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QuickBooks Point of Sale and Hosting

QuickBooks Point of Sale in a Hosted Environment

Retail operators and multi-location store owners often face difficulties in attempting to bring cohesion to their accounting, financial, and operational data.  In so many situations, the retail location –  where inventory is sold and money is exchanged – is far-removed from the administrative location where the financial systems and business reporting exist.  It seems that the best case scenario is to create a means for the remote (retail) locations to operate with real-time access to centralized customer, inventory, and financial data from a primary source. Application hosting services can provide this centralization,  and a platform for standardization, of systems.  Further, the application hosting model can deliver security and managed service which ensures that the systems are available and performing as required.

Even though hosted applications and centralization of the systems and processes in a POS environment may appear to be the right answer, there are caveats and considerations that speak to the realities of today’s technologies.  These caveats should be strongly considered prior to undertaking any reformation of systems and processes relating to the retail locations.

The first fundamental reality which must be addressed is connectivity.

While a retail or store location may enjoy Internet or network connectivity, there should be great consideration given to the wisdom of connecting these locations only and exclusively via remote access systems.

Retail is a dynamic business, and the sale is made when the customer is ready and willing to buy.  Any retail location must be able to process this sale in order to meet the immediacy of customer demand.

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If the systems in use are exclusively accessed remotely, then the connectivity to those systems become of paramount importance in the ability to do business.  At the very minimum, any remotely-served retail location should have redundant connectivity options, with local personnel being familiar with the connection failover process.

A second strong consideration for a hosted or remotely-deployed POS or retail system is local device support.

Devices, such as card readers, scanners, cash drawers, receipt printers, etc. typically require local PC/computer drivers in order to function.  When served by a remote system, this connection between the host and the local devices may not function.  Limited device support for POS hardware can significantly impact the location’s accuracy and efficiency.

QuickBooks POS was designed for use on a single-user PC environment.  The application is not well-suited to a hosted deployment for multiple users, as the software only allows one instance of itself to run on each computer.  This alone eliminates the benefits of a server-based computing model for POS, whether onsite or hosted. The multi-lane option requires all stores to be connected via the same LAN, so remotely connecting multiple locations isn’t really do-able, either.  This is why there is a multi-store option, allowing the various stores to operate independently and send the daily data back to a master location via a store transfer or email process.

In many cases, the suitable answer is to keep the POS systems running on the local computers and network, and run the accounting applications on the host. The host system, whether it be an on-premises server or a location in the cloud, could also run the software which integrates the POS data with accounting.

integratedFor example, with an installation of QuickBooks accounting the point-of-sale “master location” on the host, the core financial data is able to be secured and protected in the virtual environment without risking lost productivity (and lost sales!) due to connectivity failures at the retail locations.  The end-of-day process at each location is to then copy the POS data to the host system where it is integrated with the accounting system. If the POS system is something other than QuickBooks POS, it simply means that there is another piece of software – the specific POS integration tool – required to transfer the POS data into the accounting software.  QuickBooks desktop accounting integrations are available for most popular POS systems including Micros, POSiTouch, Aloha and others. The integration software (often just a QuickBooks plug-in) would be installed on the computer running QuickBooks, enabling the entry of the POS data into the QuickBooks accounting system.

It makes a ton of sense to centrally manage the accounting and financial data for the business, in a secure location away from the retail storefront and frontline workers.  It’s just that the accounting is easier to host and makes more sense to run as a centrally-managed, hosted solution.  POS, on the other hand?  Not so much.

For a small market vendor or the largest of retail stores, point of sale needs to be up and running at all times, driving receipt printers and cash registers/drawers and barcode scanners. Run the POS system on-premises where the action happens, but keep accounting and finance safe and secure somewhere else.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J

What we’ve learned about desktop and application hosting for small businesses

Application hosting is pretty popular these days, and a lot of that popularity can be attributed to the proliferation of web-based and SaaS solutions that have clearly revealed the benefits of mobility and managed service.  Not everyone wants to or can use a web-based application, however, causing demand for hosting of desktop applications to grow.  Take a look at what’s going on with Intuit QuickBooks, for example.  With all the push to QuickBooks Online, Intuit has created a surge in the demand for hosted QuickBooks desktop editions.  Folks want their QuickBooks available for remote access and to support multiple users from different locations… but they also want to continue to use the feature-rich QuickBooks desktop products their businesses rely on.  Hosting lets them have their cake and eat it, too.  It’s the best of both worlds.

Back in 2000, there were a few in the tech industry that said the desktop would be dead soon.  Business users wouldn’t be sitting down to work at computers, they would be using various devices to access their applications and data, from anywhere.  Those early visionaries recognized that mobility was the coming thing, and that even the smallest of businesses would need what was at the time enterprise-class technology. I wasn’t so sure about the potential death of the desktop and the beloved applications businesses love to use, but I was pretty certain that “working online” with centrally-managed systems was the thing to work toward.

A lot of hosting companies started up at that time, and a lot of them went out of business just a few years later – some in virtual flames.  Customers lost time, productivity, and in some cases their data.  Investors lost their investments.  It wasn’t that the service providers weren’t doing a good job, or that the technology wasn’t quite up to the task – the problem was the hype and the money.  Too many people sat on the sales-side of the technology, making promises they couldn’t deliver and coming up short in meeting investor and customer demands.

Quite a number of years have gone by, and the market is still rife with promises unkept and solutions undelivered.  But some of us in the industry have learned a lot over the years, so I’d like to share some of that learning.

Application hosting services gained popularity because they solved some major problems for businesses and their collaborators (including accountants, bookkeepers, remote workers, etc.).

