IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

  • 8 May 2012

Real Time Monitoring of the Till Estate

James LoweAlex: I’m here today with James Lowe, our Senior Analyst Developer. He currently works on Merret development, and has previously developed tailored solutions as part of our Store Systems Team. One of these was the monitoring of the till estate for a retail client, which is what we are going to talk about today. So James, why did the retailer need this solution?

James: Hi Alex, the real time monitoring solution came about as one of our customers was just making the switch to new Retail-J software across their store estate. We quickly ran into issues with data flows between the estate manager/central system and the store’s tills and back office devices. This was largely caused by some extensive reporting being done on the Estate Manager database; the running of these reports caused a slow down in the data processing; eventually this got so bad that the stores ended up manually trading. We found ourselves needing to get some kind of instant feedback to determine if the actions we were taking were beneficial and having the desired effect. Fundamentally, the Retail-J system is all about data flow between devices; when that breaks down the data processing gets backed up, with various knock on effects including till systems slowing down to the point of tills not being able to trade and EFT settlement files not sent overnight.

Alex: What does the solution allow the retailer to do?

James: The real-time monitoring solution, allows seemingly small problems to be pro-actively picked up and actions taken before they become real show-stoppers. For example, spotting that a database has grown to a point that it’s nearly out of space enables us to take action and extend the database before that starts giving errors. The primary monitor display gives an overview of the health of the store estate, but one can also drill down to store and till level. We have since expanded the solution to monitor database sizes, OLA server status, EFT Settlement submission, PLU propagation, etc.

Alex: And how do problems get picked up?

James: Generally, real-time monitoring is achieved through a summary wall display showing a red/amber/green state of the key parameters of the system. Depending on the customer, we set sensible thresholds that give an amber alert or a red alert if something is going wrong. Optionally, if a red alert is encountered, a sound alert can also be used to attract attention. At Retail Assist, we monitor customer estates through our 24 hour operations centre and the Help Desk.

Alex: An important question is what benefits have been achieved thanks to the solution?

James: The key benefit is to minimise the amount of downtime by nipping tiny problems in the bud before they become real issues. Also when an unexpected major failure does occur (e.g. central database failure) then it enables support staff to quickly assess where the issue is and likely impact on all areas of the business. Also, by using the summary page to highlight a potential problem in a particular area or store, and then having the ability to drill down to till level, the Help Desk can pre-empt problems with individual tills – sometimes before the store staff even know they have a problem!

Alex: That’s great, so on a wider scale, what have been the overall operational benefits to the retailer?

James: I think fundamentally, if Retail Assist can keep the tills working quickly and efficiently it means that retailers can keep the queues down in store which in turn keeps the money coming in.

Alex: Lovely, thank you James. If any readers have a question about this subject, please post it below. You can also download a podcast on real time monitoring of the till estate on our website.

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