The cloud: a Surefire path to growth

Retailing is a tough gig; margins can be slim or elusive, consumers fickle and customer expectations constantly shifting. Nevertheless, it’s a significant part of the Australian economy and employs 1.2 million people.

Smart retailers now understand that by providing a personalised, friction-free service to their customers they can cement the relationship, encouraging loyalty and repeat business.

Surefire Systems has always worked with smart retailers.

The Melbourne-based tech company’s heritage lies in developing Microsoft based Point-of-Sale systems, initially for grocery retailers. It quickly branched out into other areas of retail and was a pioneer of the as-a-service business model long before cloud computing became a thing.

Cal Anderson, Head of Global Channels at Surefire Systems explains; “We brought the first subscription model to market, meaning that the retailers would pay as they go. It was a way of saying to the retailer, ‘If you’re satisfied you’ll continue to pay and if you’re not, you walk away but we’ll prove that we’re worth keeping on board’.”

Surefire speaks a language that retailers understand and appreciate. It’s also the language of the cloud.

Cloud vendors understand only too well that customers will stay loyal only if the platform delivers what is required, and delivers it efficiently, cost effectively and constantly.

The advent of the internet and ubiquitous broadband connectivity means that retailers and their customers need to be able to offer rich information systems to support the shopping journey, make targeted offers to loyal customers and support mobile and frictionless payment.

Anderson says that large retailers always have high demands but that Surefire has in turn always taken a proactive stance to development and innovation.

“We always had to keep at the forefront of innovation and we also had to be very responsive in anticipation of our customer’s needs.”

Even so, the demand for responsive and flexible retailing platforms continued to accelerate, and it became clear that by embracing cloud both Surefire and its clients would be far nimbler in terms of responding to shifting consumer expectations and demands.

The portfolio of cloud based digital payment and mobile technology solutions that Surefire has developed is now available to both direct enterprise clients and Surefire partners who can in turn offer services and solutions to their customers.

Pragmatically Surefire began its journey to the cloud by taking its existing point of sale components, enveloping them in a .NET wrapper and launching in the cloud. Retailers could access the Infrastructure as a Service, while Surefire started to roll out mobile applications that could take advantage of that cloud platform.

Once again it was a pioneer.

Anderson explains; “Ingenico came up with this product that you could plug an iPhone into, which was adopted in Australia by the Commonwealth Bank and they certified the Ingenico device. We picked that up as soon as it became available and developed a Windows version of PoS that would communicate to the Ingenico PINpad and to our cloud backend.”

Originally hosting the solutions itself meant that by the time the Azure cloud launched in Australia Surefire had developed a rich array of cloud based solutions ready to be ported across.

It had also recognised that although its original focus had been on the retail sector, the core of its business was a richly featured transaction platform that resonated for a much broader potential customer base.

Officeworks was one of the early advocates for the approach. Traditionally a heavy SAP user, the company needed a way to improve customer engagement, cut queues and optimise its operational procedures and processes. Leaving the SAP system intact Officeworks was able to overlay the Surefire transaction platform, leveraging mobile point of sale and offering a far more flexible operational platform for the business while seamlessly integrating data from both the SAP and Surefire systems.

The deal put Surefire on the radar of major retailers in Australia and piqued its ambitions to work with both its partners and Microsoft to launch the solution on a broader stage.

The approach is bearing fruit.

Optus for example has used Surefire’s technology in its newly released Retail Assist solution, which again leverages the Azure cloud. Surefire also envisages data analytics businesses picking up the platform and building around it the sorts of data rich solutions that generate customer loyalty and drive sales.

“By doing the hard bits of integration and data interconnectivity, we really make it attractive for larger solution partners and Microsoft partners to incorporate our platform and speed up their ability to have a unified approach across their channels, including mobile, online and instore, while being mobile and payment focused,” says Anderson.

By taking advantage of the Platform as a Service capabilities that Azure offers, Surefire can integrate with multiple third party backend systems, for example handling merchandise management or to leverage emerging technology in the cloud such as business intelligence or machine learning. There are no longer artificial limits to what can be achieved.

“We store all the detailed transaction data, products and pricing reference data in cloud databases, and then make that integration using a micro-service and exposed APIs, and make that integration a simple task into backend systems that’ll drive both product and pricing data into our systems, but also systems that will feed off of the detailed transaction data.”

It’s an approach that opens up new markets. Surefire for example now has customers in local government which are allowing residents to scan and pay bills from self-service point of sale devices in council offices or kiosks.

Anderson adds that the inherent scalability and elasticity of Azure means that partners selling such solutions can focus on the front end, leaving Surefire and Microsoft to handle what’s under the bonnet.

“We actually see the platform helping transform the way transactions are done, that the transaction is more complete; it contains all the data elements required in a transaction; it provides more customer value and convenience.

“You’re improving the efficiency of the process; you’re reducing risk and cost; and we feel that as the vortex of cloud, mobile and payment are coming together, it’s genuinely delivering a positive experience for the customer”

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