifically designed for a particular sector of the retail and restaurant business.

During inventory, the counts actually integrate into good POS software. Many years ago, inventory was done manually. Although it seems easy, the work is physically demanding and time consuming. When you are doing the inventory, discrepancies between the actual stock and the stock records may be observed. This is why it is important for business retailers to own POS software.

When new stocks arrive, the software helps the manager to tally the products. It helps in keeping stock levels updated thus making it convenient to determine which products sell the most and which items have lesser sells. This software enables you to check any old stocks that need to be disposed.

The POS software is truly a helpful tool to business owners. It keeps employers and employees work easier to achieve a successful goal of sales empowerment. Inventory clerks are responsible for the stock management. Stocks that arrive need to be tabulated and recorded using this software.

Getting POS software for your retail business is definitely a good idea. Because of the system, you can keep track of all sales, cash flow, and stocks. Inventory is also made easier and more convenient than manually checking stocks in the area. Also, there are many benefits of using free POS software.

Aside from being free of charge, the free software allows users to customize the system according to your needs. The software enables you to connect your CCTV system. You can keep records of any unwanted events in your business. It is definitely easy to use. For employers, you can immediately train a trusted employee to use this software. This allows you to have time to do other things rather than focusing on training an employee. The free POS software allows faster business transactions to customers. Instead of using the cash register, this software gives detailed information on the products that customers purchase. Employees can work easier by using this software.

Before deciding to acquire paid-for POS software, you can install a free version of this software by some companies. Through this, you will be familiar with how the system works. Upon buying, make sure that you will buy a secured system.
Point of sale software is widely used in many business establishments. It helps one to easily manage their business and to keep inventory really tight. Having good software will not only help the business person to be able to collect very vital information but it will also keep track of how money is being spent and avoid theft. Point of sale systems are very necessary, especially in the world of today.

As the world progresses, it is becoming harder and harder to operate a business that only deals with cash. This is because many customers now have learned that carrying a credit card is less tiresome and it helps them do their shopping faster. Point of sale software enables them to shop fast and conveniently and even helps them to serve themselves at grocery stores.

Point of sale software is widely used in hospitality establishments, salons and retail shops such as supermarkets. One can be able to customize the software according to their settings and their needs. One will also need to give consideration to other provisions to ensure the business is operated in the best way possible. This software makes work so easy that one will have no trouble monitoring their business from afar. They will also be able to do audits in very short time.

There is no doubt that getting POS software is a priority especially if one is operating a busy business. There are so many places where one can go to get these kinds of software. The first and most obvious option is online shopping. One will easily be able to purchase the software and install it to their systems. This will be faster but one needs to know how to install it.

The second source of point of sale software may be web hosting businesses. Most businesses that offer this service do not only deal with web hosting but they can also be dealing with this software. They will help one to put up a system where they can sell their wares online and still keep clean records.

One can also get the software from point of sale systems companies. This is the best choice because they will not only help in choosing the right system for you but they can also install it for you. They will also give advice and manuals on how to maximize the use of the software. One can go through several ones before choosing which one is most suitable for their needs. They can also help one to customize their system for only their use.

Why One Should Invest In a POS System

POS systems have come to do a lot of good especially to large-scale retail businesses and restaurants. This is because they help in day to day activities and ensure that all transactions are secure. There are some businesses that can easily run without the systems but some cannot be able to. This is because of the large volumes of sales being carried out and the complexity of these stores.

Take for example a supermarket. All the items sold in a supermarket have to be taxed a certain amount. If one was to operate without the systems, the amount of work they would have to do to serve one customer is just impossible. The presence of the systems helps one to do shopping in the fastest way possible. In countries, where credit cards are widely used, one can even serve themselves so easily.

The systems have greatly improved in the number of functions they can perform. Getting one will not only help you to operate with fewer staff but it will also make serving your customers so easy and fast. Even though the systems are crucial though, one should look at their annual income before investing in one. This is because very small businesses do not need it.

Check out a variety of system configurations at possoftwaresystems.net.

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Verifone CEO Was Golden

September 17, 2012

A road warrior for the last 13 years, working for Unisys Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. before joining Verifone, Ms. Abrams said she wanted to head off the “head office issues” that can arise if a new manager is not completely up-front.

