How to Select Hardware for Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail?
Clients Ask: “Which Should I Buy? Can I Use Existing Hardware?”
Without fail the client will ask “what hardware should I put in the store?”. The very next question, of course, is “can I use my existing hardware?”.
Hardware includes the CPU itself and all of the peripherals that go along with it. Specific questions, early in the process, can avoid complication and make for a smoother project. What I will attempt to show you is how I typically approach the answers to these questions so we get the best result. I will offer tips and advice where I can…
Question #1 – Can I use my existing hardware?
This question is primarily driven by the desire to avoid what is usually a rather large capital investment. We can usually determine whether this is feasible by initially looking at the recommended technical standards. Where this options usually gets rejected is when we start to look at the mounting costs of supporting aging hardware in the field. Couple that with the number of specific unique configurations that need to be supported and it usually becomes apparent that the hardware may be holding you back.
Does the current hardware support the recommended technical standards?
Compare the recommended hardware specifications with what is in the field. A field survey may be required first. Below are the hardware recommendations for the POS computer:
Early on when AX2012 POS was first released, we were attempting to make it work on a tablet for a client. This was a tablet running windows with a 1.4GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. It was truly painful. We found out that the processor really needs to be a minimum of 2.0GHz (preferably more). The memory should be a minimum of 2GB. You cannot reasonably get away with less memory and you will likely need 4GB if you end up having an offline database.
Another interesting point is the monitor resolution. It says 1024 x 768. This is absolutely a minimum. The POS software will not run on a lesser resolution. Believe it or not, there are many POS monitors in the field today that can run at the “high” 1024×768 resolution.
All Done, Right? Wrong! Keep Going to Avoid Future Trouble
Does the current hardware support the current brand image?
This includes not just the color of the hardware but whether it will fit within the chosen cabinet structure. It may also require the hardware to be out of sight.
This is an interesting question and it is increasingly important. I have heard many different points of view on this. I would simply recommend you include someone from your store design group into the mix. Make sure to check the cabinets. Most retailers are in the middle of some store redesign and may have a mix of cabinets out there.
What is the expected roll-out strategy?
This is an important one to understand. In order to use existing equipment, there will need to be a number of “spares” that can be staged and swapped out for existing equipment. The existing equipment then gets “staged” for the next store. Because of the lag time and the limited equipment available for each wave, using existing equipment can significantly lengthen a roll-out (read – more money, more time)
How is the hardware in the field currently supported?
Some retailers use a third party depot service that also offers field break fix services. These support contracts are very convenient and very expensive. Completely changing the applications that run on this equipment, including maybe the operating system, will require that your support contracts be renegotiated. I have seen situations where a retailer ends up with two support partners. This means that the depot services will likely need to be reconfigured and split out from support. The main point I want to make here is that even though you may be able to re-use your existing equipment, the ongoing support and maintenance situation is very likely going to change. In most cases, these costs are higher when using existing equipment because of the mix of hardware and the age of the hardware in the field.
How many different hardware configurations (variations) are required to support the environment?
Some retailers can have equipment in the field for 15+ years. Over that time, things break and get replaced. Most of the time, the replacement is not the same as the original equipment. I remember that we had to design a POS receipt for one client a very specific way so that all of the different printers in the field could support it, we ultimately ended up with multiple receipt formats. This was a recurring theme on the project and ended up adding significant costs.
Question #2 – If I have to buy new hardware, what should I buy?
Even if a retailer is considering keeping their existing hardware, this question is always asked. I think it is a good question. If you are doing your homework, you should really understand both options anyway.
How will the hardware be supported?
This includes depot, field break fix and level one help desk. If you find the cheapest hardware, you will end up paying a lot more for the needed support. The larger brands offer these support packages along with their equipment. This is probably the most important question. If you can’t completely support the hardware yourself (or you think the size of your operation will outgrow your ability to self-support), then I suggest working through the support agreement first and the hardware second.
What are the hardware requirements to meet industry standards for PCI compliance?
There are changes happening on a schedule as PCI requirements are ratcheted up over time. This includes pin pads that support chip and pin. Do you understand it? In response, I have generally moved towards recommending an “out of scope” payment solution. Pin pads can be expensive to buy and implement properly. The cost of implementing them will be directly related to how you manage payments, including what payment middleware you choose. Work with your payment middleware provider to choose a solution that will last for many years.
What does the physical space look like? What are the constraints on equipment?
The main issue is cabinetry. I have a client now that has cabinets designed for aesthetic and then they try their best to fit their equipment into it. Make sure you have a handle on the physical constraints you have now and also in the future. Take time to understand your mobile road map as well. The prevalence of hardware that can be setup in a mobile pay station setup is becoming more prevalent. Is this something you will need to do? Not all equipment will work in that setup.
Are there specific legal requirements you need to consider?
An example of this is that certain states require pole displays. Some states indicate what kind of pole display is acceptable. If you know what states you are operating in, you can figure out what peripherals are required.
What specific hardware and peripherals do you need?
If you follow the steps in this document and gather the required information, you should be able to determine your best course of action.
One last thought for you. Regardless of which path you take, DO NOT purchase the equipment until you prove it out in a lab environment. This includes buying a single complete unit and setting up the Dynamics AX POS software and configuration with ALL the peripherals working.
There is a tendency to say “Oh, it is OPOS compliant, so I don’t need to worry about the peripherals”. While this is generally true, I have run into plenty of problems where the version of OPOS that my POS application wants to use is not supported by the hardware. Or even worse, it is supported, but it doesn’t behave properly. Once example is that NCR printers ignore the last line feed command in Dynamics AX POS so the receipt cuts off in the middle of the barcode. Yeah, you can fix that, but why should you have to?
I hope you got some insight into the decision process around buying or reusing POS hardware. I use specific pricing models to compare these options and try to get to more of a TCO for the decision. As you can see, the decision is complex and requires understanding from many perspectives. But with the right planning, you can make the right decision.