Blog Posts

Summer Times Blues

Summer Times Blues

Its summer time again, and it is time to check that your PC is nice and clean inside to prevent unwanted shut downs and possible damage to you PC.

Cleaning out your PC is very easy to do, to begin with, you should purchase a couple of cans of compressed air. These can be purchased at most office supply stores, as well as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Fred Meyer type stores. Once you have your compressed air, turn off you PC and unplug from the wall. You should remove the side of your case and blow out all of the dust that may be built up inside. Pay close attention to any fans and heat sinks as when the heat sink builds up with dust between the fins, it hampers the ability of it to cool properly causing strange problems to occur with your workstation.

Some symptoms of overheating are:

  • Strange errors/blue screens
  • Random shutdown of the computer
  • Slow or non-responsive actions

If you need help with removing the case, or would prefer a professional do the job, contact the CCS Retail Systems Support Department for help.

-Bryan

How Can Retailers Succeed in an Unpredictable Future?

How Can Retailers Succeed in an Unpredictable Future?

We’ve heard it voiced many times that “the only thing in life that doesn’t change is change itself.” The expression seems to fit what’s currently happening in the world of retail sales. As technology continues to progress at an astonishing speed, retailers are scrambling to accommodate the changes while looking for new ways to keep present customers and attract new ones. The question is, “How can this be done?”

In an article for National Retail Federation, Kristina Stewart presents five suggestions from Trevor Hardy, CEO of The Future Laboratory. The suggestions (shown below) are based on the need for retailers to renew corporate/brand trust, which Hardy deems to be at an all-time low in the world today.

Use of radical transparency. An example would be the use of plain language on packaging, rather than marketing buzzwords, showing customers clearly what’s in a product. (What exactly does “organic” mean, anyway?)

Providing civic duty and education. Finding ways to act as a force for good in society, such as sponsoring a charity drive, or furnishing opportunities for customers to learn a new lifestyle or creative skill at their favorite store.

Supplying better service. Rather than just being facilitators to customers in a store, staff should focus on being in-store influencers, which humanizes the retail experience.

Increase localism. Customers want a connection to the brands they support with their dollars. Look to sourcing from local providers. (My community, for example, has many independent wineries)

“Explorium” retail. Technology has to a great degree taken the joy out of shopping for many. Retailers can profit by reintroducing complexity in the shopping experience, such as focusing on ways for customers to appreciate the journey more. Turning the store into a performance venue for a month or two, for example, would allow customers to enjoy the store differently.

Reestablishing consumer trust is a long-term technique that leads to greater success for businesses. Using the above guidelines will go a long way in providing that success.

Marlene

Where’s My Automatic Updates?

Where’re My Automatic Updates?

Over the years I have seen people assume that a software manufacturer, software supplier, or support vendor should be doing something automatically.

Here are some fairly standard examples of things that are most often NOT automatic:

1. Operating System and Security

  • Installation of Windows Security Service Packs – While this can be scheduled for automatic download and installation, by default this is not turned on.
  • Installation of Anti-Virus And Anti-Malware Software Updates

These items may not be configured to auto-download, auto-install, or auto-notify of success or failure. If something in this area is only partially automated, one needs to take care that these processes are not going on while end-users are on the system and using applications that would be affected, especially if a server or workstation reboot was required. As examples:

  • Scheduling windows updates to only download and install in off-hours while users are not logged into servers or workstations.
  • An anti-virus update might be prompting for a computer restart to complete the installation of a specific update. If this isn’t addressed in a timely manner, your systems could be at risk of being compromised.

2. Application Software – Application Software Security Service Packs

  • MS Office Suites
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • Adobe Flash Player
  • Java

There are regular updates for the above applications that should be installed. Failure to do so could result in security holes being present with these applications. While some of these installations can be automated, others cannot be.

3. Application Software Data/Usage issues.

Care should also be taken to make sure that certain updates are not auto-applied especially in situations where there are a lot of customizations.

  • Point of Sale – Sales Tax Rates, which are typically by state, or By Taxing Jurisdictions. The rates should be updated regularly so that the proper sales tax is withheld. While there are some
  • systems that update automatically, some do not.
  • Customers – Taxable Status. If Tax Exempt, the Tax ID number, and expiration dates may need to be updated. Doing this protects you in future tax audit scenarios.
  • Items – Taxable Flags, Item-Based Tax Categories – If tax Flags and item based Tax Categories are not assigned, the result could be incorrect tax amounts being withheld.
  • Payroll – Federal Tax Tables – This includes such things and Social Security and Medicare tax rates, and FUI, 401K Maximums; State Tax Codes – This includes SUI rates; Workers Compensation Rates.

If you have some specific issues or questions, please contact the CCS Retail Systems Support Department.

– John

To Purge or not to Purge? – The data migration dilemma

To Purge or not to Purge? – The data migration dilemma

When anticipating an upcoming Data Migration, here are a few things that you should consider in making purge decisions.

