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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 12, 2017 • Issue 17:06:01

An inside look at smart terminals

By Jeff White

Keeping pace with the changing world of POS systems can be a harrowing proposition for business owners and ISOs alike. Not only is the tech changing at a dramatic pace, but the many ways that business owners can benefit from adopting a range of different form factors is also expanding.

POS systems of old could often perform only a limited number of tasks without getting more hardware or custom-designed software involved, but the sleeker portable systems of today can perform virtually any task a business owner would need with only the push of a few buttons.

One of these new POS systems, known as the "smart terminal," is starting to gain popularity among business owners. Smart terminals are popping up everywhere, but just because they're new doesn't necessarily mean they're better or even well suited for any particular company. Let me give you an insider's peek into the world of smart terminals so you can decide for yourself where these units will fit best among your clientele.

What is a smart terminal?

As you likely know, if you've ever been in a restaurant or shop that asked you to pay using a small, tablet-like unit, you've encountered a smart terminal.

These tiny units are designed to pack a powerful punch into a very tight space, using much of the same technology involved in today's most advanced smartphones and tablets. The difference is that smart terminals are designed from the ground up with business in mind, so they're often outfitted with card readers, the ability to accept near field communication or Bluetooth payments, and thermal printers. The only limit for businesses is how well they put these devices to work.

When compared with traditional POS terminals, smart terminals are sleeker, more portable and often more flexible, so they can serve a variety of business functions. However, large enterprise-level corporations with lots of inventory or need for maintaining large databases may find the small units don't quite fit the bill. Because most smart terminals are running as software as a service (SaaS), they're limited by their connection to the Internet for functions that might require constant access to very large databases.

What makes smart terminals special?

Besides their familiar tablet-like designs that can give the impression that a business is invested in cutting-edge technology, smart terminals are special because of the care that has gone into developing them as a whole new product. Small to midsize businesses love them because very little maintenance goes into keeping these units in good health due to their SaaS backbones.

SaaS has represented a huge step in POS technology, allowing companies to abandon costly computer maintenance contracts. Instead of the software and data that your terminal requires for proper functioning being hosted on large servers that you have to physically store, upgrade and repair, SaaS moves the bulk of an end user's information to the cloud, where it becomes totally portable.

If your business-owner customer wanted to open a second location, for example, all the information he or she would need to start running a new franchise would be instantly available the moment the business connected the new system. Many of these units even come with the option to use cellular signals, so the business can literally remain connected to its cloud component no matter what.

What can a smart terminal do?

When considering a smart terminal, much of the hesitation from business owners comes from the concern about the ability of the hardware. Compared to a standard POS system, of course, a smart terminal does look a bit like a toy. This perception, however, couldn't be further from the truth. Just like smartphones are capable of amazing things when compared to desktop computers, smart terminals comprise a lot more than meets the eye.

Not only do they boast interfaces that are immediately familiar to your customers and their new employees due to their commonalities with smartphones, smart terminals can do things like the following:

  • Go anywhere: Today's smart terminals are not only often outfitted with a battery for use away from a source of electricity, but also equipped with the ability to connect to cellular networks or to function in offline mode, and many can do both.

    This makes holding outdoor events, taking wares to a tradeshow to raise product awareness or simply operating an outdoor cafe monumentally easier. Many customers still don't trust products that rely on a personal cellular telephone to function, but a smart terminal gives the appearance of professionalism.

  • Easily adapt to your needs with endlessly customizable software: Building a custom-designed program for a smart terminal isn't much more difficult than designing an app for a smartphone. The best POS systems offer online marketplaces, much like the Google Play store, where you can connect the software a business owner needs to the individual's account. Different packages can enable abilities like customer service records management, time clock capabilities or QuickBooks integration.
  • Adapt fast to new encryption levels: Because of the cloud-based nature of smart terminals, they're necessarily running high encryption levels for taking payments or transmitting delicate data. However, encryption standards change over time, making it a real challenge to quickly upgrade many standard POS terminals at once. SaaS-dependent smart terminals are automatically updated as soon as the newest encryption protocols are available, making business owners' data safer than ever without their having to do anything.

In many respects, the smart terminal is the terminal of the future for small to midsize businesses looking for efficient and sustainable ways to level the playing field. There will probably always be an enterprise-level need for much bigger POS systems, but the number of companies that can take advantage of smaller, smarter, less intrusive devices between their sales personnel and their customers is growing fast. end of article

Jeff White is Chief Technology Officer of TouchSuite, a Boca Raton, Florida-based financial technology leader and Inc. 500-ranked company catering to small- and medium-sized merchants throughout the country. Jeff can be reached by email at jwhite@touchsuite.com or by phone at 561.408.0894.

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