POS Multi-user systems and Multi-site systems

Multi-user Point of Sale and Multi-store POS Systems

This article will talk about multi-user point of sale systems – defined as systems with more than one station.  This could include a POS station at the front counter, and one in the back office for creating purchase orders, receiving merchandise and bookkeeping.


Part 1: Multi-user Systems (Networking)

In a multi-user system, two or more computers are connected to exchange information and share common resources (data and peripherals, perhaps including printers or an Internet connection). This is also known as a network or LAN (local area network). Benefits of having a network include:


A computer system for a retail or service business might include one or more stations at the front counter and one in the back office. With a networked system, the counter personnel can be ringing a sale while the back office personnel are printing reports, receiving merchandise, preparing mailing labels, and so on. The file server, which is the most critical of the machines in terms of security and dependability, can be located in the back office safely away from the hustle and bustle of the front counter.  One of the networked computers will often be used as a file server or host. 

A multi-user POS system can require special networking software. This software directs the information from station to station. In addition, with most networks, each computer must have a network card. All stations may be linked together physically with some type of cable, or may be networked wirelessly.

If you decide that you would like a multi-user system (now or in the future), there are several things you will need to consider. First, the software you select must be able to support multi-user operations - some software is written to be used by only one person at a time.  If you do not plan to use a multi-user system right away, just be sure that your software may be upgraded at a later date. Next, the network you select must be fast and efficient. As you add more users and data to the system, operations slow down. Before making a purchase, be sure to see just how quickly data is processed by seeing the system in use somewhere.

A new approach to a multi-user point of sale system takes advantage of the Internet to link the stations.  Each POS station has an Internet connection and runs the program.  Data is combined on the servers of the company providing the software.   A nice benefit of using Internet based software is that you can check your data in real time no matter where you are, if you have Internet or mobile access. 

A Typical Multi-user System

File Server
A file server is a computer with a hard disk that is shared by two or more stations. It is called a “server” because it responds to the requests (serves) the other computers connected to it. For example, another computer may send it an item number and request the price of that item.

POS Stations
POS Stations are computers that are linked to the server. The stations use the file server for data storage. They can also have their own hard drives for additional data storage. On some networks, each station on the network may share its hard drive and printers with the other stations.

Peripherals
This term refers to bar code readers, printers, cash drawers, etc.

Networking Software
Networking software is special software that directs information between stations, peripherals, and the file server.

Cable
In wired networking, cables physically connect all stations with the server.  

Wireless Networking
Newer technology allows for wireless networking (without cables), where computers share information through radio and/or micro wave channels.  Equipment for setting up a wireless network includes network adapters (NICs), access points (APs), and routers.
WiFi is most commonly used and is very effective. It also is capable of encryption to make the data more secure. 

Part 2a: Which Multi-user System or Network Should I Buy?

How do you choose which multi-user--or networking--system to buy?  This article poses questions you may want to answer concerning your business’s individual needs. 

First, how many users will be on this network now?

          Two, three, or 33… it does make a difference. Some networks support only four or five users before they have to be upgraded. Some networks cannot be upgraded and must be replaced when you reach a maximum number of users.

        How many users could be on this network within the next three years?

      You should try to buy a network that will cover your needs for the next three years. You will very likely recoup your entire investment many times over in that time. Try to be as accurate as possible when estimating the number of users you will have in the future.

          

      Tip:

      Be prepared to spend money on a consultant to set up this equipment. The installation and configuration of a LAN can be time consuming and difficult. We do not recommend that novice users do it by themselves.

      The costs associated with a network setup are as follows:

      • Installation of the network – This can be 30 minutes to 30 hours (or more) depending upon the sophistication of the network, depending on the size of the building and other factors.
      • Training employees how to use the network
      • The cost of the networking software
      • The cost of the networking hardware
      • A consultant
      • The cost of the cabling – This can be even higher than the cost of the network if cable has to be run through walls and concrete floors or down elevator shafts or wireless equipment. Urban areas with old buildings will experience different issues than others.



      Part 2b: Which Multi-user System or Network Should I Buy?

           Who will take care of and perform the necessary maintenance for the network?

             Some networks are simple and easy to maintain. The more sophisticated a network is, the more complicated it will be to maintain; in fact doing so may well be beyond the capability of anyone in your business. If that happens to be the case, you will want to evaluate the hourly cost of a network consultant. Although he or she may be needed only a few hours a month, it is good to have an estimate of the costs in advance.

             What kind of programs will be on the network?

           Will they be word processing, database, industry-specific, or accounting programs? Will several people be using them at the same time? Here’s a strange fact – software that will let several people use it at the same time costs more than software that only supports one user at a time. Why? Because it is more complicated to develop that software. For example, if two people are using an accounting program and both of them want to work on the same customer’s file at the same time, what happens? Who gets to look at it? Can they both be making changes to it at the same time? In a software program that only supports one user at a time, the software developer doesn’t have to worry about what could happen in such a circumstance. But in multi-user software programs, they do. Consequently, such programs are significantly more difficult to develop and cost more to buy. 

               Will you have to buy new multi-user software?

            The software you are using now, (if any) may be a single-user, which means that only one person can use it at a time. If you expect to have two or more people using it at a time, will it work? When in doubt, ask your consultant. Maybe even get it in writing, but get it straight.  Costs can vary widely.

                  Will you be sharing peripherals?

                   Will everyone be sharing a laser printer? Will the network allow someone who is not connected to it, to use the printer? Do you expect to share other devices?  Take time to think about these things.  Figuring out where equipment will be placed is a useful exercise.


              Part 3: Multi-store (multi-site) Systems and Internet based systems

              A multi-site system allows information to be shared among two or more business locations. If you own a chain of stores, for example, you might want each store to know what inventory is available at the other locations. If a customer needs an item in a hurry, you can check your stock at the other store just by looking at the computer. Other information, such as daily sales, can be transferred to the main office at the end of each business day or maintained in real time. 

              In addition to sharing information, the system can be set up to do most of the “maintenance” work (such as receiving, ordering, and so on) at one location. This keeps the amount of training of store personnel to a minimum.

              Traditional multi-store point of sale systems involved a significant amount of equipment and expense.  Each store is in regular communication with the other stores, both to send and receive data.   More recently the use of the Internet is enabling new approaches.   One popular approach involves using Internet based POS software.  Instead of buying a program and running it at your local store, you can license a program that will run through your Internet browser.    Not only is this a cost effective approach, but usually the cost of doing data backups and paying for upgrades is eliminated.  The software actually resides on the servers of the company who produces it.  Most run backups each night, and perform updates as needed.   When you are combining data from other stores, the headache of coordinating it is done by the software company.  Adding stores or stations to this system is as easy as adding computer terminals.  Additionally, the terminals can be either PC or Mac, allowing you to mix and match computers at your offices.   

              Internet based POS systems are not limited to multi-user or multi-store systems.  Single user systems also can utilize this technology. 

              In summary, taking the step from a single-user POS system to a multi-user POS system can be complicated and requires preparation.


              Source: Point of Sales NEWS