Helping retailers in tough times

Tower Systems helps retail customers of ours who are facing tough times.  Our help includes consideration on support fees, business turnaround help, free training and other help designed to relieve the financial burden for the business.

To protect against an abuse of our offer, we have a process for considering an application for accessing these benefits.  The process starts with a call to our General Manager or our Managing Direector.  We handle the query confidentially from there.

Many of our client relationships are long standing and our businesses deeply connected.  It is only natural, therefore, that we help our friends out as we are able.

While we have seen an increase in the use of our assistance this year, it is not up as much as had expected based on the doom and gloom in the press.

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Managing a retail business by distance

We offer our retail partners a range of solutions for connecting with their businesses from a distance ranging from the more traditional remote desktop to more sophisticated links.  These various facilities enable our customers to access their businesses from anywhere in the world.  The access can be visual, through our digital security system, through to data, with direct live access to our Point of Sale system.

I uses these facilities myself to access our own retail businesses.

These facilities are important with more retail businesses owners caring for several businesses at once.  We have sought to make it as easy as possible to manage a business remotely.  Our own situation demanded this and many others need it too.  We are grateful to have personal experience on which to draw in this area.

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Some sales people say anything to try and get a sale

We won a sale recently against the Director of a competitor who claimed to have been a priest in order to impress the prospect.  There was no mistaking the claim made during the pitch.  He was never a priest.  his credibility was shot.

Any small business owner buying POS or other software for their business should ask for all claims to be proven.  Honest representatives will gladly arrange this.  Dishonest representatives will present you with all sorts of excuses.

Most business owners have inbuilt BS meters which detect lies like the priest claim.  Unfortunately, some do not and these folk can end up with a bad decision.

Software should be bought because it is proven to be right for the job and not because of wild claims.

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Can you trust the recommendation?

One of our Account Managers visited a prospect this week and before the meeting started, the prospect asked why our software could not scan a particular type of product.  The sales prospect had been told this a few days earlier by a newsagent who had heard we were visiting the prospect and was keen to stop us winning the business.

We can and do scan the type of product mentioned and have done since we first released point of sale software.

I was surprised to hear the story because it is easy to prove that the claim against the ability of our software is wrong.   Thinking about this later, it made me wonder whether there are others who would make a claim about our software which is wrong and is made solely to stop us winning business.  While I would expect this behavior from one or two competitors, I would not expect it from a retailer.

No matter what games people play, the truth is stronger than the lie.

We will gladly put our software up next to any other software and let sales prospects evaluate, function for function, for themselves.

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POS software theft

We found a business using an illegal copy our POS retail management software a few weeks ago.  The receipts listed details for a different business in a different location.  Unless a customer questioned the receipt details they would be none the wiser.

While we have protection built into the software to prevent theft, if someone takes a computer from one location to another and makes no changes to hardware or business trading details they can get away with it – as happened in this instance.

We have been patiently trying to resolve this matter.  Our lack of success is likely to leave us with no option but bring in the police to consider the evidence.

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WORLD FIRST: Tower Systems software makes coffee

The latest release of Tower Systems software makes coffee! Latte, short black, cappuccino. You name it, the software will make it for you. A perfect cup every time. There is a button on the point of sale screen.  Click this, select your coffee and the software will do the rest for you.

We are pleased to have delivered this facility free in the latest update to our software and thereby added greater value to the businesses using Tower Systems’ software. This is another way Tower Systems is innovating for our customers and another reason business owners are making the switch to us.

My plan was to leave this joke blog post up and see how one of our competitors reacts. A check between this blog and their shows the considerable influence we are having on their business, well their announcements at least. So, I figured I’d make a joke announcement and see if they copy that too.

A couple of days ago I wrote about point of sale speed. They followed. On March 13 we launched Software Ideas, the most transparent and innovative approach to having users control over the direction of software. They followed, tried to at least. We announced our involvement in Sales Based Replenishment. They followed. We announced our compliance program for newsagents. They followed, sort of.  We wrote that DOS is dead.  They, well they took a different approaach and said DOS is alive an well.

While all this following is flattering, it confuses some prospects. Not many any more thankfully. This is where blogs help. We can use them to demonstrate leadership and following.

Maybe I should have left the joke blog post up and waited for their announcement that their software was about to deliver a coffee making facility.

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Helping newsagents navigate the News Ltd Alpha mess

News Ltd late Friday afternoon announced major changes to the distribution of Alpha, Australia’s top selling men’s monthly magazine.  News cut newsagent margin by 40% and is taking over home delivery sales won by newsagents over the last three years.

Tower Systems is committed to helping newsagents make the right business decisions through this.  Our newsagency POS software helps is in the form of guidance:

  • Our Title Detail Report shows the breadth of commercial activity for Alpha.
  • The 10×10 Report shows what sells with Alpha.
  • The Magazine Sell Through Rates Report shows the sell through performance of Alpha.
  • The Magazine Cashflow Report shows the cashflow impact of Alpha on the business.

