IT Reseller spoke with a number of VARs to learn about some of their most notable recent projects covering a wide range of vertical sector deployments.
Sanderson RBS helping retailers to meet their PCI obligations
Sanderson RBS has been involved in a number of interesting projects over the past year. As well as being involved in a number of EPoS deployments and upgrades, along with hardware replenishment projects, the team has worked on PCI and Power Management solutions. Sanderson RBSs Dave Mahoney provided the background: The recent changes in PCI compliance regulations have been recognised and ultimately accepted by the retail community, and whilst many have looked to undertake the related accreditation services themselves others have looked to their partner community. The prospect of having to deploy anti-virus and operating system updates on a perpetual basis is seen as being unrealistic, whilst the consequence of not maintaining the integrity of target devices is unthinkable. Sanderson RBS has worked with Evolution to come up with an answer to this business pressure and took the organisations joint eSecure solution to market last year. This software and associated monitored service solution removes the need to constantly update anti-virus and operating systems in a PCI approved manner, explained Mahoney. Retailers are committed to meeting their PCI obligations and have a genuine desire to protect their customer information, and we therefore see this solution as gaining traction in the upcoming year.
Likewise Mahoney makes the point that retailers are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to power consumption; especially when the consumption occurs outside of trading hours. For years it has been accepted that devices need to be left on overnight due to polling requirements, system upgrades and even to avoid hardware failures caused when devices are powered off, said Mahoney. Upcoming legislation will result in taxes being levied on retailers based on their power consumption levels. This legislation, coupled with a genuine desire to be seen as being environmentally aware, are driving factors in retailers desire to control their power usage.
With this in mind Sanderson has worked with many of its customers to define overnight schedules that maximise the opportunity to power-down devices. At pre-determined times, or even after an identified action, a device will be powered down and remain in a state of hibernation using either a hardware or software solution. In this state the device will use a minimal amount of power, yet be aware of its environment and will react to a network based instruction to wake up and perform an action, said Mahoney. This solution not only allows retailers to manage their power consumption, it also does it in a manner that is sympathetic to their business demands.
The PCI eSecure solution is presently deployed to more than 4000 seats in the retail sector for a number of well-known high street retailers. Mahoney explained that the driving factor was to meet PCI requirements in a cost-effective and practical manner. The power management solution is newer but will be installed into a similar base within the next three to four months. The main driving factor was to reduce power consumption along with associated costs and to promote the retailers awareness of the environment, said Mahoney. Both solutions can be deployed on tills, back office servers and central devices.
The distributor of the eSecure solution is Evolution, although the final solution incorporates services provided directly by Sanderson RBS. We had no hesitation in recommending the solution, as the software meets all known requirements whilst Evolution operates under a similar ethos to Sanderson RBS, Mahoney remarked. Evolution are involved in pre-sales activities and have attended and hosted several user forums to keep our customer base and prospects updated on the solution as it moved from concept to deliverable.
TSC Barcode Solutions fruit, poultry and hospitals
Some of the opportunities that TSC Barcode Solutions has enjoyed this year have involved working with a fruit picker to develop a job tracking application, a chicken breeder to develop an application for tracking eggs and a hospital to provide an IT stock tracking system. All these projects involved mobile terminals, all involved tracking a product and all resulted in cost savings and error reduction, explained TSC Barcode Solutions Martin Cameron. The fruit picker had used mobile terminals before but wanted to take the application further and increase its uptake of TSC Barcode Solutions technology. The solution had to be bespoke and involved up to 30 supervisors with terminals recording who was picking, how long they were picking for, what they had picked, the quality of the pick, the time taken etc., said Cameron. The system will help them to understand their costs, the efficiency of their workforce, the quality of their end product and much more. It will help them be more efficient and reduce their costs. They can therefore improve their offering to their customers.
