Category Archives: Information Technology

POS is as much about Appearance as it is Functionality

I’m sure we have all experienced the frustration of trying to get down a store aisle that was too narrow, knocking things off shelves, as we tried to squeeze by another shopper’s cart; or experienced the confusion of trying to find something after walking into a store with randomly placed stacks of boxes as displays and mismarked aisles. The frustration of finding things, struggling through cluttered aisles and looking for pricing can make it enough to simply walk out of the store and go someplace else. This is why appearance and functionality are an important element in positive POS.

If customers cannot locate what they are looking for due to cluttered and congested aisles, they will choose to shop someplace where they can shop without obstructions. This is a vital item to consider when placing endcap displays, seasonal, or sale displays. Look at your space and plot display units accordingly. Don’t use stacks of case boxes with the tops cut off in the middle or at the end of a row as display units. This may be a cheap and quick method of display, but it looks cheap as well. Stacked boxes also increase chances of a customer accidentally knocking a display over on themself or someone else and getting injured creating a liability issue for your business. Another problem with stacked boxes is once the top case is empty, how does the customer get to the product in the closed cases below? If all the cases are opened before being stacked you risk increased spoils from crushed boxes or broken containers. These are just a few of the reasons why it makes more sense to use actual display units located in traffic friendly locations when promoting your sale and seasonal items.

Clearly and accurately marked aisles and directories are also critical. There is nothing more frustrating to a customer in a hurry than going from one end of a store to the other and back again looking for an item because the aisles and directories are inaccurate or out of date. Place signage at both ends of the aisle that contains a list of each category that is on that aisle. Making it easy for your customer to find what they are looking for will not only make your customer happy, but it will increase your sales since not all consumers like to ask for help if they can’t find something.

Have easy to understand pricing posted on the shelves with the item it belongs with. Consumers like to know what they are being asked to pay for something before they reach the register in order to make an informed decision. Make sure sales prices are accurate and visible. Don’t give your customer an unfriendly surprise at checkout when the price is higher than they were expecting to pay.

Besides having an organized customer friendly appearance, having clutter free aisles, easy to read aisle signs and directories, and accurately priced items and shelves creates a good first impression for your customers making them want to become a repeat shopper. Manage your business’ appearance as part of your POS and you’ll see results in your bottom line.

Cloud (computing)- What is it ?

Amazon, Google, and now Apple are offering services for music storage on the “cloud.”  For a non-IT person what does “cloud” mean in Apple’s “iCloud” or Amazon’s “music cloud” world? And why is it called “cloud”? To understand that we have to first understand a phenomenon called cloud computing.  The cloud computing story has been gaining strength for more than a couple years in the IT world, but it’s slowly making its way into mainstream discussions only recently.

Cloud computing is a Technical Architecture Model that provides computing capabilities and services from a centralized location. The core idea is that everything is accessed remotely, and you don’t to have anything installed locally.

Cloud computing services can be divided into three categories:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides computer hardware, operating systems, databases, file storage, and other raw computing resources. One would say vendors already existed for a long time that provided these resources, so then what’s new? The difference in the cloud computing world is that these resources are provided in a centralized location and maintained by a cloud provider. This means one does not need to have their own data center, and have an infrastructure team to maintain them. That used to be the traditional way of having a hardware and network infrastructure. Some of the IasS providers are Rack Space, Amazon, and Slicehost.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides infrastructure that includes both hardware and software platforms that are necessary for software developers to build software. With this, one can build their own software without having to deal with setting up a development environment on their own. An example of this is providing a platform that has an application server like JBoss, a JVM, Linux operating systems, and a database server like Oracle, that are necessary to build software on a Java platform. A few big names in the PasS provider world are Amazon EC2, Go Daddy, and many others. Alternatively, one can create custom software by extending an existing software platform, and by building vertical niches; examples of such providers are SalesForce, Google App Engine, and Microsoft Azure.

Software as a Service is a centralized software distribution model where vendors provide applications that are hosted on their servers, and it can be accessed online by the customers. This is the most commonly known form of cloud computing model that is widely used in day-to-day life. Most common examples of SaaS that we use are Gmail and Google Apps.

Now that we have some understanding of what cloud computing is, you can see that Apple’s iCloud, and Amazon’s Music Cloud basically offer a centralized software solution to manage your music purchases, storage, playlists etc. This falls into the SaaS category. Since “Cloud” is the latest buzz word, hence the inclusion of that word in their products.

Why is it called cloud?

As all the IT people know a cloud is used to depict the network in Technical Architecture diagrams, and since all the services that we mentioned above use the network to access them, the services are said be in the “cloud”.

Dot Com burst to Cloud Computing

When we mention Internet and startups the first thing that comes to one’s mind is the dot com bust of the year 2000. It’s been more than a decade since that happened but it’s still very vivid in the memory of many people who lived through it.  In retrospect the stock market betting on the game changing role of the internet at that time was not wrong but going overboard that every dot com was a great investment is where it went wrong.

We are a long way from that crash now and few “internet” companies like Amazon, Priceline, and E-trade almost went bust but came out on top and many more survived the bloodbath. One important development since then is the ease with which an entrepreneur with a good idea could start a business online. She/he does not have to worry about setting up a traditional brick and mortar shop or needing to spend a fortune on setting up IT operations.

For example, I was searching online to find photo studios that can take pictures that comply with the specifications set by Government of India specifically for OCI card (no points for guessing that they are different than what is considered standard). I googled and to my surprise I found number of sites that offer online services to produce the photos to that exact specification. The procedure was very simple three step process:

  1. Upload a digital picture taken based on some instructions that were provided on the website
  2. You will get a confirmation email if the photo meets all the specifications or if you need to resubmit.
  3. The photo is sized to appropriate specifications and submitted to the local Walgreens or WalMart for printing.
  4. You go pick it up the photos from there. In most cases they are available within couple of hours of submission

That’s a classic business model where all you needed was a good idea and the technology did the rest of the work for you and it also gave you access to the global market from your computer.

One might think that setting up a website is not an easy thing to do for a non technical person and might cost a fortune to hire someone to do that for you. Yes, that used to be the case not anymore, at least for small businesses. You must have heard a lot about “Cloud Computing” which is redefining how IT services are provided. One of the services provided through cloud computing is software.

So, here is what one needs to do if you have an idea and you think it fits into the small business model.

  1. Identify a Software Services provider on the “Cloud” that would meet all your needs
  2. Subscribe to their services
  3. Customize look and feel to meet your needs or you can go with the canned design
  4. Go live!

You could go from idea to setting up shop online within few days or in some cases few hours.

Granted not all businesses will be able to take off without some aggregation of software functions across vendors, some customization and a host of other things to consider but it is becoming easier by the day. The service providers are maturing very rapidly to be one stop shop in providing all kinds of functionality in a very secure way to meet the market demand.

Cloud computing has been a game changer for small businesses and it is in many ways similar to initial internet boom but it is definitely lot more tempered. Will it ever make a dent into the big businesses? Will it live up to its hype or is there going to be a cloud burst?

I believe this is the way forward but we have a long road ahead. I guess we will have to wait and see.