Retail and Hospitality Industry Standards: Part 1
Microsoft POS for .NET
Summary: This article explains why retail industry standards are important and beneficial, and it examines the role of the Association of Retail Technology Standards—of which Microsoft is an active member—in addressing and implementing standardization goals for the retail industry. (4 printed pages)
This is the first part in a series on retail and hospitality standards organizations. This series of articles will provide overviews of standards organizations working in the retail and hospitality industries, their primary goals, work completed to date, and implications for retail technologists. For the first installment, we will look closely at why retail industry standards are important, and we'll examine work being done by the Association of Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) organization to address a wide range of standardization goals in retail.
A wide variety of industry experts participate in a standards body to ensure that vendor-neutral standards are created. Industry standards help in standardizing the interfaces between devices (for example, a scanner and a point-of-sale terminal) or applications, and define how to interact with them. Standards also ensure that the messages between sharing entities are formatted predictably, so that applications developed by different people can talk to each other. Retail standards are beneficial to both application developers and end users. From a retailer's standpoint, standards allow the integration or interoperability of devices and applications from different vendors, enabling the creation of more cost-effective, customizable, advanced, and powerful systems. Standards also provide the freedom customers are looking for in picking best-of-breed applications that meet their requirements, without the fear of incompatibility between the selected devices or applications. From a developer's standpoint, standards reduce the cost of systems design and development, and allow easier migration and specialization in an application area.
An industry standard is a framework of specifications that has been:
- Sufficiently documented to be implemented by and/or verified by a third party.
- Approved by a recognized standards organization.
- Accepted as a standard by the industry.
Standards have a critical importance for the future development of our abilities to collaborate and interact outside the boundaries and rules dictated by single application or suite providers. Standards can create markets and enable competitive advantage, by allowing extensibility of application functions to accommodate new business requirements. Standards also help in standardizing the language used by the industry, and sometimes define the terms when such definitions are lacking.
Standards can provide the following benefits to the retail community:
- Less expensive solutions—When two applications follow the standards for outputting and consuming messages, the integration becomes easier, which costs the customer less. For example, integration between a store's point-of-sale (POS) application and an enterprise's line-of-business (LOB) application will be a non-issue if the POS application sends messages to the LOB application using the industry standard, and the LOB application is built to consume industry-standard messages.
- Rich user experience—When applications integrate seamlessly, they provide a rich user experience. With a means to extend an application through standards, new functions can be introduced on top of an existing application. This can minimize the disruption and changes that need to be absorbed by the user.
- Productivity gains—The defined interoperability infrastructure offers a base for the developer. Application solutions can then be built more quickly and efficiently on top of this base.
- Significant performance improvement—When applications are built to inherently accept messages based on standards, no adapter or accelerator is required in order to map the message format from one application to another. This eliminates the need for an interpreting piece of middleware, and enhances overall performance of the solution.
- Reduction in maintenance cost—Custom integration between applications requires constant maintenance in order to keep up with changes in applications or new requirements. Messaging and data standards are designed to allow individual pieces of an application to be changed without having to modify the interfaces.
- Best-of-breed applications—A standards framework offers the capability to hook together applications from different sources more easily. Retailers can select applications from two different providers, and perhaps fill in missing functions themselves, thus providing an optimal combination of functions for their business.
- Vendor-neutral—Standards are based on an open language, such as XML, that is vendor-neutral, and that can be generated and consumed by any application, irrespective of the platform or vendor. The standard defines the data to be exchanged; XML provides an open language to carry the data, and open transport methods, such as Web services, allow applications to exchange that data.
- Provide flexibility to the customer to switch between applications with minimal difficulty—A part of an application suite can be switched out, without substantially affecting other running applications. For example, a merchandise planning application could be changed without affecting the warehouse application set in production.
Microsoft passionately believes in retail standards, and is committed to supporting the development of standards that lead to better interoperability and integration in the retail world.
Microsoft is an active member of the Association of Retail Technology Standards (ARTS), which is the standards organization of the National Retail Federation (NRF). ARTS is an international membership organization, dedicated to reducing the costs of technology through standards. Since 1993, ARTS has been delivering application standards exclusively to the retail industry.
ARTS has four standards committees:
- UnifiedPOS—UPOS defines the device interoperability standards between a POS terminal and a peripheral such as a scanner or printer. UPOS is a general standard, with implementations available for both Microsoft (OPOS and POS for .NET) and Java (JavaPOS) application solutions. Microsoft helped initiate this work, with the development of the OPOS standard for Win32 OLE applications. The UPOS committee is currently looking at new areas, including the definition of remote devices, POS devices for a Web application, and systems management integration into the standard.
- International XML Retail Cooperative—Founded in 1999, IXRetail has made great progress. It builds on the ARTS Data Model to develop standard XML schemas and message sets to ease application-to-application (A to A) integration within a retail enterprise. All IXRetail schemas meet the following guidelines:
- Developed by industry and XML experts.
- Comply with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines.
- Operate on all platforms.
- Incorporate GS1 (UCC), ISO, and other existing standards.
- The Standard Relational Data Model—The data model contains a logical description of the data and its entity relationships required to support a retail enterprise. The model is extensive, and it is also described in such a way as to make a physical implementation based on the model relatively easy. The model is often used as the basis for retailer database design, and it is also a terrific educational tool to start any design effort.
- The Standard RFPs—The retailer members of ARTS decided that standardizing request for price quotations (RFPs) would be a way to save the retailer community time and effort, by providing a starting place for the development of individual RFP documents. Although not an IT standard in the traditional sense, this effort has become very popular, and retailers have contributed RFPs that they have published in the past, as input to these standard documents. POS and Labor Scheduling are two examples of available ARTS RFP documents.
Microsoft actively participates in a number of the preceding standards committees, and contributes significantly in the evolution of the standards. For example, Microsoft has recently contributed POS for .NET to the UPOS committee. POS for .NET is an evolution of the OPOS standard that allows development of native .NET applications, as well as adding plug-and-play capability to POS devices. Microsoft matches the latest technology with the standard, thus allowing customers to retain the benefits of the standard while moving forward into new technological advances.
In the IXRetail part of ARTS, the Microsoft team serves on the technical committee that helps insure that best practices are followed. Microsoft brought a new group into ARTS: the National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM). This group was interested in developing a standard that will allow in-store applications to be aware of the condition of equipment such as cookers, fryers, or refrigerators. This is an example of Microsoft's continued contribution to the expansion of value by adding infrastructure in the store or restaurant. Realizing the demand for standards in the food services industry, Microsoft took the leadership role in creating a subcommittee to focus on the food services standards. Moin Moinuddin from Microsoft chairs the subcommittee, which has the mission of extending IXRetail standards to the food services industry.
Microsoft is also a member of the data model committee, and makes available Microsoft tools (such as Visio) to actively support the implementation of the model through both our partner and customer community.
It should be noted that ARTS can make its consultants available to retailers or developers that need help in the implementation of the standards.
Microsoft Resources in ARTS
- Tom Litchford, Industry Manager, is the Microsoft representative on the ARTS Board of Directors
- Frank May, Industry Manager, represents Microsoft on ARTS standards organization, and he is part of the UPOS and IXRetail technical committees.
- Moin Moinuddin, an Industry Architect, also represents Microsoft on ARTS, and he is part of the IXRetail technical committee. He is also the chair of the Food Services Standards subcommittee.
Standards provide great flexibility and adaptability to retailers. Using standards in retail business will reduce the cost and allow the customers to select best-of-breed applications. Microsoft supports this effort through active participation in standards bodies such as ARTS.