Ms. Abrams is nothing if not up-front, which may help explain why Mr. Tyabji, who has described his own communication style as “take no prisoners,” had such high regard for her.

“I wanted them to know I was accessible,” Ms. Abrams said of her staff. “I wanted to set some expectations around other organizational announcements that may be coming-I don’t want them getting all worried with speculation and rumors. And I promised to come back at the end of April” with more news about the company, its structure, and strategies.

Interviewed shortly after she got those matters out of the way, Ms. Abrams was also up-front about the hard work ahead.

“I’m not sure I have the answers yet,” she said, “but how are we going to take this new generation of client/server products to the market, make customers happy the way we know how, and make the same kind of money as we have in the terminal space?

“We have a hardware-oriented, ‘go to the market’ model in our blood,” she said. Yet Verifone, still primarily a point of sale system supplier, has shifted its weight decidedly toward Internet commerce.

“We have to learn how to do those two things, and we’re not there yet,” Ms. Abrams said. Internet business “requires different allocation of capital, a different kind of sales force, a different approach to customers, and has different kinds of return.”

“We are farther ahead than anybody else,” she added, “but we have to keep moving faster than anybody else if we are going to stay ahead of some of these very interesting start-ups coming along.”

Ms. Abrams, a few weeks short of her 47th birthday, comes across as a good-humored, straight-talking, high-energy doer who snugly fits the Tyabji/Verifone mold. But she readily admits to be stepping into some big shoes far sooner than she had expected.

She said, “I can only think of a piece of advice I got from Bill Simmons,” executive vice president of Novus Services, a Verifone customer: “‘Get your own pair of shoes.’

“I guess I’ll be keeping my high heels.”

She said she expects Mr. Tyabji, still very much on the premises, to be “free with advice and counsel.”

Mr. Tyabji, 53, described Ms. Abrams as “an extremely accomplished general manager and sales and marketing executive with a deep knowledge of financial services.” That came in part from 11 years with Norwest Corp. in Minneapolis, where she went after getting a law degree from the University of Nebraska.

The legal education and extensive banking experience make her unique among technology company CEOs. On top of that, she has spent much of her life selling to financial institutions-and in her Verifone Americas job also to the retailing, health care, government, and labor management markets.

She said she has been enlightened by stints for both Unisys and Apple in Asia, where smart cards and other advances have taken hold faster than in the United States.

“They rethink the supply chain,” she said of her Asian contacts, contrasting that with the less freewheeling “silo” tendencies of U.S. organizations.

“Two or three banks that we and HP have worked with have taken those walls down, and they are the ones we see moving the fastest,” Ms. Abrams said.

Verifone can be a “facilitator” in that way with other banks, she added. That is the kind of missionary drive Mr. Tyabji instilled.

“One of the biggest reasons I came here was because of Hatim,” Ms. Abrams said. “I first met him years ago, and here I had a year with the guy. Most people never will have that. He is a true humanitarian kind of manager. He does the right thing for the company, but he does right by people. There are people in Silicon Valley who will do anything for Verifone because of what he did for them.”

The two crossed paths at Unisys. Ms. Abrams, who had spent 11 years at Norwest, mostly in the information technology area, joined Burroughs Corp. in Detroit in 1985. Within two months it was merging with Sperry Corp. to create Unisys.

Mr. Tyabji, who worked 13 years at Sperry, was not happy with the post-merger prospects and left the next year for Verifone, then a $30 million maker of point of sale terminals with mostly venture capitalists on its board. Traveling tirelessly and communicating heavily by e-mail, Mr. Tyabji turned it into a multinational enterprise, taking it public in 1990 and steering it toward Internet commerce-hoping to duplicate its point of sale success-starting in 1995.

In 1997, with more than 3,000 employees and annual revenue approaching $600 million, Mr. Tyabji presided over Verifone’s $1.3 billion acquisition by Hewlett-Packard, insisting that Verifone and its culture remain distinct as the two companies felt out their synergies.

Ms. Abrams stayed with Unisys through 1993, then went to Apple, where her posts included vice president and managing director of the Asia division. She followed others who came from Apple, such as Verifone senior vice president Lloyd Mahaffey, who built the consumer systems division and plays key marketing and strategy roles.

