Building Your Business
Terminal application development

by Bill Stuckle

   It was a typical busy day at Marathon Consulting when our old friend and client Bill Scott arrived at the office. He was beaming from ear-to-ear and very exited to talk with us. As we wrapped up our various phone conversations he paced like a little kid in a candy store. "I have a huge idea to increase my revenue and need you guys to help me develop it." "Great," we thought. Bill comes to us when he has a big project and this could only mean good things.
   Bill was developing a great way to generate business for all his customers (and, in turn, himself) through a new type of terminal processing. His kids had received a box of coupon books for raising money for their school. We've all seen them, probably bought them and somehow always forgot to take them with us when we went shopping. "Why not replace the coupon books with stored-value cards acceptable at my merchants?" He found a potential processor that would do both real and virtual terminals for the cards. He even talked to some of his larger merchants and charity organizations about the idea and had received enough of a positive response to move forward.
   That's when we got involved. We were going to help him integrate the API for the POS clients, help code a module for the e-commerce piece and be glad we could help Bill once again. Then he said, "What about the terminals?"
   We started to ask all the right questions and got no answers. He had paid a lot of money when he started selling terminals to get them programmed for his current operations, but he wasn't sure where to go to reprogram them. Neither were we. The stored value processor was using a modified format of the Visa-k protocol. We started by contacting some of our other clients. Most of them seemed to know "a guy," but said we'd never be able to get it done in time. The typical response: "These things take months and can cost quite a bit of money." So we figured we'd find another company to sub-contract the work for us.
   Searching on the internet and trade sites turned up very little. We then went to the manufacturers hoping to get pointed in the right direction. Some of them have development kits and training, but not one could point us to a third party resource for development in a timely and cost effective fashion. Most of them were very reluctant to give anything solid without having the full project scope. Some processors and authorizers will provide a no-cost, added-value service, programming the terminal for you, but this "no-cost" is often passed back to you through other charges. These services are not very flexible and are not offered as customizable solutions for your clients. So if you wanted some of the receipts with a suggested tip line and some with a coupon, it would be difficult. Other added value features (such as rewards programs, stored value, etc.) are nearly impossible to get in a quick, cost effective manner.
   Now some of the larger companies such as Verifone, Hypercom and Ingenico have development kits and sample code, but little in terms of other resources. We looked at the trade sites again, hoping to find something on the forums and chat rooms. Again little information was available.
   Keep in mind that we are talking about legacy devices. No doubt you'd like to roll out new terminals whenever you can, but have they been proven? Does the technology work? Is anything as easy to operate and as solid and proven a piece of machinery as the Verifone T7P 256K? What about the 2,000 of them our client already has in the field, or the over 10 million in the US and over 32 million in the world? Can you really spend the money to upgrade to the new machine with all the bells and whistles? Why not make the old machine do what you want by integrating it with new technology and security. The growing open source movement with computers proves that with some innovation, reclaiming technology is possible. Desktop machines that sat collecting dust because they couldn't run the latest version of Word fast enough for the CEO are now handling a thousand transactions a day without having to be restarted. We have an open-source web server in our office that hadn't been restarted for 380 days until we had to turn it off to move offices. And the cost to upgrade that formerly obsolete machine? $25 for more memory.
   It struck us as odd that there has been little innovation in the terminal application market. In an ideal world, all our clients would have high-speed connections and be using the newest POS software, but it doesn't work that way. Terminals live in small bars, at the local deli, the magazine store and the flea market on the weekend. If you pitched these items without also having the trusty low-tech machines, you'd lose clients. High-speed is not an option and having a POS server and networking equipment doesn't work in confined locations and out of the way places. At least not yet. It's true that new devices are getting smaller and smaller, but we have all gone to places that still use the manual Bartizan carbon machines. Although it may not be the most secure, it works. Why not have a certified place to quickly get these apps modified, adding and removing features as you clientele changes. A place that was fully supported and staffed delivering a product you needed. Why was it so hard to find that?    That's when Marathon Consulting reached out to our friends at Transaction World Magazine. We asked if they knew of a place, or even an individual that would do this type of work. They were surprised that they couldn't find a source either and suggested that we reach out to you, the readers, to open a discussion on what to do with these legacy devices. Could they be reused like the older PCs that are being revitalized with solid open-source solutions or should they be thrown away like cell phones? Why not extend the lifespan of these older terminals, save your customers money and improve your bottom line? So we ask the readers, why are these aging terminals being forgotten? We open the table for discussion with these three questions as a guideline:

  • Are you currently customizing your terminals via an outsourced provider?
  • Are you satisfied with that provider?
  • Are there any services from a provider that you have been unable to find?

   Please email your comments to [email protected]. We will share what we learn in a future issue of Transaction World Magazine!