While we have other reports in our software, those listed will be the most useful for newsagents wanting to assess the impact of this move by News Ltd.

We will help Tower Newsagents produce reports from their data.  We will assess these reports and help newsagents develop a view of the economic cost of the decision by News.

We consider the move by News Ltd to be unjust and unfair against hardworking small businesses, businesses which have played a key role in making Alpha what it is today.

We are affected by this decision as we own newsagencies too.

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The obligation of software companies to competitors

Even though we like to think of ourselves as different from other software companies in the vertical markets in which we operate, we are realistic to know that small business retailers in these markets will tend to judge us by their experience with others.  This is one reason software companies have an obligation to each other to deliver excellent software and to back this with excellent service. 

Bad software or bad service from another software company tarnishes all of us.

I saw this first-hand yesterday when approached by a retailer enquiring about switching to our software.  They called us on the back of a bad experience with existing software.  It turns out that an automatic software update was applied which contained serious bugs which took several days to resolve – primarily because the software company was in denial.  They had a similar experience a few months ago.

Thanks to these past experiences, we have to go further to prove we are different to this prospective customer.  While I am happy to do that, I am sure the business owner will remain skeptical for some time after we install the system, if they buy from us, because this other company let them down so badly.  There will be others who have heard the story and not consider buying a computer system because of the trouble ‘they’ are.

I am glad the retailer got to us.  A better outcome would have been for their original software company to do the job properly.

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Statement on hardware prices

We have found one of our competitors telling prospects that we have increased hardware prices.  A quick check of our website and printed price lists will show that hardware prices have not gone up this year.  Indeed, some items are priced lower than a year ago.  Their efforts to make the choice for them about price has backfired in at least three occasions we know of.

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Small businesses rely on software companies to adhere to standards

The recent GST debate here and at the blog run by POS Solutions provides newsagents with an excellent opportunity to compare our two businesses.  Prospects can see for themselves our position on a common issue and how we navigate discussion on this.  If POS leaves its post up it will be a great help to our sales team.  If they remove it the post is still a great help because we have kept a copy as have others.

Standards are important when it comes to business software.  The handling of GST is not something to get wrong – in terms of how the software functions and in terms of public comments about it.  The same is true for industry wide standards such as magazine data management.  The current magazine standards have been in place for around four years.  Only two software companies have met those standards for the full four years – ourselves and Computerlink in Queensland.

Newsagents rely of their software providors to keep their businesses current and competitive.  Software companies which do not maintain current standards let their customers and themselves down.  They do this because they don’t understand the standards or because they are too cheap to do the best for their customers.

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Access POS is not Tower Systems

Despite what they might want internet browsers to think, Access POS is not Tower Systems.  Access continues to pay to purchase the Tower Systems keyword on Google.  They even headline their ad Tower Systems yet the ad has nothing to do with Tower Systems.  We have complained to Google that this is a form of passing off.  Google refuses to act.  All we can hope is that people searching for Tower Systems click on the Access ad to rack up their costs.

We would be happy to put anyone interested in the Access versus Tower comparison in touch with any of the many who have switched to us. We estimate that they have ariound 100 newsagents left using their software.

I have posted this item in the hope that it comes up in Google natural searches and thereby combats the paid ads being run by Access.

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Software support fee warning

We have a support fee price list and charge the same to all users of our software based on the modules installed and the number of retail locations in which the software operates. Not all software companies do this. Last week we saw charges ranging from $1,500 to $3,500 to small businesses using exactly the same software in exactly the same circumstances – bringing a new focus to mates rates.

If you are unsure of the support fees you are being charged, make some calls to colleagues, check that others are paying what you are being charged.

The $2,000 difference we saw last wee is unconscionable and was only billed, in our view, because the software company involved thought they cold get away with it.

Software companies which charge fairly and transparently have nothing to worry about from customer queries.

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The dilemma over payment

We face the difficult decision of whether to commence legal action against a customer for not paying for a system we installed seven months ago. There have been no complaints about the training or the software or our support services.

We installed the system on the basis of a written agreement by the client to pay COD. The funding they thought they had in place evaporated. Many promises since have resulted in nothing. We even agreed to small monthly good-faith payments while they sorted things out. Not one cent has been received.

So, to our dilemma. It is unreasonable for us to leave the system installed without payment. Repossessing it will deliver something which is not saleable. Legal action is expensive and there may be nothing in the end.

We had hoped that commonsense would prevail and that at the very least our good faith payment proposal would result in some money flowing. It is their lack of response whatsoever which leads us to the legal route. If we end up there it will be with the utmost reluctance.