Another Apple alumnus, Michael Mount, is spearheading merchant commerce strategies. They have changed significantly over the past year as the Internet commerce market evolved in ways that Verifone and others did not anticipate. The emphasis is now on getting the vPOS software into virtual “storefronts” through alliances with system developers and Internet service providers.

“These are shifting sands,” Mr. Mount said. “Nobody has gotten the numbers right.”

Verifone has shown its ability to keep pace, offering products such as the Personal ATM smart card device. And it has been in the forefront of the credit card industry’s Secure Electronic Transaction campaign-to the point of expressing impatience with MasterCard and Visa’s promotion of the on-line security standard that they initiated.

Given its speed and focus, Verifone seems to take even the changing of a CEO in stride.

“Hatim’s leaving may be more profound than some other changes, but this company has been constantly transformed,” said Roger Bertman, vice president of corporate development and now the longest-serving senior manager, at six and a half years.

“When we went down the electronic commerce path, we didn’t know where we were going exactly, but it transformed the company,” he said. “We’re really excited about Robin. She’ll be great.”

She may not be seen much around the office. She said she does not like the “ivory tower aspects” of headquarters.

“My tendency is to be out in the channels, with a lot of customer involvement,” she said. “But we also have to get product management disciplines instilled in this company. We have to get better and better if we are to stay in front of these new products.”

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Roots Runs Deep With POS

Roots Canada, the Toronto-based retailer and manufacturer of casual clothing and leather goods, is seeking to fine-tune the product mix at each of its stores by using a new merchandise management system linked to new point-of-sale software.

By analyzing transaction data at point-of-sale, the merchandise management system will provide more accurate tracking of inventory by style at the store level, even suggesting when inventory might be moved from one store to another store to maximize profits.

“It was important to have these two systems — point-of-sale and merchandise management — linked together to get a clear picture of what is selling at the style level,” said Darlene Goren, director of corporate operations and technology for the 100-plus-unit Roots Canada.

The point-of-sale software from Datavantage, Cleveland, is being rolled out to all Roots stores beginning next month. The merchandise management system from Richter Systems, New York, will be rolled out this fall. The privately held company, which will open its first New York store in SoHo here May 12, has a mix of company-owned and franchised stores in the U.S., Canada and Asia.

Goren said the previous merchandise management system tracked inventory according to stockkeeping units, which was not specific enough to track inventory by style, color and size.

“An sku-based system works for some types of retail, such as supermarkets, but apparel and footwear retailers need to look at inventory by style, color and size. The merchandising system will allow us to implement the best practices and run our business more efficiently. It has the product descriptions we need for dynamic stock management,” she said.

The point-of-sale system will run on Windows NT-based hardware, and the merchandise management system on a Unix-based client-server network. “We made it a point to choose open hardware platforms so different systems on different platforms can communicate easily,” she said.

By linking the point-of-sale and the merchandise management system, Goren expects to improve the accuracy of the information available to buyers and to staff responsible for replenishment.

“We hope to boost the level of user confidence that they are making decisions based on the most accurate and up-to-date information,” Goren said.

While the merchandise management system will initially be used to track sales and inventory in Roots stores, the retailer eventually plans to expand the system to manage inventory distributed to retailers other than company-owned and franchised stores, including department stores.

“We sell a lot of our products through department stores like Eaton’s,” the Toronto-based department store, Goren explained. “We need to be able to implement EDI with these retailers to share purchase orders and sales data electronically,” she said. “The more efficiently we can exchange data, the better the product mix we supply to the department stores selling our products.”

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A New Generation Of Point Of Sale

Next-generation POS: A hefty percentage of point-of-sale systems will need to be replaced over the next couple of years, and retailers walking the floor of Retail Systems will likely be pondering what their next-generation front ends “should” look like.

Percy Young, manager of store systems at Burlington Coat Factory, says thin-client computing is making its way into retail corporate offices and could eventually become commonplace at the point of sale.

“We are looking at Java POS now,” Young says. “But we’re just looking-not doing anything with it yet.”

