Today’s site controllers offer petroleum marketers a real sense of control over various aspects of their forecourts, POS systems, and fueling operations to help them make smart site management decisions. And in an era where today’s competitive petroleum industry requires seamless integration of new technology and control of mission critical POS devices and data, site control manufacturers are creating innovative programs that help marketers establish profitable, well-managed sites.
According to Michael Tyler, senior director of marketing at VeriFone, traditionally site controllers have served primarily as the control system for the POS, handling communications, back office systems, storing electronic journals, price files and other POS back up information.
In fact, as Fawaz Khalil, director, service marketing with Gilbarco Veeder-Root, explains, c-store site controllers used to refer to either forecourt controllers that provided the ability to control the dispensers via the POS, or energy management systems that helped control refrigeration, lighting or temperature within the convenience store.
“Energy management and associated control systems were primarily found in large office buildings, warehouses, big-box stores, and grocery retailers because they were cost prohibitive for c-stores,” Khalil says. “The systems were generally very limited in terms of functionality, features, remote access and control capabilities and provided control or access to a limited number of devices.”
Today, site controllers are in the process of migrating to a full control system for their site, where they manage all devices at the site including dispensers, dispenser card readers, payment controllers and POS systems.
Indeed, as Tyler explains, modern site controllers will be capable of controlling POS terminals, gas dispensers and dispenser payment systems. Additionally they manage remote upgrades of sites systems including payment, forecourt and POS.
“Today’s site controllers are also serving as media servers, delivering rich content to all media-enabled devices, including dispenser card readers like VeriFone’s Secure PumpPAY, as well as media-enabled indoor devices like VeriFone’s Lift Retail Station, MX payment devices and in-store digital display monitors,” Tyler says. Verifone’s Secure PumpPAY is a powerful solution for petroleum stations, convenience stores and supermarkets that want to upgrade their existing fuel dispensers to ensure the greatest payment security for their customers and their brand. Secure PumpPAY is easy to use and easy to integrate into existing pumps and can work seamlessly with existing components in a fuel station.
According to Khalil, the modern c-store has many other types of equipment that can generate a much higher return on assets should they be able to be monitored and managed remotely: such as dispensers, refrigeration, HVAC, beverage fountains, coffee machines, food equipment, electronic price signs, and car washes.
“The respective equipment vendors can provide remote access capability, but for the c-store owner this means learning a myriad of user interfaces and being able to support different technologies and infrastructure,” Khalil says. “Historically, there was no real ‘universal’ site controller that provided a unified interface to control and manage all equipment in the store, regardless of its brand or technology.” But Gilbarco's Wisdom Intelligent Device Management has made a smart, connected convenience store a reality.
“Customers now have a solution that meets the unique needs of the c-store environment, from the traditional elements of HVAC, lighting, and refrigeration, to food service, forecourt—including car wash and price signs—and underground storage tanks,” Khalil says. “Leveraging Tridium’s Niagara AX, an industry leading and open building automation systems technology, Wisdom provides a cost-effective, proven and integrated site control solution to convenience store customers across all brands of equipment.”
Additionally, some non-traditional capabilities of today’s site controllers include:
• HVAC control and monitoring—specifically, energy consumption patterns, lighting control, freezer door monitoring
• Cellular network VPN for PCI-secure estate management and content delivery
• Control of alternative energy “dispensers” such as electric charging stations and CNG
Wayne, a global innovator of fuel dispensers and technologies, recently announced the expansion of its Fusion Forecourt System to seamlessly brings together price signs and other forecourt equipment into a single device.
Some of the components of the Fusion system include: Price sign interface, which lets you make a price change at your POS and the system will automatically change your price sign;
control over fuel inventory so that you can seamlessly connect to various tank management systems and retail fuel dispensers—regardless of the fuel dispenser or brand.
Other elements of the Fusion system include the Automatic Tank Gauge interface, tank stock management, and remote access control from a smart phone or tablet PC, to simplify POS system management and provide options for full site automation.
Industry experts agree that today’s site controllers can generate a great deal of value for marketers, even though these marketers may incur an increased cost to upgrade their current site control systems.