In the case of the chicken breeder, Cameron explained that it had not used mobile technologies before but wanted a way to record the sire and dam for each egg laid and to identify the eggs produced. Again, a bespoke solution running on a handheld terminal, and this time also involving a mobile label printer, was deployed. Up to 50 farms required a kit consisting of a handheld terminal, a printer and a GPRS connection back to head office so the collected data could be collated. The system would provide an instant update at head office of the progress of the breading programme and therefore would make them faster and seriously reduce their error rate, making them more efficient and reducing their costs, said Cameron.
As regards TSC Barcode Solutions hospital project, this customer was not new to mobile technologies but wanted an efficient way of recording new equipment coming in to the department, labelling it and recording where it was stored before it was despatched to the area of the hospital that required it. This was a fairly simple off-the-shelf solution with minimal configuration, Cameron pointed out, but meant that equipment no longer went missing and the department could respond to equipment requests much faster because it knew where everything was.
For all three projects TSC Barcode Solutions used Varlink as the supplier of the technology involved. In the case of the egg-tracking application Varlink was able to help the company prove the concept to the customer by lending TSC Barcode Solutions the necessary terminal and printer and giving it advice on how to get the connection between the two up and running successfully. Cameron explained that Varlink was also able to work on TSC Barcode Solutions behalf with the manufactures in this case Psion Teklogix and Zebra to achieve competitive pricing for the deal.
Datalinx Computer Systems the fully integrated advantage
Over the past year Datalinx Computer Systems has launched an application that is fully integrated into the Sage 50 business system. This has combined some well-proven principals of barcoding and mobile devices for stock control and the business processes of Sage 50 into a single entity. We had found that whilst there are many applications that allow barcode stock to be handled, very few integrate to other business systems this is what sets the Datalinx product apart, commented Datalinxs Melvin Fletcher.
Within this SME market place Fletcher explained that the company is seeing a growing demand for the type of stock control systems that used to be the prerogative of the big players in the supply chain. After all, can you imagine Amazon or Tescos running without an integrated barcode-driven stock control system?, asks Fletcher. The small business can now get the same percentage savings on their bottom line, although the main difference when comparing the two markets is the SME system has to be delivered at a price point and functionality level in line with the systems that run the rest of the business.
Fletcher added that the application will operate within any business that uses Sage and has Stock. This allows a very diverse range of businesses to use our systems as the application will operate equally well within a pharmaceutical company or a heavy engineering business, he pointed out. Our Inventory Manager 50 application provides the ability to control stock, and our users tell us that their stock accuracy typically increases from less than 75 per cent to just below 100 per cent.
Fletcher pointed out that a key element of Datalinxs application is the hardware that it is delivered on. In our world of providing a complete system, the end user will take our recommendation for hardware, provided it is a product line from one of the recognised hardware suppliers, he said. The manufacturer that we recommend is a secondary consideration. When we took our project plan for the Sage 50 market to Varlink, their ability to showcase all hardware manufacturers in one place and on one table was invaluable. When you add their understanding of our target market and our planned future development, their ability to leaver additional benefits from the manufacturers such as demonstration hardware and marketing support allowed us to provide a complete package that was more than just a mobile terminal.
Cybertill for a good cause
The past year or so has seen strong growth in the charity retail sector for Cybertill. This has led the company to develop a Gift Aid module to allow charity retailers to claim Gift Aid on donated goods. This typically allows the charities to claim an additional 28 pence on every 1 they make through selling donated goods, explained Cybertills Ian Tomlinson. The project started with orders from British Red Cross, 320 stores and PDSA 181 stores as well as other high street charities and hospices. Tomlinson pointed out that, with the odd exception, prior to implementing the automated gift-aid solution these charities were not reclaiming Gift Aid. Where they were it was through a paper-based system, which entailed a huge amount of paperwork both in store and at head office, he said. And none of this was automated so if the same donor visited the same charity store the following day all the paperwork would need completing again. In addition to this, arguably the time spent on paperwork often outweighed the benefit of claiming Gift Aid such was the time involved. Those not even claiming Gift Aid they were omitting a huge potential revenue stream for their charity; although one factor that all charities were very mindful of at all times was ensuring any system they had in place adhered with HMRCs stringent guidelines.
