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Should You Consider an ASP/Web Based
POS Software System?

- By Bob Twain

Would you like to avoid time-consuming tasks associated with maintaining your own server such as back-ups, hardware upgrades, enhancements and repairs? Then maybe you should consider an ASP (or web) based POS system.

For retailers with multiple stores - web based POS systems allow you to instantly share inventory, customers and accounting information between ALL stores.

Because of the inherent advantages of web based systems, several POS companies have adopted the technology. But what exactly is a web based POS system?

There are different types of "web-based" systems, so let's start with the ASP (Application Service Provider) model. With ASP based systems, your POS software is hosted and maintained by a remote organization, freeing you from the hassle and costs of maintaining your own server. This allows you to connect to the server via the internet and run your POS system from almost any location. Most companies charge a monthly rental fee for this service.

What are the advantages of the ASP model?

First of all, you'll be freed from all the time-consuming and expensive tasks associated with maintaining your server such as hardware upgrades, configuration, bug fixes and enhancements. Everything is done for you. The POS vendor can even do custom software configurations, upgrades, and back up the data for you.

The ASP model also allows you to run your POS software from any location with internet access. So you can work from home or on the road. And since all the processing is done at the server, your workstation requirements are very low. A 5-year-old computer with internet access can run just as fast as a brand new computer.

If you have multiple retail stores, the ASP model is even more beneficial. In fact, it allows you to share almost any type of information in real-time (assuming your POS software supports multi-store features). For example, you can...

  • Create purchase orders and receive inventory from one main location (or any location you choose).
  • You can update pricing, discounts, and view inventory from any location you choose.
  • You can instantly view up-to-date sales or inventory reports for ALL your stores.
  • You can provide better service by checking stock availability for your customers at other stores. Then you can even put the item on hold or order it directly from the computer.
These are just a few benefits of sharing information from one location. Just imagine the possibilities if ALL your stores had POS software hosted at one location.

What are the disadvantages of the ASP model?

The biggest problem with the ASP based model is the speed and reliability of the internet. If your internet goes down, then you can't access your POS software. At that point, you'll be at the mercy of your internet service provider (which can be a helpless feeling). The good news is that you can improve reliability by adding redundant connections or fail safe dial up systems.

In addition, the speed of your POS will be determined by the performance of your internet connection. If your internet is slow, it will take a little longer to switch screens and run the software.

Depending on your situation, the monthly fee for your ASP system can be another drawback. The fees become cost prohibitive for retailers that have grown very large. At a certain point, it makes more sense to host the software yourself.

In fact, if you have multiple stores you might want to consider hosting your own web based system. You'll experience all the benefits of a shared ASP system (except you'll have to maintain a server at your main location). This requires time, money and expertise but it allows you to have more control over the system. If you go this route, all your stores will need fast and reliable internet access (or T1 lines), so that each store can connect to your designated "main location".

Another VERY big drawback of the "true" web based POS system is that your selection is limited when compared to other technologies. This means you'll probably miss out of some time saving and money making features available in other POS systems. This is especially true if you're in a vertical retail market like books, motorcycles, lumber, firearms, jewelry, lawn mowers, and so on.

I highly recommend that you take your time when evaluating web based POS technology because it's not widely used by the retail world. Also, be sure to check out the "industry specific" software packages to make sure you won't be missing some extremely important industry specific features.

Options for you to consider...

When setting up your own web-based systems you have a couple of options. You can use technology like Citrix or Microsoft Terminal Services which allows you to connect and run any Windows based software over the internet. Terminal Services comes built into Windows 2003 Server and Citrix is an add-on product you can purchase separately. Both products perform very fast but you'll need an expert to configure and maintain the system.

Your next option is to use a POS system that has web-based features built in. So you don't need Terminal Services. The most obvious advantage is that you don't have to purchase or maintain a technology like Terminal Services. If you go this route, make sure the system performs fast enough over the internet. And make sure it has been thoroughly tested by other businesses.

If security and reliability is a concern, you can purchase routers and create your own VPN (Virtual Private Network) over the internet. And you can improve reliability with network redundancy or dial-up back-up systems. Internet routers from companies like Cisco and SonicWall offer dial-up fail over in case your broad band goes down. They also make it easy for the savvy network administrator to setup a VPN. A VPN will encrypt all your network traffic over the internet making it nearly impossible to steal information.

If you need to share information between multiple stores, your alternative to a web-based solution would be "polling". Polling is popular because you don't have to rely on the performance of the internet to keep your POS software running. Instead, each independent computer system polls over the internet to update information. The only problem is your information becomes out-of-date until the software polls each store again.

The ASP model hasn't taken off like many experts predicted -- but the technology is readily available and a small portion of the retail community has used it successfully. If you're sick of maintaining your own server or you want to share information between multiple stores in real-time, then an ASP system might be your best option.

How to quickly find and choose the best web-based POS software systems...

Your easiest and most effective route will be to use the POS Software Buyers Guide. A few things you'll find in the guide include:
  • A list of the top web-based POS systems available.
  • A searchable list of 350 POS systems categorized by industry (apparel, motorcycle, liquor store, etc, etc).
  • Over 200 unbiased POS software reviews that will make your decision easier.
  • A step by step evaluation process that will ensure you choose a POS system that gives your business the highest return on investment and biggest boost in profits.
  • A detailed checklist so you don't miss any important software features.
  • And several other helpful tools...
You can learn more and check out the buyers guide here:

To your success.

Bob Twain

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