News Column

Keeping POS going in Africa through the cloud

July 2, 2014

Alan Sher

Cloud computing may be sweeping the world for its advantages of reduced hardware investment, lower maintenance, ease of provisioning and reduced costs, but the connectivity has to be very good, or it does not work.

Great strides in infrastructure have been made across Africa, thanks mostly to advances in mobile and wireless networks but reliable, always-on connectivity is far from a given. That is why the only cloud POS solution suitable for Africa is one that works even when the connectivity is down.

Zimbabwe example

A Zimbabwean company, with a central head office and POS points around the country, does not stop its business when connectivity goes down for any reason. This is because it is equipped with a POS solution that seamlessly transitions from online, connected mode, to offline mode. All the till operator knows is that an onscreen green button goes red.

When the connectivity is restored, the system continues to synchronize back to the head office, transmitting any accumulated data together with current information.

It works so well offline that the till operators purposefully disconnect the terminals, as they work faster in offline mode when connectivity is poor; reconnecting at the end of the day.

In comparison, if this company had 100 points of sale, the 'old' way of doing things would require each to be equipped with a full onsite solution, including a server, all connecting back to a 'mother ship' central server at the head office.

That is expensive and not only because of the cost of the equipment but also in terms of maintenance which, in Africa, can be difficult to source. It is not unheard of for such architectures to be supported by perhaps the ultimate 'man in a van' - a technician who flies in and flies out, which is very costly.

Cloud solutions offer savings

A cloud solution, by contrast, allows inexpensive off-the-shelf hardware to be used, with most maintenance and support done centrally or remotely. It also allows new offices to be set up far faster, as the terminals in a new premises have an agent installed on them and then simply access the existing server-side solution.

Businesses across Africa are well aware of these costs and how cloud solutions overcome them, which is why this Zimbabwean company chose a cloud-based POS.

So if it is such a good idea, shouldn't every system be like that?

The answer is yes, absolutely, especially for use in African countries or elsewhere connectivity is poor or patchy. However, the limiting factor achieving this is, from a technical point of view, very difficult. It is far easier to have a 'one or the other' architecture, that is, either cloud or onsite and that is what most vendors offer.

However, the bottom line is that in Africa, if a cloud solution does not work just as well when it is offline, it does not work at all, because it simply is not good enough.

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Source: Bizcommunity (South Africa)

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