Tomlinson said there were several reasons why Cybertill developed and recommended the Gift Aid solution for charities. It would automate the process for reclaiming Gift Aid at point of sale and at head office, saving time and this in turn would help generate more valuable funds for the charities, he said. First, Cybertill had the Gift Aid solution thoroughly interrogated by a national accountancy company to make sure it is fit for business in addition to having regular contact with the HMRC. When deploying the system Cybertill worked closely with its reseller partner ScanSource and each charity to ensure all installations were delivered on time and met with the clients specific demands. Training was delivered directly by Cybertill to the charities. On some projects it was through the train the trainer approach while for others it was delivered through a classroom approach of group learning.
In terms of additional activities, changes and challenges within our VAR commentators organisations, Dave Mahoney points out that Sanderson RBS has increased its managed services activity as a consequence of having seen a distinctive increase in requests for this value add from its customer base. Mahoney explained that managed services can range from simple requirements such as outsourcing hardware procurement, configuration and installation through to assistance in reducing power consumption, achieving PCI compliance and complete functional outsourcing. Whilst it is accepted that no one partner can offer the complete array of services required, customers do expect more and more, he said. For many years numerous suppliers have laid claim to being a partner rather than a supplier, and that requirement has never been truer. Customers see their partners as being an extension of their own teams and therefore we have had to recruit more technical people, more support personnel and certainly more account managers. However, Mahoney adds that, although technology can be used to make these people more productive, there is no replacement for the benefits of a face-to-face session. So, he continues, not only does Sanderson RBS need to be in a strong position to address its customers requirements, it also needs to keep abreast of technical advances whilst understanding new areas and considering who it could potentially partner with.
Melvin Fletcher comments that Datalinx continues to grow as its products evolve and are taken up by the market. In Cybertills case too, Ian Tomlinson comments that the past year has seen the company continue its growth path, even during the recession. We have recruited more sales people and technical people, as well as brought forward a planned marketing manager recruitment by six months, he said. Tomlinson added that a big growth area for Cybertill has been in the charity vertical as mentioned earlier; however, Cybertills core business of independent retailers has also continued to grow. It is however very tough out their; we have seen decisions taking longer and orders sometimes being pulled, he said. That, coupled with historically larger tier competitors fighting for smaller deals that normally they would not bid for, and competitors slashing prices, has made it an interesting time with significant price pressure from the end user and every deal hard fought for.
Clive Fearn, marketing director of the Barcode Warehouse, considers that demand for mobility products is increasing rapidly; buoyed by the adoption of smartphones in recent years. We are now seeing constant evaluation of rugged mobile computers versus consumer-grade smart phones, he said. To date, enterprise mobility solutions have been standardised on Windows mobile software, providing easy migration when upgrading hardware platforms. From our perspective we are seeing a growth in the adoption of enterprise mobility solutions across all sectors any business that has mobile field based workers. Interestingly these solutions often benefit from the addition of mobile printing capability.
Martin Cameron explains that TSC Barcode Solutions has moved from the concept of keeping all its technical skills in-house in favour of outsourcing its requirements to a set of highly skilled developers and technicians who know TSC Barcode Solutions technologies and subscribe to its core company ethics. This team, or extended family as we like to think of them, works under the guidance of one of our fully employed, Prince 2 qualified, project managers; either together or as individuals working on specific projects, Cameron pointed out. They are contracted to run development projects or provide support and technical advice all purely on an ad-hoc basis. This enables us to keep our overhead down, to be able to offer solutions at fixed costs and to be less reliant on one or two people in house; instead having access to a greater range of skills and resource than we could afford to employ. Consequently we can be lean and mean but still offer a full range of skills and services.