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Theme: Office Technology
Publication: Succeed Magazine, 2003

Title: Point of Sale – Changing with the Times

The Point of Sale (POS) market is experiencing rapid change, which creates exciting opportunities in the SME environment amongst retailers, franchisers, franchisees and merchants. What used to be a necessary expense is now promising to be an income generator, and a medium for marketing activities.

Making money off your terminal
A number of trends are shaping the POS market. Large retailers with numerous points of sale typically install terminals with little intelligence because it is more cost effective to have the intelligence on a back office server which needs to be configured, stored and maintained, than on every terminal. Smaller establishments requiring far fewer terminals are increasingly seeing the value of installing intelligent terminals that have the potential to be multi-application devices. These are really the next generation of the terminal currently used for bank card transactions. The merchant would traditionally select a bank who would install an application on a terminal which the merchant would then use to conduct transactions. The terminal, essentially a communication device, would switch to the acquiring bank, but allow purchases to be made on other banks’ cards too. This system incurs rental fees for the equipment and transaction fees to be paid to the acquiring bank.
In the meantime, the banking industry has become a proponent for “smart card” technology, seeking to effectively do away with magnetic strips in favour of a device containing a micro-processor by 2005. Intelligent terminals can handle the crossover, but they can handle a lot more too.
According to Dr Hanoch Neishlos, CEO of African Resonance Business Solutions, “Intelligent terminals allow a co-existence between the banking industry and the non-banking industry. They have the necessary applications to manage bank transactions, as well as any other non-banking transaction, such as prepaid products. This means that a merchant can install an intelligent terminal and generate revenue - though still paying bank transaction fees - by being able to sell cellular airtime, prepaid electricity and a host of other products. It remains a secure environment, and the different applications or products have no effect on each other.”
In future, merchants looking to invest in new terminals will make their selection not on price and functionality alone, but also on the range of products that are part and parcel of the device, and the ease with which further applications can be added in the future.
Neishlos predicts that these terminals will eventually become consumer devices, purchased in the same way you would a personal computer, enabling a range of transactions to be performed at home. They are becoming increasingly affordable and are being promoted as a “piece of real estate” rather than a cost.
“In the next five years, we will see a higher demand for these terminals,” adds Neishlos. These terminals will need a route to market, so the deployment thereof creates opportunities for franchisers and agents.
What makes him think the products will be in such high demand? “Already a very high percentage of cellular spend is on prepaid airtime. The same principle will apply to prepaid electricity, petrol etc – people like to budget. They want to be in control of what they spend. If they are allowing their children to use the prepaid service, they are assured that the money is being used as intended.” The safety issue also emerges. People want an alternative to carrying cash.

Using POS to market
Amidst growing competition in the food market, another trend gaining momentum in POS is the use of the terminal to market promotions, and up-sell products. POS software can be configured to display coupons on till-slips at food outlets, for example, ensuring that customers come back for more when they redeem their vouchers – in essence a loyalty system. The coupons are bar-coded so all information, such as validity and expiry date, is quickly obtained and fed into the system. POS technology is also increasingly supporting meal combinations, gradually gaining in popularity in South Africa, which encourage customers to save money by buying combination meals whereas they are actually spending more than they would have.
“By installing modularized software on the till, merchants can make a relevant selection to be able to manage what they choose from the POS, catering to the needs of a one-till outlet, up to a large restaurant with 200 waiters,” says Carl Jones of PowerPos Systems. On small scale, this includes a back-end that records customer information, allowing for personalization and analytics. For example, when customer X phones in to order their favourite pizza, the system tells the person taking the order what it is, where they live and any additional notes. The system can also prompt suggestions for alternatives that are in line with customer preferences, as determined by their buying patterns. On a large scale, it enables a user-friendly interface to all the information required in a restaurant, highlighting what is unavailable before orders are placed, recording seating configurations and generally making the process of serving customers, managing waitrons and stock a more streamlined one.
Back to the fast food environment, screens displaying text and visuals can be used to market specials at the till, and printouts or till slips can also include mini adverts to other products and services linked to the establishment either by proximity or target audience.
Although the solutions are available here, handheld devices in restaurants are not taking off in South Africa. First of all, these devices are not yet hardy enough to withstand being dropped, and our labour is really inexpensive, so restaurants etc. aren’t compelled to use technology to save on labour costs – for example reducing waitron staff from ten to two who use a handheld device - because the device cost isn’t justified.
Should it take off though, decision-makers would be spoilt for choice because this technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated. At the latest CeBIT (the annual international ICT tradeshow) a vendor demonstrated a clip-off computer screen that can be removed and carried to the table to take an order and clipped back to integrate with the system.

