September 5, 2007

Volante POS Systems and UBC Install Complex Linux Point of Sale Solution

Author: JT Smith

With all the school POS systems on the market, it's surprising that so many are inadequate for meeting the diverse software needs of a school environment such as the University of British Columbia. Volante's installation at UBC is complex and involves a mixed Linux/Windows topology. Now, "Lunch Time" is no longer "Crunch Time".
Vancouver, Canada - The University of British Columbia is a huge place, comprising of some 402 hectares. Surrounded by ocean and snow capped mountains, the campus is blessed with stunning views from every vantage point, and is home to over 43,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Spending a day on campus is like visiting a small city - UBC boasts literally dozens of food and beverage and retail venues. To say that the technological requirements of an institution such as UBC are complex would be an understatement to say the least.

In the past, the technology linking all those venues was a plethora of different technologies and topologies, comprising of a mix of old style cash registers and rudimentary point of sale systems spread throughout the university on multiple subnets. The challenges of such a system are many. From inefficient data reporting, to complicated meal planning, from out of control wastage to long lines and delays in processing payments, UBC was desperate for an efficient and flexible enterprise system that could streamline operations. The goal was to implement one system that could not only run on both Linux and Windows, but also save money, generate revenue, and manage the school's many different residence meal plans at the same time. The system also needed to be very reliable, and in real time.

Sean Lee, IT Manager at UBC, comments on the technological challenges UBC used to face. "The old system used to lump all the data together, and it was difficult getting reporting from all the different systems." Lee explains. "We couldn't isolate daily sales if polling wasn't done regularly. And even then, daily sales were often tabulated manually." In the past, data polling was a 30 minute affair through a dial up connection, which could only be done during a quiet period of the day, so as not to interrupt operations. Employee errors were often missed or not easily discernable. Without the ability to synchronize all that data quickly and easily, with an accurate data management system, UBC knew that it was leaving money on the table.

System reliability was also a great concern. With the old system in place, system failure was common. "Processing 2500 students in an hour and a half used to cause database overload." Says Lee. "Our old system had lots of hiccups."

After exploring several possible point of sale systems, UBC decided on Toronto based Volante Systems. "In addition to being able to handle our diverse needs, we were also looking at significant savings on maintenance costs." Lee adds. However, it was Volante's flexibility that sealed the deal.

Volante is developed in pure Java. Java is the most flexible and state of the art programming language and is cross platform compatible. Users have the freedom to choose Linux, Windows 2000/XP, or Windows and Linux together as operating systems. The installation at UBC involves a mixed Linux/Windows topology, and includes wireless. The wireless feature is of particular interest to UBC, considering the size of the campus and the logistics of linking so many different venues. "Four or five of our locations are now wireless." Says Lee. "This has benefited us a lot."

Data Reporting
Volante addressed all of UBC's data reporting concerns. In the instance of poor data management, Volante offered clear and concise reporting with Data Synchronization.

Polling data involves selecting proper data then storing it in some sort of format. The data is then transferred using a protocol to a centralized location and stored. A process then retrieves the data on the server, interprets it and extracts it to a database.

There are many different steps involved in data polling, meaning there are many steps where a problem can occur. Data is too important for any problems to occur. That's where Data Synchronization steps in.

Data Synchronization eliminates all the steps of the middle layer by enabling databases to talk directly to each other. A single connection from Database 1 to Database 2 is established and outstanding data is sent asynchronously between them. Establishing a connection is a one step process thus eliminating any problems that can occur in-between. And because Volante is written in pure Java, all the information needed is generated in real time, quickly and easily.

"Volante has helped tremendously - everything is on demand in real time." Says Lee. "Having data in real time is a big deal to us. Synchronization is done every fifteen minutes. We can now see what our best sellers are, at any time of day. We can order food much more efficiently, and we can easily see what items aren't selling too. We can also update menus on the fly." Lee adds that having such concise data on demand also contributes to spotting employee errors quickly. "It's now much easier to see what kind of mistakes cashiers might be making, errors which might translate into profit loss." He says. "Cashiers can now quickly isolate and find problems - it's now really easy for us to pull up a transaction. " UBC has discovered another added benefit to identifying employee errors. "It helps us identify training issues." Says Lee.

