In the early 1990s, well before the advent of mobile commerce as we know it today, retail consulting firm Point of Sale System Services Inc. was developing POS applications to operate on a variety of handheld devices. In 2001, the company set a mandate to build one application that would support the more than 70 custom applications PSS had already deployed across multiple sectors. By 2004, PSS' signature transactional engine had a name, MobileTE.
"We were showing it pretty much as a line-busting application at that time, not so much true mobile, but as a line-busting app to add on to your various systems," said Jeffrey Swann, Vice President Sales and Development of PSS. "We did a lot of work with Triversity [bought by enterprise software provider SAP in 2005] as a line-busting app. Out of that we went back to doing a lot of custom apps where we would configure it, so MobileTE was built to be a mobile app."
According to Swann, the company initially targeted nonretail businesses in the manufacturing, distribution and government sectors. While the transaction engine itself was essentially the same for all applications, PSS modified the software's parameters to fulfill industry-specific functions.
Swann said that as PSS began to focus on advancing its mobile commerce footprint, he received a barrage of requests for custom software configurations. "The broadness of the market is good because it provides lots of opportunities," he said. "It's also a challenge because they're not all corralled into one spot. We took MobileTE and configured it specifically to do mobile commerce, not line busting."
For example, Swann said PSS was tasked with creating an application that could track inventory and process payments at tradeshows. An importer of organic coffee and tea adapted the application in building brand recognition and selling products at high-end food shows.
Another application PSS developed enabled tour guides to direct-sell walking tour tickets for a historic American Revolution trail set in Boston. In this case, the application necessitated tracking weather conditions, which guides were leading tour groups at any given time and the number of guests participating in each tour. The application also gave tour guides the ability to handle split tendering and process coupons and gift certificates.
"It's been excellent for us," said Mimi LaCamera, President of The Freedom Trail Foundation. "They've been very nice to work with, and they just recently upgraded all the software. The reporting features are excellent."
The company's restaurant configuration proved essential for an upscale wine bar and restaurant on the East Coast. Armed with a Micros POS system, the wine bar needed an interface to manage inventory and simplify wine purchasing. PSS' solution enabled cashiers to scan the bar codes on wine bottles and to print tickets on the spot or in batch mode.
The overall product suite developed by PSS, which it calls MobileTY, comprises of modules designed around the MobileTE terminal application and the system's web portal, MobileVE. Functioning as a stand-alone application in a touch-screen environment for mobile enterprises, MobileTE also interfaces with merchants' existing POS systems and product lookup codes.
Technically speaking, the terminal application provides a multiplatform, configurable, Windows CE-based transaction engine that operates in batch, local area network, wide area network or radio frequency modes, which is suitable for most retail mobile environments. The MobilePAY Internet server offers a secure payment processing network that interfaces with the MobileTY suite.
In the past two decades, PSS has compiled a repertoire of software configurations that serve a broad spectrum of niche markets. Capable of delivering sales, ticketing, inventory and manufacturing management, statistical and data reporting and bar code scanning, MobileTY's modular system is ready for deployment in eight prime vertical market segments.
Here are the MOBILeTY configurations and key features, by vertical market:
|Distribution||Pick and pack, item ID routing, receiving|
|Field mobile||Route accounting, delivery, reorders|
|Food||Shelf labels, weights and measures, price check|
|Health care||Patient tracking, asset tracking, dispensary tracking|
|Hospitality||Customer relationship management, concierge, baggage check|
|Manufacturing||Production tracking, work orders, inventory, receiving|
|Restaurant||Food safety, inventory, food rotation|
|Retail||Mobile POS, merchandise movement, sales, mark downs, returns|
Redefining retail as a mobile option is what PSS' MobileStore does best. The turnkey, end-to-end platform enables mobile retailers and service and delivery businesses to process payments and merchandise through either broadband, Wi-Fi or non-real time modes.
Built upon a scalable software platform, the store interfaces with most major accounting and inventory systems on the market today. With encrypted access, secure user authentication, a transaction archive, and real-time credit card, check and cash processing, the portable store is literally at hand. Using the system's store-and-forward mode, the rate of throughput for credit card processing is approximately 30 cards per minute.
"MobileStore has become the credit card processing piece that you see at the acquirers shows," Swann said. "We are providing all the features that you would find when you walk up to a store register, but in a handheld device - promos, discounts, markdowns, loyalty points, points redemption, gift certificate sales, SKUs [stock-keeping units], all the things that go on when you walk up to a register in a brick-and-mortar store."
Beyond its standard features, the scope of data collection available through the modules is one of its chief benefits to merchants, according to Swann. "We provide a growing number of reports for them, including a consolidated financial merchandise report, a department class report - and they can export the data on demand," he said. "So if they want to push that to QuickBooks or their own system, they can do that also, which allows them to process it."
The system's MobileDB database provides a command and control console that permits merchants to store, maintain and review data files in real-time. Data can be imported, exported and formatted based on individual merchant preferences.
One arena where Swann has seen progressive movement is placement at event and convention venues. In 2008, MobileStore was deployed at over 1,200 events. By 2010, the number of events had reportedly skyrocketed to 24,000, with 5,000 units in operation processing over $26 million in credit card sales and representing over 27 million product SKUs.
However, Swann cautioned retailers intent on selling at events and conventions that the business model differs from brick-and-mortar stores. He encountered a group of sporting goods retailers who rented space at a charitable golf tournament. Unfortunately, the group had no way of installing systems on site to record sales. "They were all over the map," he said, adding that MobileStore did enable the group to operate and sell seamlessly throughout the event.
To expand even further into the retail sector, Swann demonstrated PSS' core products in March 2011 at the Southeast Acquirers Association's annual conference.
PSS also offers two additional programs for mobile applications. MobileEnforcement is a parking law enforcement system that has photo capture, multiple fine calculation and GPS location coordinates capabilities built in.
And its MobileAccess system leverages radio frequency identification device technology to control access to parking garages, gated communities and other locations where physical access must be controlled.
Offered as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product and billed monthly per device, PSS' mobile program includes software updates, customer service, and merchant server account hosting and maintenance. "Our model is a monthly bill, so ISOs receive ongoing residual income charged to the end user" for the SaaS, Swann said.
"We currently run on 38 different platforms from nine or 10 different hardware vendors," he said. "We try to position our device selection to make sure that we're covering the full spectrum of form factor requests that we might get. They all have touch screens, because our app relies on a touch screen." A printer may be added to the handheld device or receipts can be emailed to customers. PSS offers a selection of handheld devices for ISO resale as well.
PSS offers WebEx online training, but Swann said anyone familiar with ATM-style keys can quickly learn to navigate the system. "A lot of people design their handheld applications like forms, so that it's a series of boxes on the screen and you fill in the boxes," he said. "That's an old style of designing handheld applications. We used a single constant space on the screen where you enter in all data and above that is a single constant space where it tells you what to enter."
PSS' system integrates with payment processors via a wireless payment gateway. According to Swann, MobileTY is pci Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliant and PSS has alliances with multiple gateway partners. "So far our client base has driven us to work with Hypercom, Merchant Warehouse and Mercury Payment Systems, but our system was designed to be open to anybody," he said. With an open software platform, Swann added that the system can integrate with additional gateway partners.
"We view the ISO as getting three big bonuses from working with us," Swann said. "They get flexibility in what they offer in terms of the ability for us to define and address the needs of the end user fairly quickly. Two, they get all the money they would get from their credit card processing, because we're still doing credit card processing. Three, they get the margin from the hardware that they would sell," whether purchasing hardware directly from PSS or from other sources that meet form factor requirements.
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