  1. The Time Crunch.

Depending on the application, a typical Data Migration can take at least several days to complete, if not longer.

Depending on the amount of data that one currently has, the entire process can be artificially extended. and cause you to have extra support expense and unwanted downtime.

As the amount of data that you have increased, more disk space is used and so exponentially does the number of resources required to do various tasks. This situation puts more resource pressure on your server and increases the amount of time that it takes to complete tasks. As an example, running history reports could end up taking a considerable amount of time, which may end-up reducing overall staff productivity of people are constantly waiting for something to complete. Generally, this scenario is true whether you are doing a data migration or not.

  1. Do I really need to migrate all of the data?

Typically, most Retailers only keep about (2) two years of detailed history. I have found many instances over the years where companies have decades of detailed history on file. However, with some industries, it may be necessary to retain more history, as examples of this might be if there were extended product warranties or high-priced items with serial numbers (e.g. Water Heaters, Pool and Spa Equipment, Wood Stoves, Tools, Farm Equipment, Electronics, etc.).

  1. What kind of time constraints do I have regarding the purging operations?

Normally, it is best to schedule purging related work for times when there is no one using the application software. Generally, there are at least (3) three good reasons for this as follows:

  • Purging operations usually require a lot of CPU and memory usage. So if this should normally not be done during peak hours, as it can bog-down your server.
  • Some historical purging operations will hang and wait if it encounters records within the selected range that are in use. This artificially extends the amount of time required to complete the purging operation.
  • Smaller databases generally mean faster backup times.
  1. What is the general condition of the source data?

Most purging and data migration operations require that the data be in good shape, otherwise separate and extensive work may be required to accomplish complete removal of the data or the ability to migrate it.

Some examples of this kind of issue would be.

  • Historical sales data that references sales reps or users that are no longer on file.
  • POS ticket history that involves sales data for customer and items that are no longer on file, or that have corrupt ticket lines.
  • Set-up and supporting data for features that are no longer used, such as sales prices, discount codes, and other pricing schemas.
  • Old customers that haven’t purchased anything for many years. This could include customers with invalid or obsolete contact data.
  • Items that are obsolete/discontinued or haven’t been used for many years.

In many cases, some of this kind of data can be cleaned up ahead of your data migration date,

If you have questions about purging, file utility usage, and data migrations, please contact the CCS Retail Systems Support Department

John

What Consumers Want – 2018

What Consumers Want – 2018

With the closure of so many retail stores in recent news, we might wonder if brick and mortar stores are becoming a thing of the past. A more accurate assessment is that they are changing to accommodate current trends.

In a recent National Retail Federation article by Katie Jordan, five retail concepts to watch for this year were outlined. These are research-backed trends outlining what consumers want available to them when they shop. Below is a condensed list of the findings.

The ability to buy online, but pick up in the store. (I did this recently with a refurbished computer and found it quite convenient!)

The ability to “talk” with a virtual assistant. (Like Alexa) This helps with researching what it is you are looking to buy.

Availability of “showroom stores”. These stores provide samples but do not have inventory on hand. Interestingly, I encountered one of these showroom stores when I visited Italy a few years ago. Customers could view models with dresses and then order what they wanted to buy, without having to tote packages home.

The ability to try out products before purchasing (Experimental Retail).Already being used in many retail stores (think cosmetics), this is now being expanded, like offering cooking classes in a store that sells cookware.

Availability of food service On-Site. Many consumers enjoy eating while shopping, so retail stores with on-site cafes are becoming increasingly popular, especially among younger shoppers. It’s a form of entertainment as well as a shopping expedition!

Change is inevitable. Stores that survive are the ones that stay abreast of customer needs. Are you meeting your customers’ needs?

Marlene

Keeping Systems up-to-date

Keeping Systems up-to-date.

Everyone should know the importance of keeping your operating system, and software, up-to-date. Even with the amount of information on the subject, there are still many that allow this task to slide for excessively long periods of time. That is a very, very, bad thing to do, given the volume of malicious software that we are constantly bombarded with.

While I am not personally a fan of automatic updates, that is a far better choice than not installing updates at all. If you find that you are not taking the time to apply the patches and updates, then, by all means, configure automatic updates, and let the system do it for you.

While automatic updates involve an amount of risk, it is much less than the risk run by not having current fixes and patches applied. My preference is to periodically (and frequently) manually install the updates. Manually installing allows me to check for known issues regarding those updates, and make the decision to install a particular patch, or not. This approach does take some dedication on your part, though, and as such is not for everyone.

Whichever method you choose, be sure that your systems are updated with the current patches and fixes. Otherwise, you are running the very big risk of waking up to a nasty situation, in which your computers have been compromised, or are being held for ransom.

Dave.

Spring Cleaning Time!

