A group of Auckland developers has achieved a world first with a point-of-sale system built on Microsoft’s Active Store framework.
Auckland Software’s activePOS development is being trialled at the Hallensteins clothing chain. The five developers, who worked on the project from home, have entered it in the Microsoft Retail Applications Developers’ awards.
Although there are US companies with Active Store prototypes being developed for the July quarter and there are people converting current applications to run under the framework, Auckland Software is the first to release a commercial product.
Each developer has a background in retail development, having developed such systems as IRDOSS POS used by Smith & Caughey, Stevens for Gifts, Overland Footwear, Pumpkin Patch and Doyles.
However, 18 months ago they decided to build a Windows POS (90% are now DOS-based) using Activex components.
Trolling around the Microsoft Web site, Auckland Software developer Jeff Torking-ton found the Active Store initiative, which was in alpha stage.
“It’s a framework for developing standard interfaces for Windows-based retail systems to allow applications from different vendors to work together,” says Torkington.
With more than 650 retailers and developers participating, Active Store tackles issues such as a common look and feel, system navigation, a common cross application alert/event architecture, shared data elements, common security, common help and a set of inter-application messages of major events.
“It was perfect for what we wanted to do. We just build very small components that plug into the framework,” says Torkington, who has attended every Active Store developers’ conference in Seattle.
The framework and the components-based approach has meant develop time is faster, it’s easier to develop as a team even if Auckland Software is spread out geographically, and it’s far easier to customise and change a system for customers.
“We can now overcome the old 80/20 rule,” says fellow developer Frank Tocker. “Usually 80% of the software solution fits and 20% doesn’t fit but 80% of the cost is making that 20% fit. Our aim is to make that 20% only cost 20%. That’s because we use very small components that can be easily and quickly changed.”
Tocker feels the time is right to launch a Windows product into the market. Most DOS systems are reaching the end of their life cycle, while retailers want more functionality and are facing the YK2 problem. However, it hasn’t been until now that they’ve felt Windows was stable enough, Windows NT in particular has found more acceptance.
“The trouble with systems now is that they’re proprietary and closed. Also, retailers want to drive their prices down. We felt that you could get the price per lane [retail-speak for workstation] down to $3000 per lane, as opposed to $8000, for a full system including Eftpos and printer but the hardware probably wouldn’t be a PC, although it would have configurable software. We decided that on the software side the solution was to use Microsoft COM [ActiveX] to build replaceable components that could run on very low-cost purpose-built hardware. Until such hardware from companies like NCR comes out, we’ve written activePOS to run on PCs but it will be able to run on future systems which will probably be based on WinCE or Windows-based terminals and will probably emerge in three to five years.”
Auckland Software is not only targeting retailers. “We also want to talk to people who develop POS and look at enrolling them in the process so they can build their own specific market niche objects and run them in the Active Store framework. All the people who have been our traditional competitors we’d like to see as partners, as we believe we have a way to significantly reduce their cost structure. It’s hard to build complex Windows product in New Zealand because the market is so small.
“Another group is resellers because we don’t want to be the supplier, and the fourth group is multimedia developers.
Benefits that activePOS bring to Hallen-steins are easy customisation, allowing the retail chain to implement its own specialised business rules, a move away from proprietary to an industry-standard environment, and the possibility to introduce customer loyalty schemes at the POS, improved time management systems, improved labour planning, payroll integration and training.
Finance director Graeme Popplewell says it will also be possible to make proactive use of the Web, initially for email, and head office-based support for store systems.