Key to Moving POS to the Cloud: Readiness for Disconnected Experiences

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The title of this article appears to couple two diametrically opposed points of view – moving POS to the cloud, but also the importance of being ready for disconnected experiences. The reality is that to really deliver a cloud-based POS solution, you must also be ready to support situations in which a store is unable to connect to the cloud.

Anyone who has supported a large group of stores knows there are always some having temporary connectivity issues. Whether the problem is caused by bad Wi-Fi router placement, interference from neighboring stores, or even utility work down the street that goes too far, even the most modern, well-connected stores cannot rely on a ubiquitous, high-quality internet connection.

Almost since the inception of electronic point-of-sale, a key tenet for POS systems has been ensuring the store can continue to complete sales transactions under any circumstance. This led to the evolution of offline processing, ultimately resulting in seamless processes that automatically kick in when the POS register is unable to connect to the POS server. This ensures that basic POS functionality required to sell remains available, provided the register has power and is functioning.

Offline processing, also called store resiliency, requires maintaining current data and business rules on every POS register in the store — just enough for the register to be able to operate on its own should it lose its connection to the store server. Typically, this requires maintaining current product information, pricing, tax rules, and business rules configured by each retailer locally on each register.

In previous generations of store systems, there has been a physical or virtual store server in each store, which constantly syncs with each register in the store via the local area network to keep the registers current. Should a register lose connectivity to the store server, the register has what it needs to complete basic sales.

With a cloud-based POS, however, there is no store server. There are many benefits to having each POS device connect directly to the cloud — this includes a more efficient data management process (less reliance on having to manage distributed data), reduced hardware costs (no store server required in the store), and the ability to access a lot more content via the cloud (i.e., easier access to digital content for unified commerce experiences).

Not having the store server, however, does create a significant challenge for ensuring the store can continue to trade when disconnected from the cloud — providing offline capability for next-gen cloud-based POS solutions is significantly more complex.  

A cloud-based POS solution should provide the best of both worlds – a solution that is optimized for each mobile device to connect directly to the cloud to request specific data, but that can also run specific processes locally on each device for base functionality. Ideally, the solution can run base functions such as item and price retrieval, taxation, and tendering locally on the device. This ability provides speed, reliability, and consistency for your most important store functions. If the system is designed correctly, you gain, along with the reliability this approach provides, the ability to continue to sell when temporarily disconnected from the cloud.

There are three key components to consider when assessing a cloud-based POS solution’s readiness for handling times when a store loses connectivity to the cloud (also referred to as offline events):

1. Data Distribution to Stores

As stated earlier, the data and business rules required to complete basic sales should be maintained locally on each POS device. This includes employee, price, product, taxation, tenders, and business configuration rules. This requires constant syncing between all POS devices and the cloud to ensure all devices are current should they lose their connection to the cloud.

As part of this syncing process, it is also important to have options regarding how changes are propagated from the cloud to potentially thousands of POS clients in your stores. This should include the ability for the cloud to update a single device in each store, and the ability to pass the updates from that device to other devices running in the same store.

For larger store formats, such as department stores, having the ability to create sub-domains and having the lead device update each sub-domain would be a key requirement. This capability reduces the demand on expensive headquarters-to-store bandwidth while also managing data “chatter” on local area networks.

Source: Aptos

2. Posting Completed POS Transactions

When you are connected to the cloud, normal expected behavior would be for each POS device to post completed transactions as soon as they are completed (i.e., the transaction leaves the store and posts immediately in the cloud).

In the event a POS device disconnects from the cloud, the solution should be able to self-identify that it is not connected and seamlessly kick into offline mode, with no user intervention required. While the system is in offline mode (i.e., unable to connect to the cloud), all transactions would remain on the POS device.

To mitigate risk of losing any transactions while in this offline state, along with all completed transactions remaining on the POS device, a good design will also support the ability to post all completed transactions to other POS devices in the store. In the event of a hardware failure on a POS device while offline, any completed transactions from that device will not be lost, as they will have been posted to other POS devices in the store.

When the store reconnects to the cloud, the solution should self-identify that the connection to the cloud has been restored and should automatically post to the cloud all transactions completed while offline. Additional capabilities are needed in the cloud to resolve multiple versions of the same transaction.

Source: Aptos

3. Automated, Seamless Activation of Offline Processes

As stated, activation of offline processes should not require any user intervention – the solution should be able to self-identify both the loss of connection and the reconnection, and automatically activate the required processes to ensure a seamless experience for your store associates. Local functionality is limited to core store activities, and it should be expected that certain features that require calling an outside source will not be available when the system is offline from the cloud.

Most important, store associates should also be able to access the key elements required to serve your customers and complete sales transactions. An added benefit of this design is that if you have the capability to continue to sell when you are not connected to the cloud, then you should have what you need to easily run pop-up events in any location, regardless of whether the location can connect to the cloud.

A cloud-based POS architecture should be designed to ensure the store can continue to trade in any environment. An important key to a cloud-based POS design is a solid infrastructure that can support optimal (connected) experiences and, just as important, is ready to support sub-optimal (disconnected) experiences. Bandwidth may be more ubiquitous than ever, but constant high-quality connections are not. Cloud-based POS needs much more than an internet connection in order to be successful.

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Ian Auerbach

Ian Auerbach is a solution principal for Aptos focusing on the company’s retail experience platform, Aptos ONE. Ian is an industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in product management and product strategy for store systems and unified commerce solutions.