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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.
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.
For 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.
Channel agents and telephony resellers are facing stiff competition these days. Line access or voice service isn’t as easy to sell as it once was, and the convergence of digital voice and data has made things even less simple. Business customers demand comprehensive solutions that can address a variety of business problems, and they tend to seek out those solutions from the advisors they trust. The “advisor” could be a software reseller, an accounting professional, the local IT guy, or the professional that delivered great telco, voice or network access.
Convergence isn’t only for voice and data solutions; convergence is the combining and compressing of channels delivering those solutions. MSPs and “pure” IT resellers are also feeling the squeeze, finding telecom agents and channels among those challenging the VARs and MSPs operating today. Marketing budgets are increasing, but differentiation is not. Reselling is a crowded space and everyone has become a service provider. Having the right messages to win new customers and retain existing ones is essential not just for success, but for survival.
Once a channel partner or provider has established a solid customer relationship, it is important to capitalize on that goodwill (and develop even more) by delivering the other value-added services the customer needs. Access, connectivity and voice solutions are just a start when it comes to servicing small and growing business customers. Having come from an application hosting background, I am very aware of the demand for mobility and “always-on, always-available” computing services among businesses small and large. When the partner is working with the customer and is solving connectivity and telephony problems, the likelihood of successfully selling additional IT solutions to address mobility is quite high. The challenge has often been with the investment required for training and certification; development of new competencies which are viewed as diversions from the core business. Evolution of technology, markets and demand suggests that offering a broader base of solutions isn’t a diversion any longer, it has become a core requirement.
Secure remote access to on-premises systems, managed hosting on cloud servers delivering always-on service or disaster recovery, and collaboration tools that keep everyone on the same page – these are the solutions that savvy businesses are looking for, and which represent the additional value channel partners and service providers could be delivering to their valued customers. After all, if the customer can’t get what they need from their trusted reseller/advisor, they will find somewhere else to buy, removing their “advisor” from the mix. Most business owners would agree that it takes less to nurture and maintain existing customers than it takes to find new ones, so the investment in offering and delivering value-added solutions is well worth it.
The best way for channel partners to retain their customer relationships is to offer a full range of solutions and value-added services to meet the variety of needs of their business clientele. MyQuickCloud, for example, is a highly successful partner solution and add-on for resellers of IP telephony services and line access. MyQuickCloud offers very flexible and affordable secure remote access and cloud hosting solutions that do not require investments in training or certification to resell, giving channel partners and telecomm agents the right stuff to beat out the competition and keep small business and growing enterprise customers happy and coming back for more. Partners leverage their expertise and creativity in developing solutions with MyQuickCloud, resulting in cost-effective and powerful network, application and continuity services not previously available.
MyQuickCloud secure remote access creates a secure business cloud from on-premises systems, with hosted or co-located cloud servers, or any combination of on-prem or offsite hosts. The on-premises capability leverages investments in existing infrastructure and adds value and capability to locally installed systems, a benefit which is not available with traditional hosting models. Able to be positioned as simple remote access, managed hosting or complete disaster recovery, MyQuickCloud gives channel partners a simple yet comprehensive approach to meeting customer computing needs regardless of the applications in use or mobile devices to support. MyQuickCloud is also used by installers and support technicians, enabling remote access to client on-prem systems, turning service and support into a more streamlined and efficient effort and improving customer service and retention.
I wrote an article a while back about how it all comes down to 3 applications for small businesses… applications to address fundamental business requirements. Among those requirements is the need to communicate. Whether it be via voice or electronic mail or other means, every business communicates and every business needs communication tools. Chief among the communication tools is the voice service (telephone), whether it be on-premises or hosted, digital voice or IP (not much analog out there anymore) or some combination of all of the above. Extending telephone systems to service a remote and mobile workforce or to connect multiple business locations is a high demand business and has proven to be very lucrative for many partners. Adding value to these solutions by delivering remote access or hosting service simply increases the overall value of the system and allows business customers to take full advantage of mobile, connected and integrated working models.