REDMOND, Wash., October 19, 1998 — Imagine buying a VCR and taking it home, only to find that it is not compatible with your television. You would either have to hire an expensive integration specialist to come to your home and modify your VCR specifically for your TV, or return the VCR and purchase one made by the same company that built your television.
Sound unlikely? Well, that’s what many retailers face when buying and implementing point-of-sale (POS) technologies. If a retailer wants to purchase top-of-the-line barcode scanners or the latest cash registers, there is no guarantee that they will be compatible with the technology systems already in place at the store — creating circumstances similar to the example above and potentially hindering customer service.
Microsoft, along with numerous developers and customers, has developed a solution – an industry standard that enables various retail technologies to “plug-and-play” together. Initiated in 1994 by Microsoft, Epson America Inc., ICL Retail Systems/Fujitsu and NCR Corp. — and now supported by more than 160 companies — OLE for point- of- sale (OPOS) was the first standard specification of its kind for point-of-sale peripheral devices.
By enabling disparate technologies to work together, OPOS provides customers with more options and greater flexibility when choosing point-of-sale solutions, while directly reducing costs and limiting the chance of being locked into proprietary systems. Typically, solutions that are based on differing technology languages have difficulty working together, but retail applications written in Java, Visual Basic and many other languages are supported on Windows today using OPOS devices. With OPOS, retailers can choose best-of-breed solutions with the assurance that they will integrate well with existing and future store systems.
At the Retail Information Systems Conference (RISCON) in Denver this week, the announcement of the new Unified Point-of-Service (UPOS) specification means even further relief to the integration headache many retailers experience. Established by retailers in an alliance between the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) and the National Retail Federation (NRF), and supported by Microsoft and other vendors, UPOS will ensure that the industry POS standard does not become fragmented by providing a platform and language neutral framework..
“It is very important to have an open industry standard that provides customers with maximum choice and flexibility when adopting retail technologies. This was the original goal behind developing OPOS and enabling the use of PC technology in retail,” said Todd Weatherby, group manager for retail and supply chain at Microsoft. “With the release of subsequent, inconsistent specifications into the market, the industry standard was segmented. We are pleased that a single, open standard is now being established, and we are happy to be participating in the UPOS initiative, because it will directly reduce complexity and cost for customers when designing and developing applications for retail.”
OPOS and subsequent POS groups will continue working separately, but will be assisted by the UPOS framework to improve consistency and compatibility across the board. UPOS will be the platform independent standard, with OPOS and others being particular implementations based on specific operating systems and programming models.
“We look forward to seeing the OPOS specification expand to include new POS devices that come on the market and accommodate emerging languages and development tools,” added Weatherby. “We think the merits of our technology along with the strength of our partnerships make Windows- and OPOS-based applications the best bet for reducing the cost, risk and limitations of deploying retail applications written in any language.”
The problems associated with integration can be painstaking and horrendously expensive. Just like the VCR buyer who is simply wishing to watch a movie, a retailer would rather focus on providing fast and efficient customer service than integrating in-store technologies. With OPOS and the new UPOS framework, cost and complexity continue to decline for the retail industry.