Selecting the solution
Through technological advances in POS, smaller businesses have a far wider range of options than ever before. Unit costs are coming down so comprehensive solutions are far more accessible. With all this choice, decision-makers should become even more discerning about how they select their POS solution, keeping total cost of ownership, functionality and longevity of the system in mind.
“In selecting the software solution,” says Hendrick Steyn, MD of IQ Retail, “smaller enterprises can often benefit from an off the shelf package, but should look out for sufficient security parameters, flexibility, a proven track record and a progressive growth path. These packages should have data accuracy, speed, ease of operation and adequate reporting (both current and historic) as major features.
“There must be a sufficient upgrade path possibility when outgrowing one system,” continues Steyn. “Service and maintenance is not a given, however, and the cost of these items must be specified at the time of purchase. No false expectancy must be raised by the seller of the product.” ENDS

Theme: Iocore PR, 2003
Company: Coolcumba Communications

Title: IOCORE’s Virtual Collaboration tools get companies communicating

Economic factors are causing companies to re-assess the way they do business. For years, technology-based solutions have been sought to improve business processes, enhance dealings and relationships with customers and suppliers, and manage information. Since the advent of email and tele-conferencing functionality, companies have realised that technology also addresses what was once a ‘soft’ issue - communication. Now they’re looking at the next step, bringing together voice and data communication in real-time, through virtual collaboration tools.
Says Debbie Jordan, General Manager - IOCORE e-Learning: “Virtual collaboration doesn’t only change the way companies communicate…it changes the way they work. Travel limitations or costs, geographically dispersed teams and the trend towards working remotely are some of the factors highlighting the need for effective collaboration across locations and enterprises. As a result, companies need new tools to make virtual interaction seamless and as effective, if not more so, than one-on-one contact.”
Three years ago, IOCORE began a partnership with collaboration software provider, Centra, and the Virtual Classroom tool has become part of IOCORE’s e-Learning solution. “The e-Learning environment is just one example of collaboration, and IOCORE now includes Centra’s other web-based virtual collaboration tools in its range of offerings,” says Jordan.
Through a web interface, virtual collaboration tools enable individuals to communicate in real-time wherever they are in the world. Voice and video help to retain the “personal” component of communication. Once inside a virtual meeting room, participants can talk to each other, call up data such as files, and work on them collectively. Sessions are recorded so there is no need for note taking.
“This approach has obvious benefits for most business functions.” says Jordan. “Virtual collaboration can be used by brokers, sales-people and practitioners to consult with a remote subject expert who, in turn, can access existing information to help impart knowledge. Participants can then immediately go out and apply what they have learned. Human resources and training departments use the tool to accelerate knowledge transfer by making information available when and how employees need it.” The same principles apply to marketing and corporate communication functions, customer interactions and management meetings amongst dispersed branches – in fact any business situation that involves communication.
The key business benefits of deploying Virtual Collaboration include streamlining an organisation’s operations, information sharing, cost reductions (travel and other traditional forms of communication), empowering individuals through information, and enabling the new economy trend of working from home, which has its own cost-saving and productivity benefits.
“Virtual collaboration is in its infancy in South Africa,” comments Jordan. “Many companies are implementing it as part of e-Learning, but have not taken it to the next level.” An Iocore client in the financial sector, however, began with e-Learning and now uses the tool successfully to communicate with its broker network. Globally, more and more companies are seeing the advantage of an investment in virtual collaboration. Evidence of this is the medical fraternity. Doctors based in rural areas of Africa “collaborate” with medical institutions in the States and elsewhere to consult on cases and learn new techniques. Consulting firms and financial services companies have introduced collaboration in all business-related interactions – resulting in faster proposal generation and more opportunities to win business.
Deployment of virtual collaboration tools does not require a complex technology infrastructure. According to Wayne Strydom, Consultant - IOCORE e-Learning, the minimum requirements for up to 75 users, include a dedicated application server, i.e. Windows 2000 or 2003 Server, a static IP address and one of the following web servers: Microsoft HS 5.0 6.0, Apache 2.0.44 on Solaris 5.8, or a Sun One Web Server 6.0 on Solaris 5.8. Clients can run Windows 98, 2000 or XP and a recent version of Windows Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Clients simply click on the URL and download the tool to their computers. A soundcard and headset are recommended.
The transition to working in a virtual environment will involve some challenges. “Solution providers will need to be sensitive to the inevitable change process and have a strategy in place to address adoption,” says Jordan. “Fortunately, through our various e-Learning deployments, IOCORE has developed a successful approach to matching deliverables to business objectives, and managing end-user adoption, so extending the collaborative environment past e-Learning will be a natural progression.” ENDS

