HP POS systems take the heat out of retail

HP rp5700 POS

With hundreds of convenience stores attached to its filling stations across Africa and ambitious plans for further expansion, oil and gas company Engen needed rugged Point of Sale (PoS) equipment that could withstand harsh environments as well as serve as a long term solution. Compatibility with its other peripherals was also vital.

Engen is deploying the HP rp5700 Point of Sale (POS) system into all existing and new stores to run its WinBranch PoS software.

IT improvements
• Robust build ensures high availability in harsh African environments.
• Poly-fused power ports protect against power failures, surges and storms.
• Units are compatible with other peripherals and applications and components are readily available.

Business benefits
• Five year product lifecycle delivers efficient return on investment.
• Maintenance and operating costs are significantly reduced.
• Overall efficiency of the important retail outlets supports Engen’s ambitious expansion plans in Africa.

Engen is an Africa-based energy company focusing on the downstream refined petroleum products market and related businesses. In addition to refining crude oil, with a capacity of 135,000 barrels a day, Engen runs 1,200 service stations across the Republic of South Africa (RSA) and 250 in sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside its filling stations, Engen also runs over 600 convenience stores which offer fast food, confectionery, bakeries and DVD rentals.

Through its International Business Division (IBD), Engen is on a growth path to Engen’s 2016 Vision. By developing new sites and through acquisitions and mergers, it is extending its landscape of service stations and retail sites into 15 countries across sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of increasing its footprint and volume to become a champion in Africa by the year 2016.

Convenience stores are being attached to all new sites in South Africa and where possible in Africa and the ambitious expansion plans are also being accompanied by a revamp of existing retail outlets.

Automation is playing a major role and that includes the stores’ PoS systems.

Compatibility problems
“We previously had IBM units and depending on the country, we used IBM, NCR Team POS2000 and DigiPOS systems,” says Japie Muller, IT manager for Engen Marketing. “These IBM units were normal PC-based systems and the main problem we experienced was that IBM frequently updated their models and discontinued older ones. Because of this, we were forced to carry large stocks of parts for the various models because not all parts were compatible with different machines. We also had problems because our PoS software was not compatible with all of the models.”

Engen decided to seek a retail-hardened PoS solution that was robust enough to tolerate the harsh environments in which it operates and that would be totally compatible with its other systems and peripherals.

“We wanted equipment that could cope with power fluctuations, could handle dust and extreme heat and kitchen conditions,” adds Muller. “We required a model with a chipset and memory that would be compatible with our PoS software and one that was easy to maintain with readily available components.”

Engen invited a number of suppliers to tender. Bench tests were conducted at the Bloemfontein laboratory of vendor UCS where models were measured against a stringent list of high-level criteria that included hardware specification, compatibility, maintenance accessibility, display units, financial, warranty, support and customer ratings.

Three vendors were short-listed and the winning solution was the HP rp5700 Point of Sale system supplied by HP Preferred Partner, Datacentrix. Engen felt that this was the closest match for its criteria and was already a satisfied HP customer, using its servers and desktop computers in the corporate environment.

Vital support
“In my book, the quality of a product cannot normally stand on its own and the product is only as good as the support we can obtain from our service provider. Through dealing with Datacentrix on HP’s behalf we have received absolutely outstanding service and this further supported our decision,” explains Muller.

The HP system is also completely compatible with Engen’s other peripherals and with the WinBranch PoS software that it runs. This enables the convenience stores to not only keep detailed sales and marketing records but also manage their inventory more efficiently.

The HP rp5700 system provides a flexible PoS platform that can go from the front of the store to the back office with a retail-hardened design of exceptional stability that is built to last.

Initially, Engen and the IBD Division bought just the base unit but the HP rp5700 also came with optional extras such as touch screen, barcode scanner, cash drawer, programmable keyboard and receipt printer. The full range of peripherals were not available when Engen issued its first tender but it is now starting to add touch screens and will look at more peripherals that can add value to the automation proposition when the tender is reviewed.

Already, more than 1,400 systems have been rolled out and the final number could be around 2,300 units. “When we decided to go with the HP PoS solution, we could only hope that it would perform as well as the results that were indicated on paper following the tender,” says Muller. “To date we have not been disappointed with our decision because we have experienced minimum downtime with these devices on our forecourts and an extremely low failure rate of 0.05% on these machines.

Taking the heat
“They have proved to be very robust because we have deployed them in the most extreme, hot and dusty environment such as Upington, a town in the Northern Cape of South Africa where temperatures soar between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius in the summer months and the HP rp5700 has coped without any problems.”

Also impressed with the HP rp5700, Johan Smith, IT manager for the Engen IBD adds that: “the robust design, flexible choice of functions, industry standard technology and five-year lifecycle are major benefits of using these units. The poly-fused power ports that protect against power surges are also important because of the power failures and electrical storms experienced throughout Africa.”

In its widespread catchment area, Engen reduces any downtime by keeping a stock of spare machines in each country and working on a ‘swap out’ model. Apart from the hard drive, which holds the PoS data, the whole defective box is swapped for another, repaired, and then put back on the shelf to be swapped out on another site. If the hard drive is faulty, technicians remove it and try to recover the data where possible or restore from a previous backup.
“Using HP rp5700 PoS units has resulted in minimum downtime and although we are not able to disclose them, we also know that they have brought significant savings in operating and maintenance costs. The five-year lifecycle also produces a healthy return on investment,” concludes Muller.