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Hosted Desktops in Retail: Easier Management, More Reliable PoS and ERP Access, PCI DSS Compliance, and More

Hosted desktops benefit retail businesses by allowing them to provide all of the same applications to all of their branches; by increasing the reliability of their applications; by reducing their IT hardware and personnel costs; by being PCI DSS compliant; and by allowing their employees to access their applications from any device, including tablets.

Businesses in the retail industry, like those in the financial industry, usually have multiple locations—at times, hundreds or thousands of them. Dollar General, Walgreens, and CVS Caremark, for example, each have more than 7,000 stores, and Walmart has more than 5,000.

Not all retail businesses have this many stores, of course, but providing IT resources to even a much smaller number of branches (from 2 to 15, let’s say) still has its challenges. You have to ensure that all branches have access to the same centralized applications and databases, including Point of Sale (PoS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, so that customers are treated to the same level of service at every store and that managers at every store have access to the same consistent and up-to-date inventory and staffing data.

Hosted desktops make it easy for retail businesses to provide users in different locations with access to the same applications. By default, hosted desktops can be accessed from anywhere with any internet-connected computer or thin client, and they are centrally processed and stored on servers. In addition, by using virtual desktop templates, retail businesses can easily create hundreds or thousands of copies of a hosted desktop that has all of the applications that they want on it.

Hosted desktops are also preferable to hosted applications in this case because they allow users to access multiple applications at once from within a single environment.

Another advantage of hosted desktops for retail businesses is their increased reliability—meaning that they are always available to be accessed. They are monitored and maintained 24x7, and they can be accessed from low-maintenance devices with long lifespans (5+ years) like thin clients.

Reliability is a lot more difficult to ensure if a company has its employees access their applications from high-maintenance devices like desktop PCs and installs all of its applications to the hard drives of these end-user devices, where they can’t easily be managed.

Uptime is especially important for retail businesses, since their transactions are so constant and frequent, and customers can usually just buy the same product from a competitor if they are delayed or inconvenienced in any way. According to the IT research outfit the Standish Group, the downtime, or unavailability, of a PoS system costs more than $4,700 per minute.

Retail businesses can also reduce their IT hardware and personnel costs with hosted desktops.

As mentioned, hosted desktops can be accessed from low-cost, low-maintenance end-user devices like thin clients. They also reduce hardware costs compared to a retail business that hosts files and applications on onsite servers at each store, since they consolidate all of the company’s IT solutions onto a single group of servers, reducing the amount of underutilized and unused servers. In a similar way, they also reduce the overall number of IT personnel required to manage and maintain all of the company’s IT assets, even if you include the personnel at the IT hosting company providing the hosted desktops, compared to retail businesses that have IT personnel at each store—since there are less desktop PCs that need to be managed and maintained, and centralized hosted desktops can be managed by less people than multiple onsite IT systems.

Reducing costs is especially important for retail businesses due to their notoriously low profit margins—Sageworks, an accounting and risk management company, for example, estimated the net profit margins of office supply and stationery stores, electronics and appliance stores, liquor stores, automotive stores, and grocery stores at less than 2.5 percent.

Hosted desktops can also help retail businesses comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), which you have to comply with if you are a business that accepts credit cards. PCI DSS-compliant aspects of hosted desktops include their centralized storage and the security measures (including firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and antivirus software) that most IT hosting companies protect their hosted desktops with.

Noncompliance with PCI DSS can result in significant fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars per incident and may result in your bank canceling your account or withholding funding.

Finally, hosted desktops allow retail employees to access their applications, including PoS and ERP systems, from any computing device and from anywhere in the store. This means not only low-cost thin clients, but also tablets like the iPad, which is a cool alternative to the desktop PC-based cash register and a great handheld tool for mobile employees like managers, sales floor representatives, and stockers.