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    Expert Column: Point-of-Sale Vulnerability Resolved with 'Easy Fix'

    Resellers upgrade 'accessory' to resolve vulnerabilities that cause unexplained system crashes

    By David Rizzo

    An insidious threat is putting many retail and hospitality POS systems at risk. This fatal flaw in the installation of these systems takes many of them down each day across the country, creating serious problems for countless stores and restaurants. The threat doesn’t come from viruses or cyber criminals. Instead, it comes from the wall socket.

    Many resellers today still do not acknowledge or accept the extent of the vulnerability of POS systems caused by poor power quality. 

    Frustrated by “no problem found” error codes and unexplained system crashes, not to mention upset client calls, they opt instead to replace different component parts of the system in the hopes the problem will stop.  When the problem continues, more service calls are made and more parts switched out.  Perhaps a rudimentary surge protection device is eventually tried, but that amounts to little more than a Band-Aid and doesn’t solve the problem either.  Ultimately the system develops a reputation as unstable.

    For an issue that has such a significant impact on the overall functionality and uptime of the POS system – and the reputation of the reseller that specifies and installs it – the cautionary tale of “dirty power” seems to resonate most with those long-standing firms that have learned the lesson the hard way.  Those that have, including many that service the largest, national-brand accounts, make including proper power conditioning in each POS package they sell a mandate, not an option.

    “If you want to avoid any kind of interruptions in your day-to-day operations, you have to attack what I call the ‘terror in the outlet,’” says Samer Khashan, president of Team One Repair, a Suwanee, Ga.-based distributor/reseller of POS system for several nationally-recognized clients like interstate banks and restaurants. “To protect your customers’ systems and not have to make repeated service calls, it is well worth the investment to install proper power conditioning equipment right up front.”

    Khashan explains that resellers should cover themselves on every single installation, at every wall socket. Through the use of electronic power conditioning such thorough coverage suddenly becomes cost-effective in helping to ensure that systems don’t go down.

    Where 'crashes' are no longer an option

    With today’s reliance on technology to conduct most over-the-counter sales, any hiccup in the POS chain can bring a retail operation to its knees and stop cash flow in its tracks. Not only do such interruptions immediately affect the bottom line, but they cause instant customer dissatisfaction that jeopardizes repeat business. At the same time, it forever tarnishes the reputation of the reseller who installed the system. The VAR gets the blame first.

    “We deal with a lot of big corporations, and when any of their stores’ POS systems go down and start ‘eating their lunch,’ they get on the phone immediately,” continues Khashan. “The client assumes the machine doesn’t work, so they want us to perform our magic and fix the problem fast.”

    At this point, an inexperienced reseller might throw new hardware at the problem, replacing card readers, registers (ECRs), routers, processors, etc., in a frantic effort to cut the losses − all at great expense, time, trouble and embarrassment to the reseller.

    “So many times our customers waste money by constantly requesting replacement equipment,” Khashan adds. “The hard drive goes down or the money dispenser quits working, so they say, ‘Hey the PC blew up so let’s take it out and put in a new one.’ But they don’t look at what they cannot see, which is the power quality issue.”

    Even if a service tech realizes that the actual source of the problem stems from poor AC supply from the wall socket, many make the fatal mistake of assuming that a power strip or surge protector from a big box hardware store will do the trick. But surge protectors only work against large voltage spikes, and only one time, at that. Nor do they block the tiny dropouts or frequency aberrations that occur within any retail environment. Such Band-Aid efforts are often in vain.

    “The biggest issue in our industry is competition; customers now have so many different options for POS suppliers that you can’t afford to make mistakes,” says Ross Patton, national sales manager for Revention—a POS system integrator that currently serves more than 10,000 worldwide customers from its headquarters in Houston, Texas. “We use electronic power conditioners from SmartPower as one of our competitive advantages. I would say you can’t afford not to use such devices.”

    SmartPower Systems is an innovator and manufacturer of hi-performance power quality and UPS products and a recent recipient of a Retail Service Provider’s Association (RSPA) Vendor Award of Excellence. Designed specifically for mission critical markets, the company’s Smart CordÔ device compresses electronic power conditioning functionality into a 17-ounce package the size of a man’s fist − making it particularly fitting for space-constrained POS applications.

    By David Rizzo
    • About David Rizzo Torrance, Calif.-based author David Rizzo has penned three trade books, 200 technical articles and 500 newspaper columns. Rizzo covers a wide range of topics, specializing in technology, medicine and transportation.

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