Systems using applications from Google Play or Apple Store or from data hosted online programs are often called cloud solutions. In simple terms, this means that your data is stored somewhere on a cloud server quite possibly in a different state or even in a different country. Effectively you have no control over location of your data and the servers running the system you are using, all you have is a promise that the system will continue to operate and that your data will be sufficiently protected. Most often these servers are either housed in large Data Server farms such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. These servers are managed and controlled by AWS or MA.
You can use your cloud-based POS system at locations where a reliable “always on” Internet connection is available and shared across all devices. In deference to a locally hosted data solution, all devices that have been approved to be used with your cloud system will need to send data across the Internet to complete POS operations. The Internet connection, in this case, is the primary network connection and the speed and reliability of that connection is absolutely crucial to a successful operation.
A professional POS provider should offer different fall-back options for when or if Internet connectivity fails such as a local network fall-back feature which allows the system to continue working during the Internet outages. This feature is different to a fail-over Internet connection using a cellular network as offered by many providers as it makes it possible to work with the system not only during some Internet outages but also if there is a problem with the cloud system itself.
If the POS provider does not offer any fail-over protection, then you should promptly discard their offer since your Internet WILL drop out at some point in time and you will not be able to use the system. It is unrealistic to expect that your Internet connection will always be available and reliable.
The best cloud-based POS solutions include provision for an automated switching to a local network mode. This allows for data to be interchanged and stored locally until the Internet connection is restored and all information can be synchronised back to the cloud server.
One advantage of storing your data online is that there is less emphasis on backups including offsite backups and less hardware required onsite, therefore less hardware maintenance. As mentioned previously, you fully depend on the data protection and cloud system availability offered by your provider. Connection dropouts are the risk on your business operations and can impact your customers, the orders may not get processed until the connection is restored, even if you revert to manual systems during the outages you will still need to enter all the data back into the system when it comes back online or have to wait for systems to re-sync together. Therefore, it is essential to have fallback redundancy.
Some cloud POS providers do not offer local network fail-over functionality, thus when the Internet drops out your machines will not be able to communicate with each other. For example, if a server cashes out a customer’s tab on one device, the other device(s) would not know about this event as they are not interconnected at that time. This could lead to bills on the other device(s) relating to that same tab not being merged when the Internet is down. If a local network fail-over was available, then all machines could still communicate with each other despite the Internet drop out and once the Internet comes back upload the clients tab data to the cloud.
Because many cloud POS providers focus on low cost and high volume, there isn’t as much emphasis on redundancy as there should be for professional venue operators. You should take a very close look at what will happen when things go wrong, it is critically important and it is your responsibility to be aware of the possible limitations of systems as some POS providers will often only sell the dream rather than the reality.
The one advantage of cloud systems is that they require less hardware and have lower maintenance overheads. Usually the venue can utilise any tablet device capable of connecting to the Internet instead of dedicated cabled in costly POS terminals communicating with a costly local server. However, high quality wireless access points and a business grade Internet connection MUST be in place at a very minimum. Using a “free” modem given by your Internet provider is not the professional solution that a professional venue requires.
Another fact worth your consideration is that according to the worldwide Internet speed reports collected at “speedtest.net”, Australia’s Internet speed (as of early 2020) is now ranked 64th place in the world.
This is a big concern when considering cloud POS solutions and emphasises the need for redundancy options when using cloud base systems, let alone the actual desire to invest in such a system.
If you have a relatively simple menu, then the cloud POS systems might just be sufficient for your needs. Much of the initial setup work is usually completed by the client, but if you are working with insufficient budget, and can make your business fit the offered framework, then select the system with the best local support and it should suffice. Remember, these are often low entry cost solutions and therefore the burden to set up, learn, and support the system is usually passed down to you. It would be wise to investigate the extended support costs as the initial support included with many subscriptions is often not sufficient to gain the required level of proficiency.
The types of operations that cloud POS system could handle would be smaller establishments as it limits the risks associated with the potential outages. It is probably not the best solution for a bustling Pub/Hotel/Bar/Restaurant where you’re 20 deep at a bar or have 10 tables waiting to be seated but perfectly adequate for a small café or a small intimate fine dining restaurant where few changes are required on the menu and where your upfront POS budget is relatively low.