Choosing Hardware and Software Solutions
by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
More software and hardware systems are being used in the typical FEC than ever before. It is not uncommon for a facility to have an arcade card system, an F&B system and another system specific to the anchor attraction. Sometimes there are additional systems layered over these for party booking, online reservations, time clock management and on…and on.
I’ve just written “system” so many times my head is starting to spin…and I haven’t even attempted to list all of the competing providers nor which aspects of operations they cover, which can be integrated with each other, and how they tie into both accounting and operations. I can’t list the functions of every system on the market, but I can give some key considerations for choosing the software needed for your facility with a particular focus on arcade cash card systems.
Of course, nearly every FEC would love to have one software package that does everything. The reality is that for most locations, such an all-encompassing system doesn’t exist. Brunswick has gotten pretty close for a standard bowling center with its Sync system now that it can also handle restaurant and bar operations. Even so, a bowling center would still need a card system to run the arcade games and, if there are additional attractions like movie theaters or go-karts, a third system will probably be necessary.
It’s important to limit the number of systems you have while ensuring that you’re providing the functionality you need. Three major aspects must be considered:
1) How does the system interact with accounting?
2) How does it interact with the guest?
3) How does the system interact with the operations staff?
It’s essential for the owner (or someone in senior leadership) to get and consider direct input from the stakeholders in all three areas. If any single group gets to decide in a vacuum which system is selected and used, the other two areas are likely to suffer. For example, we saw an owner – an accountant by trade – insist that all sales go through a single system. But, doing so limited the ability of the front desk staff to sell the Intercard game cards because only some of the functionality was available through the interface.
Situations like this are common as nearly every interface between software packages will be limited in functionality because it costs money to make the features available through an API (application programming interface), and to develop the interface so the systems can talk to each other. This configuration is done at the vendor level and locations can only access whatever functionality was built in.
It’s also very important to do your due diligence up front. Changing systems later is very time-consuming, difficult and often expensive. Nearly every FEC today has an arcade card system usually called a “cashless” system. I put the word cashless in quotes because every location I’ve been to does still accept cash. But, they only accept it in the card system; after that, it’s the card that contains the “currency.”
These systems are the greatest single invention for our industry. They immediately eliminated the two most common service issues in a game room: coin jams and ticket jams. They also allow management to implement controls to improve operations and prevent theft.
Three critical issues to consider when buying a card system are:
1) The card system should have an onsite backup server. Inevitably, cloud-based systems have issues due to WiFi connectivity or problems with the cloud. While we love cloud-based systems, an onsite server keeps the games running when these problems occur.
2) A cloud-based system is best. They allow better tracking, integration and access, especially if you have multiple locations.
3) Avoid startups and choose a reputable company. We see newcomers in the card system space and while some may go on to become great companies, others will disappear when they miss a round of funding or can’t keep service levels up along with growth. Because a card system is essential to operations, we insist on going with established providers.
While no single card system is seamless across functions, many provide great value. The good news is that most providers are diligently working to improve their offerings, so as the years go by, I expect improvement in the functionality and integrations. For now, the key is to understand the systems, keep up with their updates and work to continuously train your staff so they can use the technology to its full potential.
Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit www.grouppinnacle.com for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.