When Eric McGill was waiting in line to purchase a lift ticket at a Nova Scotia ski resort, he, being in the point-of-sale business, thought his company might be able to develop a solution to speed up the process.

Nearly two ski seasons later, McGill, who is the POS sales rep for the Atlantic Canada region of Vancouver-based AM/PM Service Ltd., is working with Ski Wentworth on the next phase of its NCR satellite-based POS solution that was implemented last fall.

“I did a fair bit of research of the technology from all angles to make sure that it was going to work,” said McGill.

Ski Wentworth, which is based near Truro, Nova Scotia, has gone from using dial-up communication to process its credit and debit transactions to a system that uses satellite technology to access the Internet. Because of the resort’s remote location, high-speed dedicated subscriber line (DSL) or cable connection wasn’t a viable alternative.

Wentworth accountant Ken Melanson recalls when McGill, also a customer, first approached the ski resort with his idea:

“Although it’s not customized to the ski industry it’s certainly adaptive enough that we can make good use of it,” he said.

Using the new system, transaction time has been reduced from 20 to 30 seconds to 10 or under, depending on the type of transaction — debit transactions usually take a bit longer because the customer is required to enter their privacy information into a pin pad. Lift lines can range anywhere from 50 to 150 people trying to get tickets at any given time.

“We were concerned with providing our customers with a more efficient and timely manner of processing their transactions, be it in the cafeteria or rental shops,” said Melanson. “With the lack of high speed capability, the transactions were taking 20 to 30 seconds per transaction. The other issue that was important was access to high-speed Internet in terms of e-mail and updating our Web site and communicating with incoming correspondents.”

POS firm AM/PM has installed 16 NCR RealPOS 70 POS terminals and NCR RealPOS at the site. The terminals, which cost approximately $9,000 each, run Loc Software application Store Management Suite (SMS), which communicates debit and credit authorization information via an on-site ExplorNet satellite system and Internet connection to transaction processing company Eigen Developments. From there, that info is sent to Global Payments where it is processed.

While satellite-based POS technology has been around for some time, this was the first such implementation that NCR has rolled out to date, said Patrick Leonard, vice-president of NCR retail solutions in Canada. To date, AM/PM has implemented six similar project in Canada with three in the West and three in the East, including Wentworth. Previous barriers to adoption of this technology include perceived high cost and unfamiliarity with a relatively new technology.

“Initially in the past satellite was deemed to be expensive. It’s come way down in cost like cellular,” said Leonard, adding there aren’t a lot of companies in Canada or North America that deal with satellite technology. “People are getting to know the unknown a little bit more.”

Leonard added this type of product is best-suited to small- and medium-sized retailers that have similar types of communication issues as Wentworth.

To transmit information up to the satellite, a 1.2 metre satellite dish sits on the rooftop of the resort along with a Motorolla modem. The sytem also includes a SonicWall router that has an automatic dialer on it that will automatically dial up a Web site and process all transactions in the event satellite reception is lost. The system is also equipped with a battery backup on all of the terminals that will provide 15 to 20 minutes of power in the event of a full power failure.

Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of the solution to the ski resort, which operates from December to March, is the one-time shut down fee of $199 per month plus tax with an additional $25 activation fee to reactivate the satellite at the beginning of the season. Before the resort was paying $51 per month per terminal — there are nine at Wentworth and seven at Crabbe Mountain — to maintain the lines.

“From a cost effective standpoint you’ve increased your speed dramatically and at the same time cut your costs significantly,” said McGill.

In phase two of the project, Wentworth will continue to work with AM/PM to implement some of the modules that it didn’t have time to put into place before the start of the ski season last year. These include payroll, customizing reports to determine, for example how many people the resort is serving in the cafeteria at a given time. The system will also eventually be used to help department managers better manage their labour hours by allotting employees to other departments during peak hours.

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