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 does not 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, unexplained system crashes and upset client calls, they opt to instead 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 and does not 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 longstanding 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 and at every wall socket. Through the use of electronic power conditioning such thorough coverage suddenly becomes cost-effective in helping to ensure that systems do not 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 does not 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 cannot 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, TX. “We use electronic power conditioners from SmartPower as one of our competitive advantages. I would say you could not afford not to use such devices.”
Located in Houston, TX, 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 Cord™ 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.
Electronic Power Conditioning to the Rescue
Today’s electronic power conditioning devices differ greatly from what technicians have traditionally relied on to control AC power. Common surge protectors can protect against catastrophic high-voltage spikes. However, they are not “intelligent” enough to handle the relatively small under-and-over voltages that momentarily disrupt POS devices. At the other end of the spectrum, isolation transformers (ITs) can suppress power surges. However, they are prohibitively expensive, large, heavy, and limited in their functionality; greatly reducing their use within the tight quarters routinely encountered in POS installations.
Some techs are also under the mistaken belief that a low cost uninterruptable power supply (UPS) will solve their problems. However, consumer grade UPS’s are nothing more than a battery back up combined with a rudimentary surge suppressor. By themselves, UPS’s only help when power is completely lost—such as when lightening strikes a transformer—but that accounts for only 1-2 percent of failures. The majorities of UPS units do not perform electronic power conditioning and therefore do not address the cause of 98-99 percent of POS problems. On the other hand, UPS’s that include electronic power conditioning are better equipped to handle the smaller variations that cause the overwhelming majority of POS issues.
Electronic power conditioning provides computer grade power ? a clean, filtered power supply ? at a fraction of the cost and size of bulky isolation transformers, and with significantly greater functionality. The electronic power conditioning (TBF™) technology, pioneered by SmartPower Systems, constantly monitors the line power and makes corrections. If AC voltage goes a little too high for more than a few cycles ? powerful enough to blow out the motherboard of an ECR ? then it cuts the power to the protected device. TBF circuitry also addresses a particularly perplexing problem for many POS installations: that of ground loop current, which can play havoc with microprocessors, embedded within POS devices.
“Nowadays, many fast food restaurants are all excited about smoothie machines,” notes Khashan. “But these are absolutely the worst thing because turning on the whirling motor drives every piece of computer-related equipment crazy. They can cripple the counters and even slow back office operations. To prevent this catastrophe we send the customer a smart cord for every POS terminal, and that solves that problem.”
What is Good for the Customer is Good for the Vendor
Ultimately, it is the system integrator who reaps many of the benefits through the understanding of the need for electronic power conditioning. “As a service company you have to consider how much it costs you to send a tech out into the field to fix an emergency situation; maybe $200-250 dollars depending on the time of day or night and the weather.” Khashan points out. “Instead, I can send the client an electronic power conditioning kit and that gets them out the bind.”
Such success stories are paving the way for wider acceptance of electronic power conditioning as a necessity of doing business, for both system integrators and their customers. “We highly recommend electronic power conditioning devices to all of our customers and explain the advantage of having them versus not, and nine times out of ten they will go with them,” adds Patton. “I have not run into any customer challenges that we could not handle.”
For more information on electronic power conditioning, contact SmartPower Systems, Inc. at 1760 Stebbins Drive; Houston, TX 77043, by phone (713) 464-8000, or visit www.smartpowersystems.com.