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Holding a grudge

I have got into some arguments over the years owning this business. Usually over issues which should have been ignored. No matter how brutal the argument, to either side, I am not one to hold a grudge. Life is too short. I’d rather focus my energy on the future than on remembering to hold a grudge based on an argument last century.

I was reminded of this today when I was cleaning out some old files and came across the remnants of an argument. I had a laugh thinking back to the long forgotten incident. Time certainly does provide a valuable perspective on these things. I know that too often in our early years I got caught up in battles which were not important, especially battles around competitive sales situations.

Thankfully, we (I) learnt the lesson and stopped fighting too hard for business. When we did that we started enjoying ourselves more and winning more business.

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The responsibility of market position

marketshare.JPGMore than 50% of all newsagents with a newsagency point of sale system use our software.

We have more sites than all of our competitors combined. Our nearest competitor is 40% of our size in terms of newsagent locations installed.

We are certain of this because of independent professional market research we paid to have conducted in April/May of this year. Once we had the results of the market research, we compared our numbers with topline data from two key newsagent suppliers. This confirmed the accuracy of our numbers. There has been no slow down in sales to newsagents since April/May so the results would stand up today, just three months on.

There is a risk in being so dominant in any small business channel, especially newsagents where there is suspicion of size. On reading these numbers, some newsagents will have an anyone but Tower mindset when considering software purchase. I know some do already – they think we are too big. I suspect that this is what prompted one industry association to consider, for a brief moment, purchasing a comptitor of ours a couple of years ago.

I can understand the concern. They would not want us to dominate the marketplace. The reality is that we do dominate in location numbers. However, dominance does not equal abuse. We have been respectful of our market share for years.

We are the only software company actively reinvesting back into the newsagency channel in practical ways. Over the last eight months we have been a Gold Sponsor of the national newsagent convention, a Platinum sponsor of Queensland newsagent conferences, a sponsor of a newsagent association website initiative and the instigator and key backer of a national TV commercial promoting newsagents. There are other investments which we will not discuss publicly as they relate to tangible pro-bono assistance to newsagents in need.

We are able to reinvest in this way because of our market share.

We robustly represent newsagents to suppliers, at a state level and nationally on a range of fronts relating to IT matters. There are instances where our representations have resulted in suppliers changing their position as a result of our representation.We are robust in our pursuit of a fair and balanced IT relationship between newsagents and their suppliers. Again, our market share enables us to take this approach. Suppliers like that they can meet with one company and effectively make progress with half the channel.

Through this blog and our newsagency blog we are transparent about our actions on behalf of newsagents. This is a key reason we continue to add new locations at an excellent rate.

We are thrilled to welcome more newsagents to our community. Our commitment is that we will serve the newsagent channel respectfully, fairly and transparently.  As other software companies pull out of the market, we will help newsagents make the transition.  We will continue to reinvest in the future of the newsagent channel.

We will never forget how important our customer’s businesses are to ours.

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Breach of copyright

A new customer of ours told us about a user meeting they attended not long when they were using software from another company.  At the meeting a Director this other software company demonstrated our software, making it look bad.  This is the same Director who refuses every opportunity for a function by function comparison of our two systems.  It seems he only wants to compare his software to ours if he can control the demonstration.

Beyond the breach of copyright is his breach of the Trade Practices Act through false and misleading conduct.

How desperate is he to misrepresent our software in this way?

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Meeting with POS software users

Tim Batt, one of our senior sales people, is covering a lot of ground this week heading up the second week of our national user meeting tour. He’s been to Melbourne, Geelong, Adelaide and, today, Albury, meeting with users of our POS software. Tim has been running the sessions along with others from our team.

Last week, it was Nathan Morrison, our senior sales person from NSW, fronting our sessions in Tasmania.

Nathan and Tim are typical Tower sales people. They both have technical backgrounds having joined us in technical support roles. We find that by not having sales people selling we more accurately represent what our software can do. Too often we hear of problems where a sales person promises something he or she does not understand.

By having Tim and Nathan front our user meetings we hold ourselves as accountable as they do personally. They are meeting people they sold to a year ago, even five years ago. This continued contact holds us (and our sales team) accountable. As a company, we are glad for the opportunity. Tim and Nathan tell me they are glad for the opportunity too – they enjoy catching up with people they sold to and hearing their stories.

The only way we can continue to grow after 27 years in this business is through the level of accountability and openness of opportunities like the current user meeting tour. Tim and Nathan, and the other team members who share the stage with them, demonstrate our commitment in a practical and personal way.

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POS Solutions, plagarism and Tower Systems

As far as I know, we are the only one to offer a fully integrated computer and security camera surveillance in retail anywhere.