Spring Cleaning Time!

Most of us think of spring as a good time for thoroughly cleaning and airing out our home. It’s also a good time for cleaning our computers and peripherals! To remove dust accumulation inside your computer that can clog heatsinks and fans, overheat components, and throttle performance. If this persists, performance is affected, and lifespan of the system can be reduced. Shorts may also result, causing damage to parts.

As to peripherals–keyboards, mice, and headphones can harbor volumes of bacteria from constant use. The number of bacteria is multiplied when computers are shared with other users. Remember, not everyone washes their hands as frequently as they should and often leave behind lots of unhealthy, gross stuff on the surface of whatever they touch!

Many good websites give step-by-step directions on how to safely clean computers and peripherals. One click is all you need to find out how to do the job the right way.

While you’re at it, why not clean out some of those old files that are no longer needed and free up some space on your computer? Removing old will also help speed up performance.

Need some help doing this? CCS is here to assist you! Call us today at 425-672-4806 or email us to get that spring cleaning done by experts!

Marlene

Testing Updates and Changes

Testing updates and Changes.

With the recent changes in requirements for credit card processors, NCR Retail Online going away, and others, there are a large number of people going through updates and changes. Many of these changes are quite significant. With that in mind, a word about testing those changes is in order.

The most common thing that I see is a lack of sufficient testing. For example, if you are changing your web store provider, there will be changes in how orders flow in and out of your ticketing system. It is not enough to test that orders come into your system. You also need to check that you can process those orders. It does not do any good to receive orders, and then not be able to process and complete them. The testing process needs to incorporate all aspects of the workflow.

  • Does the order come in with the correct information?
  • How about taxes?
  • Are the tax amounts correct when appropriate?
  • How about when taxes do not apply so that there is a zero
  • tax amount?

Those are all important, but that is just the beginning.

If that information is importing correctly, what about going forward.

You should test printing picking tickets, generating invoices, and everything all the way through posting those invoices. When that all goes through without a hitch, there is still more to do. Test canceling orders, and partial shipments. If you ever edit orders to add or remove lines, change a line quantity, or anything else, then those functions need to be tested also.

It takes some time and needs to be included in your schedule for everything else, but the more time spent testing changes and updates ahead of time, the smoother it will be when it comes time to implement those changes in your live system.

Dave

Staying Current on Your NCR Counterpoint Software

Staying Current on Your NCR Counterpoint Software.

With all the changes to security and PCI Compliance, it is a good idea to be and stay current on your NCR Counterpoint software. One example of why has just came to light recently.

To be PCI Compliant, the gateway which helps you process credit card transactions is being updated to support the latest encryption technology. With that update, your NCT Counterpoint software will also need to be updated. Not all version will be updated, but the latest version is almost always updated with a small patch or Service Pack which take only a few minutes to install. The older version of NCR Counterpoint (except two versions) will not be updated and will need to be brought up to a currently supported version of the software.

If you are running an older version of Counterpoint, there are a few things to consider. The first is to find out if your hardware and operation system will support both the updated version of Counterpoint and the new encryption technology being implemented. Second is time. Depending on what your current version is, the time it takes to upgrade can vary from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on how many workstations you have, how big of a jump from version to version you are going, and when you will be able to get the work done.

Although it is not always recommended to be on bleeding edge of technology, being somewhat current will save you time (and in return, money) on your next update.

-Bryan

Security and Encryption Malware

Security and Encryption Malware

Despite one’s best intent, systems can be infected by viruses, hacked, or crashed due to various reasons and through various sources. Having good security programs, and redundant data/program backup functions in place should be considered a must-have. However, even with these policies and procedures in place, sometimes things can go very wrong.

As a recent example:

A company’s application server was infected with a file encryption ransomware program during the middle of the day. Most of the operating system, and various programs where encrypted.

Doing a repair installation attempt was unsuccessful in correcting the issues, and ultimately, a recovery required pulling selected programs and data from multiple backups. Because the back-ups were incomplete, this created a number of residual issues related to some operating system files/features and selected programs.

This infection was later determined to be the result of all of the following:

  • Failure to restart the server after an anti-virus software update.
  • open RDP Internet ports on the server’s firewall.
  • An un-patched known security flaw on the application server that was known to be vulnerable to remote brute force connection attempts.

In this particular case, the saving grace was…

Their core application software programs and data on at least some of the redundant back-ups were undamaged by the encryption Malware infection.

The end result here was… a recovery project that could have taken weeks or months of work to complete or that could have resulted in massive irreversible data loss, ended up causing only several days of disruption and only a couple of days’ worth of data loss

While all of this might seem like a no-brainer to some, a focused plan that has built-in redundancy should be considered a must for any business.

If you would like a review of your current system for either security or and/or backup integrity, please contact CCS Retail Systems Support Department to schedule your System Security and Recovery evaluation.

– John