System Reliability
Businesses desperately need an enterprise system that wonââ¬â¢t crash. Volante solves this problem in an innovative way - by utilizing peer-to-peer technology.

Volante is not based on the traditional Server/Client model. Volante's peer-to-peer system is designed to allow all terminals to work independently, ensuring continuous operations even in the event of a network or host computer failure. Peer-to-peer decentralizes the responsibilities customarily given to the server and distributes the task among the peers. All clients have the ability to publish services and instead of requesting a server to perform work, clients can request the work to be done by any of its peers. Thus a server is not even required for normal client operations. Volante's advanced data synchronization capability and transactional consistency is maintained on all terminals at all times. The result is maximum system availability. No other point of sale system on the market can do this. Volante's system reliability has proven to be a great relief to UBC's IT Team.

ââ¬ÅWeââ¬â¢ve had Volante in place for three years and no data has ever been lost.ââ¬Â Says Lee. ââ¬ÅI canââ¬â¢t say the same thing for the old system.ââ¬Â

This is because of Volante's Redundancy Management System. Once data is entered into the system, its integrity is immediately protected. With other POS systems, server failure leads to an entire system crash, bringing operations to a halt.

However, Volante's unique implementation allows all terminals to be connected yet function independently, ensuring that business will continue to run smoothly in the event of a terminal or server failure. Few, if any, POS systems on the market today offer this "fault tolerant" solution.

Revenue Generation
Another reason that UBC chose Volante Systems was its ability to do more than basic point of sale. UBC also utilizes Volante by monetizing its student ID cards. By monetizing ID cards that are already in place, UBC is able to manage itââ¬â¢s residence Meal Plan program much more effectively. UBC had faced many challenges in being able to accommodate its different meal plans. Now, students simply have to swipe their ID cards in order to pay for meals in any of UBCââ¬â¢s numerous food and beverage venues. Sean Lee elaborates. ââ¬ÅID cards are dining membership cards, they now have unlimited buying potential. Anyone can add money to his or her ID cards at any POS terminal. This is really efficient.ââ¬Â Purchases are not limited to food and beverage however. ID cards can also be used in UBCââ¬â¢s retail outlets. Customer balances can now be checked immediately, allowing staff to identify discrepancies right away, without having to make the customer wait.

Not only is this system highly efficient, but having a state of the art technological solution for managing meal plans also greatly aids in meal tracking, planning and ordering, therefore virtually eliminating shrinkage and waste.

Another way that UBC increases revenue is through the use of Gift Cards, all managed by Volante. In the past, UBC had used paper vouchers for gift certificates, making tracking on spending difficult. Now, gift cards can be easily processed for not only students and faculty, but for all visitors to the campus, including conference delegates. Cards can be used at all food and beverage and retail outlets on campus. To date, Volante has processed literally thousands of gift cards. ââ¬ÅThis has really worked for guests and visitors to the university.ââ¬Â Lee adds.

UBC has also seen increased revenues by removing barriers to spending. Volante's integrated debit and credit feature, for instance, has proven to be very useful. "Integrated debit and credit has really increased productivity." Says Lee. "Payments can now be processed quickly and easily, allowing us to bust lines really fast. It now takes 5 or 10 seconds for a transaction to process." He adds, "On campus, debit is King." Integrated debit and credit has also drastically reduced user error, resulting in more accurate daily totals.

Costs are further reduced by keeping UBC's IT department lean. With the old system, UBC would often have to contract out IT help to come in and fix problems. Lee is pleased to mention that "we don't do that anymore." Volante also allows IT staff to respond to problems quickly and efficiently. "With Volante, you can see all your POS terminals at once. When one goes down, you can see it right away, you don't have to wait for the call."

From accurate, on demand data reporting, to simplified and efficient networking, from cross platform compatibility and system reliability to revenue generation and cost control, Volante has stepped up to the plate at UBC. "Volante is doing a fine job handling our complex environment. " says Lee. Taking point of sale to new levels, Volante is proof that other POS systems are simply old school.



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