Cloud POS in Africa: If it doesn’t work offline, it doesn’t work

Cloud computing is sweeping the world as more and more companies seek to gain the advantages of reduced hardware investment, lower maintenance, ease of provisioning and reduced costs. But moving into the cloud usually comes with a pretty serious qualifier: the connectivity has to be very good, or it doesn’t work at all. In environments such as point-of-sale (PoS), this is particularly important, because when queues form and checkout operators start stressing, business is not going well.

 

That’s why the only cloud point-of-sale solution which works in Africa, is the one which works just as well even when the connectivity is down.

 

Great strides in infrastructure have been made across Africa, thanks mostly to advances in mobile and wireless networks. Be that as it may, reliable, always-on connectivity is far from a given. In Zimbabwe, for example, there is a company which has a central head office, with PoS points around the country. When, for any reason, connectivity goes down, this company’s business will grind to a halt.

 

But it doesn’t. That’s because it is equipped with a PoS solution which 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 synch back to the head office, transmitting any accumulated data together with current information.

 

But why would you want a cloud solution?

The answer to that obvious (and good) question is simple. Staying with the Zimbabwean example, 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’s 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 isn’t unheard of for such architectures to be supported by perhaps the ultimate ‘man in a van’ – a technician who flies in and flies out. That is very costly.

 

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 exactly why this particular Zimbabwean company chose a cloud-based PoS.

 

Sounds good – so why isn’t every cloud PoS offline?

If a cloud based PoS system which works just as well offline (so well, in fact, that the till operators in the Zimbabwean example purposefully disconnect the terminals as they work faster in offline mode when connectivity is poor; reconnecting allows the devices to synch up at the end of the day) 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. But 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’s what most vendors offer.

 

But the bottom line is that in Africa, if a cloud solution doesn’t work just as well when it is offline, it doesn’t work at all because it simply isn’t good enough.

 

By: Alan Sher, HansaWorld SA Director and Product Manager

About HansaWorld

HansaWorld is the first major software house to provide a full suite of Enterprise Resource Planning, Financials and Customer Relationship Management as well as a wide selection of industry-specific solutions on tablets and smartphones. HansaWorld shows continued technological leadership in the international business software industry. The group employs around 300 staff in a strong network of daughter companies and distribution partners covering over 100 countries on all continents, allowing HansaWorld to offer international implementations with a single point of contact across many countries. The solutions are available in more languages than anyone else, run on all major platforms and support mobility via laptops, the latest tablets and smartphones. More than 77,000 installations world-wide reinforces us as a global leader. HansaWorld continuously invests in R&D to provide innovative and future proof solutions to help businesses run efficiently and smoothly, combining 25 years of experience with global knowledge and local representation.

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