When I started in 2004, I was coming off an IT career, so I wanted to be up to speed on retail tech. It was really the only useful skill I brought to the new business, that and the ability to research any project.
I bought a new PC clone point of sale machine, custom made to handle the various peripherals. It was so complex, consultants were hired to work their black magic to get it all working. Could I have figured it out? Sure, but I respect expertise in IT and wanted to start out right.
Setting up the POS required the consultants go through complex processes, hand written in notebooks. They were like a cabal of wizards, summoning profit into existence. While on vacation in France a year later (frequent flyer miles), the consultants came and fixed it when it corrupted itself during a power outage. I was troubleshooting the best I could from an Internet cafe in Paris. IT was inescapable.
In the back office, I had a Windows server running tape backups. I used a complex, Grandfather-Father-Son (GFS) tape rotation and took tapes home each night in a briefcase like some sort of spy. My laptop was a bulletproof IBM Thinkpad T30 from my days in IT. In the new store, I learned a lesson in security when a gold toothed homeless man walked into our Game Center and immediately went into the unlocked door to my office. I caught up with him as he was zipping up his jacket to leave, with my Thinkpad hidden within. I already had a new laptop on order that week, but it was still a painful lesson.
I should mention that before I started the business, I was running multiple Red Hat Linux servers at home. When the store opening became inevitable, I wiped them clean and installed Windows servers. Nobody has time for that crap.
15 years later, and a lot of things have changed, but a lot has stayed the same. Our POS is an iMac, not that different from my first computer, although most of my peers are moving to the cloud. I can’t imagine changing POS systems now and not moving to something cloud based. The innovation is happening with cloud based services, plus I can sleep at night knowing it’s all backed up offsite. The backup server in the office has been replaced by a (terrible) dinky Apple time capsule backup device and cloud streaming.
On the sales floor are four iPads. One iPad plays music through our Sonos system. Two iPads play board game demos which drives sales. The fourth iPad is locked down to allow customers to sign up for WPN events (a weird Premium store requirement). Nine staff members use smartphones capable of running transactions using either a plug in card reader or a new Bluetooth unit we just got in. I’m a bit uncomfortable expecting staff to use their personal phones to ring up sales in an emergency, but there’s always the junky iPad nearby as an alternative.
My goal is safe and ubiquitous computing. The thought of spending time fixing or upgrading a machine is irritating. We have a Windows laptop for events that reminds me of my old life, with its constant updates and problems finding printers. I'm not quite an Apple fan boy, but I appreciate the strong, Unix based underpinnings of their hardware and the extremely long product life cycle. My first laptop went six years before I replaced it, and we just resurrected it for my new manager.
I can’t imagine spending time with some clunky tape rotation scheme. Still, when I go on vacation, I wonder if the consultants will come if the POS goes down in a power outage. They tend not to answer their phones. We spend a lot of time preparing for the reality the POS could fail at any moment. The cloud is definitely my future and I certainly don’t miss the chilly server rooms of IT.