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by Alison Embrey
AUSTIN, Texas -- Technology was roundly touted as the key to the future at the “Leveraging Technology Standards for Convenience Store Operators” seminar session at the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association conference this week.
Speaker John Hervey, executive director for the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS), spoke of the need for implementing global industry technology standards throughout the c-store industry.
“Standards by themselves don't accomplish anything -- we have to make sure that the industry implements these standards to actually achieve anything,” Hervey said to a group of retail and supplier attendees.
Hervey first addressed the issue of integrating point-of-sale vendor technologies with back-office vendor technologies. Beginning in May 1997, the major POS and back-office vendors came together to create a standard for the industry, Hervey said. The PCATS-NAXML Version 3.3 system allows retailers to buy PCATS-conformance-certified products to insure a level of interoperability.
“By using this standard, there's no direct cost to the retailer and any revisions are the responsibility of the vendors. It also eases the pain of mergers and acquisitions if everyone is using the same format,” he said.
A second technology issue is device disconnectivity, in which a retailer's lottery terminal, money-order terminal, phone-card activation device, tank gauge monitor, etc., cannot communicate with one another. The solution, Hervey said, is to create an in-store network linking all devices through an open-site architecture. Based on peer-to-peer networking principles (such as those used with AOL Instant Messenger), the approach utilizes open-source protocols to reduce costs and link all services through one central server.
Hervey also addressed the rising concern of credit-card processing, which is a “hidden but very real problem for branded dealers,” he said. Because each network utilizes its own proprietary credit-card messages format, there is no interoperability. The solution, Hervey suggested, is to create an industry standard for credit card message format.
Streamlining operations and accounting has too much inefficiency within processes, Hervey noted, largely due to continued use of paper. “I would dare to say that almost all businesses today are still doing some form of their business on paper,” he said. “What we're trying to do is eliminate that paper and do all business electronically, or as we call it, eB2B.”
EB2B is defined as the exchange of business information from one business computer to another with little or no human intervention, which ultimately can increase the amount of information available, streamline operations, improve product delivery, reduce inventory levels and reduce operating costs.
“It provides continuity over all of the suppliers,” Hervey said. “Do it once and do it efficiently. That's what we're after.”