“Next-generation POS is a hot issue,” Longs’ Kilcourse adds. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of retailers do some ‘looking’ at Retail Systems. The Java POS initiative is just breaking ground and is very important to us all. Retailers are now coming into a cycle of reinvestment in POS.”

Where Burlington is using thin-client technology is in its corporate offices, where 400 thin-client computers have replaced “dumb,” green-screen terminals. Young says it is easier for him to control what’s on users’ desktops in a thin-client environment than had he replaced those terminals with full PCs.

“We are committed to thin clients at corporate,” Young says. “We’re going with the technology because of administrative savings. The up-front cost is not the issue. It’s almost a wash at this point. You can buy a Pentium PC for only a couple of hundred dollars more than you’d spend for a thin-client network PC. Where we will save money is in ongoing support costs. We won’t have to worry about supporting different versions of software installed on different PCs throughout the company.

“The thin clients allow us to offer windowing capabilities to people who only had text screens,” he says.

Like other retailers experimenting with thin-client computing, Burlington Coat Factory is looking at how to bring the technology out of corporate and into its stores.

“If we roll it out to the stores, it wouldn’t be to the checkout lanes first,” Young says. “We would try them in the back rooms or install thin-client information kiosks. And, really, our current POS systems are not overweight PCs. So many applications reside on the servers already. Moving to thin clients at the POS wouldn’t be a huge leap.”

Kilcourse, however, says Java-based thin-client technology could enhance the checkout experience without the worries of installing full PCs in that “tough” environment.

“I think Java has relevance at the front of the store,” Kilcourse says. “I wouldn’t want to put a fragile piece of hardware like a PC in a tough environment like the point of sale. But Java POS allows you to offer many of the pluses of PC-based POS without the hassles. You’d be able to bring graphic content to the customer in the checkout line. Retailers could get marketing messages directly to the customer, and that’s something vendors would probably pay for.”

The enterprise debate: SAP America, Wayne, Pa., entered the U.S. retail market with a bang at last year’s Retail Systems show. Viewed from the second-story gallery at Chicago’s Navy Pier, the SAP booth was a beehive of activity.

SAP’s entry into the market has since fueled a debate over the relative merits of single-vendor, enterprise-wide software suites vs. best-of-breed software strategies. It’s a debate that will continue at this year’s show.

“There is a debate raging over best-of-breed vs. enterprise strategies,” Kilcourse says. “People in manufacturing are seeing successes with enterprise solutions, and companies like SAP and PeopleSoft are trying to make inroads into retail. They’ve got a receptive audience among top management. A lot of executives are extremely impatient with the high failure rate of client/server applications .”

SAP, which began rolling out its suite at Reebok and grocery wholesaler Nash-Finch last year, has since added a mix of North American retailers to its client list. They include OfficeMax, Florsheim, Sobey’s, PETsMART and FabriCenters, along with two more grocery wholesalers: Oklahoma City-based Fleming Cos., and Quebec’s Metro-Richelieu.

“SAP is definitely breaking into the retail space,” Kilcourse continues. “There is no question about it. But I have reservations about moving to enterprise solutions. Installations take a long time, and you become very dependent on outside expertise. I question whether it is a safe and sane thing to do.”

Y2K and other headaches: The Year 2000 problem, the inability of many software systems to recognize four-character year entries in date fields, was on the minds of many retail information systems executives at last year’s show. It will be a dominant topic once again at Retail Systems 98.

“It’s going to be on everybody’s minds,” Burlington Coat Factory’s Young says.

“I recently read that only 35% of American businesses have a Year 2K plan in place,” Longs’ Kilcourse adds. “This is still very much an issue for retailers. But no one should forget that there are two parts to the Year 2K problem. One is the problem itself, the second is what retailers are putting off while they are addressing it.”

Many retail information systems executives says checking all their systems to find out if they can accommodate four-digit years writing the code to correct the situation if they can’t is eating up a lot of developer man-hours. That is time that would have been spent decreasing the backlog of requests for new applications from users.

So, will Internet commerce be on the lips of many retailers at this year’s show? Retailers say it will, but the comments won’t be all that favorable.

“The blush is off the rose on the consumer-level stuff,” Kilcourse says. “Despite all the press it’s getting, even Amazon.com hasn’t been profitable. And books are a product that seems to fit the Web. I don’t even know for sure if Egghead Software made a good move when it decided to close its stores and become a 100% Web-based retailer-and they sell software, seemingly the easiest product to sell on line.