Hosted application services allow everyone to work on the same software and data, regardless of where the user is located. Hosted application services provide centralized access for businesses with multiple locations or mobile workers.  And hosted application services make it easier for contracted or engaged professionals like accountants and bookkeepers to work closer with their clients.

In the beginning, when we were just launching these hosting services, the equipment, facilities and expansive engineering labor requirements were really expensive so there was tremendous pressure to find ways to keep costs down.  For customers, the plan was to pack as many users into the environment as possible, with volume representing a way to get a lower per-user cost.  This concept paved the way for the accountant cloud server model, where it was suggested that an accounting firm could bring all their clients onto the cloud server to help keep the costs down.  For a while that model worked pretty well, but then some issues started to be revealed.

With small business application hosting, particularly when dealing with QuickBooks, it should be recognized that nobody uses just QuickBooks.

There’s almost always a plug-in or add-on or some other solution that is also required with QuickBooks. Taking payments in QuickBooks requires a 3rd party plugin if you aren’t going to use Intuit payment solutions.  Downloading payroll data from another service may also require a plugin, as does the tax add-on and the order sync tool and the solution that integrates orders from the website or via EDI from vendors or suppliers.  It is almost never just QuickBooks.  When a provider tries to pack all that customization into a single server and serve a whole lot of different business, each with their own needs – things go a bit sideways.  Servers hang, customer applications interfere with one another, and data gets compromised.

The next phase then was either VDI or dedicated service.  VDI was and continues to be too expensive and complex when you have to factor in database engines, shared storage and such.  Dedicated service (server) is a bit more straightforward and still has some economy of scale.  With this model, each customer gets what they need.  They’re still in a cloud-hosted environment so collaboration isn’t a problem, and every customer has the benefit of working with exactly the software solutions they need for their particular business.  The challenge is serving just a few users.  Even though cloud servers can be relatively affordable to get these days, it may still be too costly for one- or two-user situations. (Note that these are the folks that often find themselves compelled to try the online, web version of an application simply due to cost.)

The customized cloud delivery is the right concept, but many service providers still have problems supporting multiple applications for customers and often charge quite a bit extra while delivering a marginal level of service.  You may find a provider who will try to deliver any application for you (and many will do that poorly) or you may find a popular provider that can only offer a particular set of applications for hosting.  If the provider isn’t able to deliver the applications the business needs, or if they are unable to deliver custom or personalized service, then they are likely not the right provider for the business.

The emergence of public cloud services like AWS should make it easier for small businesses to get affordable computing power and customized cloud service from any IT provider, but it hasn’t yet. 

The public cloud is still far too complicated for most small businesses to navigate or even get started with.  Truthfully, it is difficult for many IT resellers and partners to navigate, too.  Getting started is potentially costly in terms of time and resources especially for service providers, so those costs and complications end up reaching through to the customer.  The public cloud just isn’t ready for the average small business to take advantage of directly, so on-premises servers or managed cloud server hosting are still the most viable options.

A big wrinkle in the whole hosted online application model is that many businesses don’t really need or want to completely outsource their IT to a cloud provider.

Considerations relating to privacy and proximity are paramount for many business owners, not to mention the trust factor.  Lawyers, accounts, manufacturers… business owners in any industry may be uncomfortable considering moving their systems and information out of their immediate control.  There could be regulatory concerns or logistical challenges, or it could be something as simple as realizing that there remain applications or data on computers on-premises that make an outsourced hosting approach more complicated and costly while delivering only a partial solution.  Whatever the reasons, there remains a lot of in-house IT and that’s OK.

There is no doubt that business owners and their team members need and want mobility and secure remote access.  They also want to work with the IT providers they trust and maybe they even want to continue working from servers they have already contracted for or purchased.

Forcing a business owner to migrate their systems to a hosting platform when all they really want is remote access or multi-user service seems a bit like overkill.

Granted, there are many benefits to be derived from outsourcing IT management and administration, like improved focus on the business, and various business processes and workflows could be more streamlined with a centrally-managed and fully accessible solution.  Yet those benefits are the intangibles that businesses must discover after-the-fact, and are achieved only if the business works specifically towards those goals.  In short, it isn’t necessarily what business owners are buying.

If we have learned nothing else over the years it is that things don’t move as quickly as we’d like them to.

The world never seems to end before your homework is due.

Software-as-a-Service hasn’t completely killed off desktop software, and smartphones and tablets haven’t ended the useful life of the desktop computer.   What they have done is fully expose the desire and need for mobility and access, and have opened the doors for tools to address those needs more affordably and flexibly than the other approaches previously available.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J

Cloud service and remote/mobile capability can be had and it doesn’t require a wholesale replacement of systems and applications to get it done.  It also doesn’t require expensive and complicated solutions that publish applications and desktops, big Active Directories and a ton of engineering time.

mqc-logoCheck this out –  MyQuickCloud is a different approach to hosting and remote access that delivers big benefits to users and IT partners alike.  Unlike previous approaches, this one does not require businesses to select a single provider or even a single hosting model, so business owners can continue working with products and the providers they trust.

  • MyQuickCloud enables remote access and desktop hosting from existing systems, so a business can extend their resources to reach mobile workers and remote offices quickly and affordably.
  • If the business wants to incorporate additional servers, or even migrate to hosted cloud servers, MyQuickCloud streamlines and simplifies the process and ensures that users won’t be confused by new interfaces or methods of connecting. Yes – MyQuickCloud offers cloud servers on AWS, too, so you can use your own server or one from them.
  • MyQuickCloud removes the challenges and expense of installing and configuring remote access and virtual desktops, so partners can get their customers up and running in just minutes instead of days.
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