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Love of technology is what makes Avsha Klachuk, winner of the Convenience Store News 2014 Top Tech Executive Award, so enthusiastic about going to work every day.
?I was always fascinated by technology since I was very young,? said Klachuk, director of marketing technology for Dallas-based Alon USA Energy Inc. ?I am still fascinated by it.?
Because he mostly works ?behind the scenes,? Klachuk said he did not expect to receive this or any award. He will be recognized during a ceremony in December. The technology executive called it a ?great honor? and ?tremendous to be recognized by his peers.?
Klachuk grew up in Israel where he fulfilled his required service in the Israeli Air Force as an electronic engineer. After completing his service, he spent eight years with an electronics repair company managing the repair of television sets, video tapes and other electronic devices available at the time.
He got his first taste of the convenience retailing and petroleum industry when a friend who had served with him in the air force called and invited him to run the service department of a large distributorship for petroleum equipment. During his 15-year tenure with that company, Klachuk participated in a variety of projects, including the development of the first PC-based point-of-sale (POS) product offered by Dresser-Wayne for the international market.
This project, along with his other exemplary work, eventually led Klachuk to be hired as the vice president of marketing and sales for another distributorship in the industry.
Given his many business interactions with American manufacturers of petroleum equipment throughout his career, Klachuk?s decision to join an American company was a natural progression. The move, however, would require the right opportunity, which finally presented itself in 2000 at Alon USA.
?I knew Alon very well from our vendor-customer relationship,? he recounted. ?One day, David Wiessman, chairman of the board of directors at Alon, invited me to a meeting at his office to discuss a job opportunity.?
At that meeting, Wiessman told Klachuk that Alon was about to purchase some of Total S.A.?s American downstream assets, including a refinery in Big Spring, Texas; some fuel terminals and pipelines; a distribution network supplying more than 1,300 convenience stores with FINA-branded motor fuels; and approximately 160 stores that were directly owned and operated (these stores have since been rebranded under the ALON name and grown in number to roughly 300).
In order to accept the position with Alon, Klachuk would have to move himself and his wife from Israel to Dallas, far from their two grown sons who would remain in Israel. In addition, Wiessman requested that he start the job right away, so there was little time to decide.
?I told him I would talk to my wife and give him an answer later that evening. He told me he didn?t have much time and I needed to pack my stuff and go to Dallas immediately,? Klachuk recalled. ?I made the decision with my wife that I would move to Dallas for a couple of months to see how I liked it and if it worked out well, then my wife would join me.?
Considering that Klachuk has spent the past 13 years and counting as the director of marketing technology at Alon, his move to Dallas clearly worked out well.
Once in Dallas, Klachuk devoted his time not only to Alon, but also to PCATS, the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (now known as Conexxus), an organization dedicated to the development and implementation of technology standards for the entire convenience store and petroleum retailing sector. Upon learning about its independent technology group in 2005, Klachuk quickly joined and in 2011?2012, served as chairman.
As much as he is interested in the growth of technology, Klachuk does have one pet peeve: the over-abundance of POS systems. He said the existence of so many different systems requires different iterations of the same technology simply to interface with each system.
?Unfortunately, a lack of standards in POS systems means each technological development that would be implemented at the point-of-sale cannot be widely adopted until it has been created in numerous versions in order to address variations in each POS system. This can be a huge waste of resources,? he noted.
Looking ahead to other hot-button areas of technology, Klachuk predicts that Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) guidelines will remain a top technology topic that will take 10 years to fully implement in the United States.
?First, we need to decide what the proper EMV technology is,? he stated. ?Is it chip and PIN or chip and signature? Once this is decided, we need to develop it at the point-of-sale and then develop it at the host.?
Concurrently, mobile payments will advance in the next 10 years, Klachuk projected. Alon is one of the founding members and partners of Merchant Customer Exchange, a coalition of companies working to develop mobile payment options.
?Today, there are many mobile payment applications. However, it will still be a long road to mainstream acceptance of a mobile payment solution,? he said. ?Furthermore, the future will not be just about payment; it will be about identification also. It?s a challenge to confirm that the customer [as opposed to an imposter] is actually at the point-of-purchase.?
There are currently multiple methods to verify a consumer?s identity ? signature, PIN, even biometric options like fingerprints and retinal scans ? none of which are absolutely foolproof. Increased accuracy in identifying the consumer will, in turn, further the widespread acceptance of new payment methods such as mobile payment, for which security is a concern.
A NOVEL IDEA
Perhaps Klachuk?s greatest accomplishment, though, is Automatic Vehicle Intelligent Identification (AVII), also known as ring technology, which he helped create. Developed in collaboration with Orpak, an Alon USA vendor, the technology is designed for fleets and uses a radio frequency identification device to link the gas nozzle to a customer?s vehicle.
The fuel is charged to the customer?s account through the ring device on the vehicle?s gas tank, so only fuel dispensed into that tank is charged to the customer.
?AVII is unique as you can?t remove the nozzle from the gas tank without stopping the pump from dispensing fuel,? said Klachuk, who took more than three years to develop and test the technology. As a result, spillage, fraud and theft are effectively prevented.
In addition to these benefits, since the nozzle is communicating directly with a car?s gas tank, customers don?t need to enter any information at the pump.
The technology is already in place at more than 200 Alon-owned convenience stores, and fleets are beginning to use the AVII system. Klachuk hopes the technology will be widely used by convenience store chains nationwide.