“We are not using the Internet much at all,” he continues. “It’s just an electronic billboard for us.”

Despite the struggle on-line retailing has presented for many companies, Kilcourse, like many information systems executives, believes the Internet will yet have a profound impact on retailing.

“Granted, there is too much hype around the Internet now,” he says. “But I still feel the Internet is one of the most fundamental changes to hit retailing in a generation.”

So where will the Internet benefit the large majority of retailers over the short term? Burlington’s Young says in business-to-business electronic commerce.

“For one thing, we’d love to see Internet EDI take off,” Young says. “The functional acknowledgment has always been the sticking point. But a well-designed software package provides you with that. And all the major EDI VANs are now offering Internet EDI options to their retailer clients. They provide that level of confidence for a price.”

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Microsoft And IBM Fight It Out For POS Supremacy

“Grocery, drug and department stores that have been using IBM architecture are heading into a new round of investment.” says Brian Kilcourse, senior vp and cio at Longs Drug Stores, Walnut Creek, Calif. “The IBM 4680 and 4690 line, and the basic architecture behind it, is getting a little long in the tooth.”

Kilcourse says Microsoft would like to see the Windows NT operating system succeed IBM as that architecture.

“There’s a big window of opportunity here for whomever comes up with the new architecture,” Kilcourse says. “Microsoft wants to see another disk-based architecture take root, not a diskless architecture like Java, and whoever gets there first is going to be the winner. If a retailer invests in a Microsoft-based ICL solution, it will be in place for the next 10 years. Microsoft is hoping to secure market share before viable Java-based POS solutions emerge.

Bill Homa, cio at Hannaford Bros., the Scarborough, Maine-based supermarket company, also questions the announcement. “It could be good and bad for retailers,” Homa says. “It’s good in the sense that Microsoft will be developing some competitive products for retail. But it’s bad because if Microsoft has its way, that development will be to Microsoft standards-which are not necessarily open.”

ICL’s operating systems have been mostly UNIX-based to date, though the vendor has moved toward NT in recent years.

The ICL alliance will expand Microsoft’s influence in retail, according to Graham Clark, group manager of product industries at Microsoft. But Clark says the emphasis extends beyond point of sale.

“This signals that Microsoft is expanding its focus beyond store systems,” he says. “A number of the Microsoft/ICL applications will be enterprise applications. We are making a thrust from store systems into enterprise functions like merchandising and decision-support data-warehousing systems.”

Clark says a new version of Microsoft’s SQL Server database with an integrated OLAP (on-line transactional processing) engine will hit the market this fall.

“Until we had the OLAP engine, we couldn’t do much more than mini data marts,” Clark says. “The new version of SQL Server is a breakthrough product for us in medium to large retail enterprise organizations that want to install data warehouses.”

And while critics argue that the SQL Server database still isn’t robust enough to support data warehousing on the grand scale, Clark says it will appeal to retailers planning medium-sized data warehouses for other reasons.

“It will come with links to Excel, so people will be able to import data into spreadsheets easily,” he says. “And this will make it much easier for database administrators to set up data warehouses.”

Clark says the product is currently serving as the database for an enterprisewide data warehouse at an unnamed retailer with annual sales of about $500 million.

Kilcourse says the SQL Server database is improving, but added that he still is not convinced that the Windows NT operating system is “ready for mission-critical applications.”

Kilcourse also questions whether Windows-based POS systems can withstand the checkout environment.

“Boy, there’s a lot of dust and grime at checkouts,” he says. “The jury is still out on Microsoft’s ability to provide bulletproof retail solutions that can live in a pretty hostile environment like a store.

“Windows 95 is fine for the desktop, but putting it out at the point of sale is another story,” he adds. “Putting Microsoft-based solutions at the outer edges of your network is a huge issue. They are tough to manage as enterprise devices, and it’s not easy to turn your store staffers into experts able to deal with the idiosyncrasies of Microsoft products.

“I’m not a big fan of the IBM 4680/4690 environment,” he adds. “But those machines were built that way for a reason. They’re tough. They can handle the store environment.”

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