“Remote site management solutions generate customer value on several dimensions,” Khalil says. For example, Gilbarco's Wisdom Intelligent Device Management system helps retailers reduce energy consumption, through remote set point management and demand reduction strategies, eliminates product loss and food safety issues through refrigeration monitoring, and ensures a consistent customer experience across the marketer’s brand by implementing and monitoring lighting, environmental, and food temperature standards.
“The control and information delivered by a system like Wisdom enables a marketer to make more accurate and timely business decisions—including energy savings strategies, which equipment to purchase, what service providers to use, and even measure in-store traffic and promotion effectiveness,” Khalil says. “More than just energy management, Wisdom delivers a huge competitive advantage to marketers who understand the power of better decision-making. Equipment uptime and maintenance is another area where Wisdom generates considerable value.” Sites with Wisdom not only alert the owner as soon as a problem occurs with a particular piece of equipment (e.g. the beverage fountain) but they also can provide diagnostic information to help identify the problem (e.g. syrup out). This enables a quick response to the problem.
“Marketers also generate value from site controllers through reduced number of components at their site as well as working through one provider,” Tyler says. “Site controller systems can also allow for new features to be deployed quickly since they can isolate systems and only require updates to the component of the site affected.” Additionally the ability to remotely control their site means that marketers can react quickly to changing business conditions.
Of course, to upgrade or not to upgrade is the ultimate question being asked by marketers who currently have a site control system, albeit outdated. They may try to determine if their site control systems should be upgraded on their own or as a part of the overall POS and/or dispenser upgrade.
“This is heavily dependent on the functionality the retailer wants and the generation of POS they are using,” Tyler says. “Marketers should work with their systems’ providers to determine the appropriate answer to this question.”
Working In Conjunction
In addition to determining if an upgrade is appropriate, you also need to determine how well the site controllers work in operation with a variety of different POS systems and dispenser systems.
For example, VeriFone’s products work with all dispensers and with all VeriFone POS systems. “VeriFone’s experience deploying electronic payment controllers with large oil companies is that good coordination between all parties prior to deployment ensures that the controller works well across all POS platforms,” Tyler says. “VeriFone has been instrumental in driving standardization across electronic payment platforms through our leadership in PCATS, NACS, and IFSF standards organizations.”
Remote site management systems like Gilbarco's Wisdom IDM are designed to function independently from any specific POS or dispenser variants. “While deciding on a site control solution, it is important to understand the openness of the technology and architecture, the scalability of the solution and how future-proof the system is,” Khalil says. “Many site controllers will try to tie you into a proprietary architecture, which limits the ability to make any equipment changes or additions later, should the business need arise.”
Tyler adds that retailers often undervalue the ability to remotely manage their sites and the ability to deploy software upgrades remotely. “With modern site controller technology, remote site monitoring and maintenance streamlines the operations support process,” Tyler says. “Retailers should also consider savings resulting from the number of times a technician has to be remotely dispatched to their site for service work; reduced site visits and potential disruption brought about by remote control of devices.”
When evaluating the merits of a new site control system, Tyler says retailers should carefully consider what the value of remote monitoring and management means to their business.
Tyler stresses that marketers should consult their POS manufacturer to learn about techniques available to them today to solve many of the problems that continue to plague the industry. “The last thing worth addressing is that overall integration of their systems,” Tyler says. “It’s important that integration of any new site controller technology be done seamlessly across the site—there will be some downtime and staff training on the new system, but it’s a short term pain point that will pay back large dividends in a very short period of time.”
According to Tyler, having the ability to manage fuel prices remotely to quickly respond to changing competitive pressures has tremendous value. “It’s critical for retailers to have the ability to remotely manage merchandise pricing, taking advantage of every supplier discount available to them, plus the ability to take pricing action on products with a short shelf life,” Tyler says. “It’s also important to have confidence that appropriate metrics and controls are in place to minimize loss through effective loss prevention technology.”
But remember, developing a site control strategy requires considerable effort and planning. “Marketers should identify a project leader, help define the goals, such as energy savings, maintenance cost reduction, equipment uptime, measurements and target payback, and establish a budget and timeline,” Khalil says. “Due diligence should include among other things—an evaluation of the commitment of the solutions provider to the industry and c-store site control space; the openness, scalability and flexibility of the technology; and finally, the ability of the solution to provide an acceptable ROI, both in terms of hard savings and also in terms of decision support and business risk reduction.”