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    Report from NACSTech

    Retailers put spotlight on technology at 12th annual event.

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- C-store industry retailers and their suppliers turned out here in Music City for NACSTech, the 12th annual Technology Trade Show and convention for the Convenience and Petroleum Retailing Industry. The two-and-a-half day event provided retailers with the opportunity to learn from one another -- and from more than 100 technology vendors hoping to sell solutions to them -- about the latest and greatest in retail technology.

    Convenience Store News reports from the convention floor:

    In the session "Lottery Reconciliation and Instant Ticket Management," retailers shared their operational methods of managing the category as well as the results of a pilot program PCATS (Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards) and NASPL (North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries) began with five states and with several retailers including Valero, E-Z Mart and The Pantry Inc.

    The groups are testing a lottery retailer accounting technical standard to offer a reduction in cost of unique jurisdictional reporting for large retail chains and allow lotteries to use the same data and "definitions" for their non-XML reports, which would satisfy independent retailer needs, according to Weusi Berry of the South Carolina Education Lottery.

    The pilot project for the standard is underway with The Pantry, who began in Georgia to test the XML process and will begin in South Carolina shortly. The objectives of the pilot, according to Alvin Fortson, director of network system development at The Pantry, was to reduce the time it takes to reconcile instant ticket statements, better manage instant tickets and receive Web reporting from the lottery.

    "We planned to do it on the back-end system, but found we needed to create a middle layer lottery application," said Fortson, who reported a 50-percent time savings in reconciliation.

    The lottery application imports the states PCATS/XML file and the outstanding invoices from the company's accounting system and reconciles the instant ticket books and weekly statement, Fortson said. It also creates a file so the invoice will be paid in the accounting system.

    "It used to take one person four days to reconcile, and now we are down to one day," Fortson explained. "And we think we will still take another half- day off of that when we are done."

    Other projects regarding lottery PCATS and NASPL are working to include a bar code technical standard and retailer Web-based applications, according to Berry. The first will enable a UPC system to scan lottery products utilizing a retailer's point-of-sale (POS) system and allow for the possibility of a single scan to be used for both retailer and lottery purposes, and the second will provide access to business functions without requiring stores to send terminal reports. It will also provide consistent communications with lotteries across multiple jurisdictions, Berry explained.

    NACStech attendees also heard from executives of BP and Flash Foods about how they're improving payment acceptance architecture.

    To develop a standardized way of accepting credit-card logics among its multiple point-of-sale platforms, BP has installed electronic payment servers (EPS) in more than 4,100 of its sites. As Kelly Mahoney, the company's payment technology manager, explained, EPS is a server that resides at the store site and interfaces with the existing POS.

    Rather than require BP's jobbers to all change to a single POS system, she said the company chose this route because it was less disruptive and more customer-friendly.

    "The system is working, and we are very excited about it," Mahoney said. "Our jobbers are starting to see the flexibility and value this provides."

    Flash Foods, meanwhile, is gearing up to turn its Rewards in a Flash loyalty card into an ACH/debit card this June in partnership with Pinnacle LoyalDebit and National Payment Card, said Jenny Bullard, chief information officer.

    The chain's goal for Year 1 is to convert 5 percent of its credit-card purchases to ACH/debit, resulting in a savings of $172,000 for the year. The Year 2 goal is to then covert 15 percent of credit to ACH/debit for $516,000 in savings.

    The biggest benefit, Bullard said is that "MasterCard and Visa will no longer take our money, and we can invest that savings back into our customers."

    In the "early riser" session Tuesday morning, a standing-room-only crowd of attendees listened to a group of non-IT and technology executives discuss the interaction and interplay between the two groups.

    The panel paired CEOs and other non-IT execs from Holmes Oil, Jacksons Food Stores, Calfee Co. and Nice N Easy with the top technology execs from each of those chains. In almost all cases, the panelist described how the role of IT has changed form strictly a tech-role, to one of business partner. "Our CIO sits on our executive committee," said Patrick Abernathy, director of IT at Jacksons. The panelists were equally united in the belief that the CEO, acting on behalf of consumer needs, still drives the need for technology -- except on projects that have to be done for regulatory reasons or similar tasks like becoming PCI compliant.

    "The IT side has to deal with the fact that they are not the boss," added Art Whetstone, head of IT for Calfee Co. "A lot of times projects fail because we take a personal ownership in them. We have to remember, these projects are community property."

    Matt Paduano of Nice N Easy agreed that a lot of projects are driven from the top down. "Our CEO, John MacDougall, always believes there's a technology solution to any problem, and most times he is right."

    The IT execs also discussed the best ways to get vague technology concepts across to the executive staff of their companies. "It's real important that you determine the executive's style -- how does he process information?" Whetstone said. "Play to your audience. Does your management prefer smaller projects? Break your project up into stages."

    Whetstone's CEO Sam Turner agreed: "The worst thing you can do is try to barbecue the whole elephant at one time. Staging is important. The CEO may have 10 other spending projects he is considering at one time."

    A session on technology project management featured James Maxey, senior store systems management at Valero Energy Corp. -- last year's CSNews Technology Executive of the Year. Maxey listed three keys to technology project management:

    -- Have a process and consistently follow it.
    -- Invest in planning and design. If you have a great plan, you will ultimately save time when implementing your project.
    -- Communicate to the project's stakeholders.

    -- By Tammy Mastroberte, Linda Lisanti and Don Longo

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