The cloud has hit retail as much any other industry sector. Partners in the retail space may be watching revenue from implementations evaporate – but some are finding some new ways to earn a dollar.
In 2011 Surefire Systems, a point-of-sale software retailer, saw the cloud was bringing about convergence between retail and banking. Banks were releasing terminals that were mobile, not tied to a counter. Bluetooth devices and dongles would power a new world of mobile payments. Surefire made the wise call to provide mobility through a browser-based environment rather than connecting to an in-store server.
It set about building a unified commerce platform that was scalable and usable anywhere, anytime. “We could give a retailer’s assistant access to store pricing, while the consumer could access it through the web or a mobile app,” says Dale Corrigan, chief executive of the family-run business.
The middleware platform, which is built on Microsoft Azure, can connect to the company’s solutions as well as rivals’ legacy systems. Retailers can add mobile or web services without ripping out entire ERP and CRM databases and starting over. “We became, in their stores, another lane,” Corrigan says. “These enterprise retailers aren’t going to throw out their solutions overnight.”
The company had to overcome a major hurdle – how to keep a retailer trading when the internet connection goes down. Refresh rates of browser-based apps can also struggle to keep up with high-volume retailers who have to operate and trade, no matter what. Surefire solved this by keeping all data files on each device, including discounts and loyalty information. When the device reconnects to the network it will trickle-feed data back to the cloud database. “We’re not reliant on the cloud to do anything,” Corrigan says. “If you don’t have connectivity the customer won’t even know.”
Offline functionality can be a struggle for smaller POS vendors that often have a background in serving low-volume coffee shops, he adds.
Cloud systems are great for retailers, but what about channel partners? Corrigan admits getting rid of in-store servers means implementation is “a lot less work” for partners. However, he insists that partners’ revenue from professional services is unaffected.
“We’re happy for the partner to take over everything: deployment, training, requirements gathering, and so on.”
Partners instead spend more time on higher-value services such as finding a user experience design that the customer wants rather than on the nuts-and-bolts functionality, Corrigan says. “The whole idea of you designing a system where you’re trying to boil the ocean and a three-year deploy, those days are gone. Retailers don’t have time. They need to be a lot more reactive than that.”
Partners can spend more time running experiments by complementing payment peripherals with tablets that plug in and operate immediately. “We will get down to the point that we would deploy as often as we want through a day. Major retailers with legacy systems can take 18 months to change their POS.
“That’s a cycle we’re breaking. If they want to try something new, we can do it in four to eight weeks. They can test and trial and if it’s right, roll it out. If not, pull it back.”
Partners are also finding new sectors for Surefire beyond retail. The vendor recently won business with the Queensland government. “The want and need for payments to be taken on the spot to reduce invoicing costs is massive,” Corrigan says.
The disappearance of the install is also broadening the channel to some large competitors. Optus has white-labelled Surefire’s platform under the brand Retail Assist. The telco is already in many of the big stores putting in wi-fi networks. Now it is bundling the network with peripherals and cloud software and taking the whole model from capex to opex, Corrigan says.
“Your next software loan is like a mobile phone plan for two years.”
Head office Melbourne
Top executives Dale Corrigan (CEO), Vaughn Clair (CTO), Antony Lane (sales director), Cal Anderson (channel director)
Vendors Optus, Microsoft, HP, Zebra Technologies, Ingenico, NCR, Samsung, Apple,
Sector Enterprise and mid-tier retail, financial services, logistics, mobile selling