Theme: Iocore PR, 2003
Company: Coolcumba Communications

Title: IOCORE’s Architecture and Blueprint Service Offers Executives a Bird’s Eye View

IOCORE’s ERP team has introduced a planning method that complements their ERP competencies and solutions by bridging the gap frequently found between the business and IT needs that drive the requirement for a solution.
“In our extensive work with clients on ERP implementations, we have found that there is still a divide between IT systems and business objectives,” says IOCORE ERP Manager, Daniel Robus.
“To overcome this divide, our offerings now incorporate a product independent ‘Architecture & Blueprint’ service, a strategic planning approach that identifies and documents business objectives and initiatives and maps them to IT based architectural components to make up a solution blueprint,” explains Robus.
This blueprint is then mapped to products and finally to an implementation roadmap showing how short implementation phases can accrue business benefit as the envisioned architecture is developed.
“Once a company has identified the need for an ERP system and brought us on board, we introduce a series of focussed workshops with the business users to identify key business objectives for the next 18 to 24 months (the lifetime you can reasonable plan for in a rapidly changing environment). The workshops, as well as one-on-one sessions with executives, yield the objectives and serve as the basis for identifying appropriate activities and initiatives. The objectives are then grouped, scrutinized by key business people, and then distilled into a list of ten or less. These are reflected in business terms, rather than technical terms, and are an indication of where the business is going.”
Specific actions or projects are then identified according to Business Objectives and Business Initiatives (BOBI), and systems proposed to address the stated requirements. A MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have and Won’t have) requirements list is also created and provides a cross-reference between the business initiatives, their high level requirements and the solution components.
The resulting solution blueprint is written in business-speak and provides executives with a holistic view of the planned processes, and serves as a basis from which to determine priorities and manage IT spend.
“This approach is a distinct change from the standard practices of identifying a need for a system in isolation of other IT initiatives and very rarely are aligned to the business objectives,” reiterates Robus. “It is a simple, easy to understand process that allows executives to vocalise their business objectives and ensure that the underpinning IT infrastructure is exactly what is required to attain their goals.”
Although still a new service, the A&B method has been applied successfully with several clients, who are finding this added intervention beneficial.
According to Karen Strydom, Senior Business Analyst at Wesbank, where IOCORE implemented an accounts payable system and introduced the A&B in the early stages, “Most of our information is not documented and exists in our heads. It was good to have such comprehensive documentation available to aid decision-making. We were also able to use it to motivate for what we requested in terms of the project.”