Talking point of sale with HP

For a small business working to be as efficient and effective as possible, the POS terminal can be a critical piece of the business intelligence infrastructure

Ask many people what they think about "small business" and you'll get back an image that includes a sales counter with a cash register sitting on one end. I remember learning, as a child, the basics of small-business accounting when I helped my grandparents reconcile the day's receipts against the tape printed on the cash register that sat behind the counter of their small-town service station. Today, of course, the simple cash register has been replaced by a point-of-sale terminal that does much more than just hold cash and print receipts. For a small business working to be as efficient and effective as possible, the POS terminal can be a critical piece of the business intelligence infrastructure.

I recently had a chance to talk with Tate Davis, Product Manager for HP's POS Solution. While HP is primarily known for its back-office installations in the retail space (well, that and PCs), it launched its first POS client about five years ago. Tate told me that most of their success with the POS products has been in the large-corporation retail space (20,000 retail lanes or so), but that the company has used the large-scale RP 5000 installations and the customer discussions that go with them to design products that can move into smaller businesses.

In September, HP launched the RP 3000 for the midmarket. Tate said that it's designed to be a three-year lifecycle, "retail hardened" solution with a lot of expandability and customization possible. The RP 3000 is based on PC components, but designed specifically or retail. This system starts at $699 for the platform, and offers touchscreens, scanners, cash drawers, pole displays, and all the other things that various retailers need. Tate said that, when HP talked to its reseller channel, the company was told that if a platform is good enough for the global retailer, it's good enough for the single-store owner. HP decided to run with that and is using the RP 3000 to push down into the small-business market.

To approach the small-business market, in October, HP announced the POS Solution Ready program, a certification program for ISVs (independent software vendors) including Microsoft and Intuit. It has a program where the ISVs work with HP; HP puts hardware and software combination through testing; the two companies exchange best-practice info; and the resulting combination gets a "Solution Ready" logo, which means that the customer can feel confident that the total solution will work.

So HP is going to small businesses with a three-pronged package of services and stuff. Two of the prongs are necessary but standard -- one, though, shows that some thought has gone into the kinds of things a small business really needs to succeed, especially in a difficult economy like the one we're experiencing now.

The first prong is the hardware side, announcing "solution in a box," which gives the merchant the ability to buy a single part number, single warranty, and single box with cash drawer, so everything arrives at one time to the merchant location. For the installation and software partners on the deployment, this lets them know that they have one solution from HP to optimize the solution for.

The second piece of the puzzle is an agreement with Intuit, a strategic relationship in the retail vertical for small merchants. Intuit offers a hardware platform with flat-panel terminal and QuickBooks POS or Retail, all with a single SKU through distribution. Starting price on the HP/Intuit bundle is $1,499, and business can buy the bundle from Intuit ( on the Web) or through the Retail Solution Provider Network of resellers.

The third part, and the one that I like a lot, is that they include the Total Care Access Card. The card is normally sold for $40 to end customers (usually through the reseller channel) and provides $1,000 of value. This provides support for managing hardware, protecting data/infrastructure, and growing the business. The card offers some free things and some significant discounts. The free things include a year's worth of McAfee AV and anti-spyware. It also offers a free six-month solution to HP Data UpLine (off-site data storage). I'll have more about this in a future article, but it can be a real life-saver if a disaster hits your business location or your small-business computer. When the end of the system's life is reached, HP offers a recycling service for green disposal and certificate of destruction (which translates to data security). On the business growth side, HP offers assistance to the customer for creating a logo and business cards, and the program even helps with discount rates from PR firms on press releases for small businesses. If you've ever paid for PR services (and visual identity creation), you understand how big that can be. If you haven't, trust me -- these can be very big (and very expensive) deals for a small business.

The cash register isn't the sexiest piece of business equipment a small business may own, but it's certainly attractive when it's filled with the results of a good day of sales. It's good to see a technology company that is paying attention to the nitty-gritty details of small-business life -- here's hoping more manufacturers will follow its lead.