In the SSL/CW list of top IT skills, Epos is number 88.
What is it?
Once it meant electronic point of sale, now it means electronic point of service, but in the majority of cases, it is still the checkout and cash register.
Once retailers have cracked the security problems - making sure the customer presenting the piece of plastic is the legitimate owner - there will be a move to self-service at the point of payment. The Epos systems currently being installed by supermarkets may be the last link with the old-fashioned till.
According to Gartner, retailers around the world have about 18 million PC-based Epos systems in use and about five million new terminals are bought every year.
Where did it originate?
PC-based Epos systems emerged in the mid-1990s to replace proprietary systems. Retailers, hardware and software suppliers and systems integrators got together in 1999 to create UnifiedPos, which defines standard interfaces for devices such as barcodes and card readers.
UnifiedPos is an umbrella standard including both Microsoft OLE for RetailPos and JavaPos. Some retailers are trying to integrate systems using XML.
What is it for?
The basic goal of Epos systems is to get customers through the checkout as quickly as possible while ensuring they have paid for all their goods.
Epos systems also deliver data to inventory and re-ordering systems. The change in emphasis from point-of-sale to point-of-service makes Epos the focus for loyalty cards and other ways of persuading the customer the retailer cares about them.
What makes it special?
After several years of sweating their assets, retailers are once again looking to Epos to provide them with an edge. There is work to be done in linking the physical Epos system into multi-channel architectures involving the web and the call centre. There are also big opportunities for specialists in retail security.
How difficult is it to master?
Although standards are now emerging, this is an area still dominated by proprietary and in-house systems and a myriad of small, specialist software and equipment suppliers. The best routes are probably to work directly for a retailer, a systems integrator or a major supplier such as IBM.
Where is it used?
Epos systems have spread from retailers to libraries, museums and local government offices - potentially anywhere money changes hands.
Not to be confused with...
The European Project On the Sun.
What systems does it run on?
IBM, NCR, Fujitsu and a few others dominate the market for terminals. Dell recently entered the Epos market.
Epos terminals can still command good prices, while PC sales are generally slumping. But according to Gartner, about 20% of point-of-sale terminals still ship with Dos.
The software scene is much more fragmented. Differences in local sales taxes provide a thriving market for small local suppliers. Surveys of UK retailers found that no supplier had more than 15% of the market.
What is coming up?
Chip and Pin, a combination of smartcards and Pin codes, will reduce fraud and make self-service payments possible. There will be a move from fixed tills to roving sales staff with mobile devices using wireless Lans.
Once UnifiedPos standards are used and plug-and-play installation is possible, big integration contracts will decline.
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Training is available from specific suppliers and their partners.
Rates of pay
Possibilities include support and field engineering posts with salaries starting at £17,000 or less, or implementation and integration positions paying more than £35,000 for specialists.