This is Bernard Zimmermann writing at his POS Solutions blog tonight. Bernard knows that what he has written is not true. I know he knows we delivered Australia‘s first point of sale security camera integration more than four years ago. He and I discussed this some time back. Bernard has read my posts here about it. He has seen it demonstrated at newsagency trade shows on each of the last three years. So, yes, Bernard knew he was lying when he published his post today.

Bernard has published his post today about an integrated security solution to try and win a sale. POS Solutions has been asked about this by a newsagent who likes what we do. o Bernard has done what POS Solutions has done for years, he has played the game of smoke and mirrors – being loose with the truth to trick trusting folk into believing that what his company offers is cutting edge.

If it were cutting edge it would be POS Solutions engaged in the five exclusive newsagent industry supplier trials and not Tower Systems is the case. If POS Solutions was the innovator he would not still be struggling to get his DOS software compliant when the leaders in this channel switched to Windows technology eight years ago. If his company was the leader he tries to paint his company as being in his blog posts, POS Solutions would not have received the damning result in the ANF newsagent computer system poll conducted late last year.

I could go on. POS Solutions does not innovate. It copies which, in itself would not be bad if the copies were good. They are not. POS Solutions offers newsagents poor software backed by poor support. That’s what I think and it’s what the many newsagents think who switch to Tower Systems.

Trawl back through Bernard’s blog posts and then check back here and you will soon see on the public record how blatant Bernard is at his copying.

Sometimes it makes me laugh, other times it makes me angry.

Bernard and the POS Solutions use this blog and my Newsagency Blog as their business guide book. I should charge them a royalty on our ideas.

I shouldn’t worry, we have three times more newsagents using our software than they do. We’re growing faster and we have more exclusive supplier projects on the go. But I do worry because even one newsagent going with software which is but a shadow of ours is a newsagent letting their business down.

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The Bully of Bentonville

bentonville.JPGI have just finished reading The Bully of Bentonville by Anthony Bianco. This is a fascinating and upsetting book. Fascinating because it chronicles the growth of the massive Wal-Mart retail business from its small town roots. Upsetting because it chronicles systematic appalling treatment of suppliers and employees by Wal-Mart.

But there is more to the story than the behaviour of Wal-Mart itself. There are many guilty players outed in The Bully of Bentonville.

While it is easy to blame Wal-Mart for appalling treatment of employees and suppliers, it is various levels of government which have allowed this company to wreck the economic and personal damage now being catalogued by Bianco and others. It is also the consumers who flock to Wal-Mart every day for their low prices who tell Wal-Mart they are prepared to accept the economic costs of their model.

As a retailer, I’m in awe of the power thei exert over suppliers on price. As a consumer, the deals they offer are enticing. As a citizen, I abhor the sub-standard wages they pay, the way they manipulate the system for unfair tax breaks and the supplier and competitor businesses they drive out of business.

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Newsagents blackmailed on support

A newsagent called me to discuss my blog post about software companies which block access to some software functions if the annual software support fee is not paid. It is not the first time I had heard a story like his:

I bought the software I use in my newsagency three years ago. My support fees have gone from just over $1,000 a year to $3,500 a year. When I bought the system I was told that support coverage was optional. Now I find out that it is not. I refused to pay the latest support bill because I thought that it was too much for the service provided. The next day I could not access invoices from the magazine companies. They told me they would permit access if I paid my support bill.

Newsagents are being ripped off by software companies which make annual software support fees mandatory. These companies must have poor software or poor support or both. If their software and support were good newsagents would not need to be forced to take the coverage, they would want it.

Newsagents should either refuse to pay support or switch systems. Either way they starve their software supplier of cash. They will eventually get the message.

At Tower Systems, software support has always been optional. This ensures we focus on providing good software backed by timely and professional support.

The newsagent who called me is switching to us. In pure software and support cost terms, he will be better off in less than three years. Beyond the cost, I’d expect him to reap even greater rewards from the decisions our software will help him make than would have been the case.

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Replacing Easter eggs

For most of our 27 years in business we have given Easter eggs to everyone on the Tower team on the last working day before Easter. This year, we broke with tradition. Instead, we made a $1,000 donation to the Smith Family for their Learning for Life program.

I settled on the Smith Family after considerable research. Learning for Life is the type of program I was looking for. The funds are used to provide financially disadvantaged students with support for personal development, after school programs, books and excursions. It is very practical program and the Smith family is transparent about us of donated funds.

We are continuing with our monthly financial commitment to the Lighthouse Foundation and other groups we support. We felt that by foregoing some chocolate we could extend our community support this Easter.

I am grateful to our customers for it is their faith in what we do than has enabled us to contribute to the work of the Smith Family. I am also grateful to the Tower team for allowing the tradition to be broken.

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Tom Cruise, Scientology and that book

tom_cruise.JPGI’ve just finished reading Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography. While I am not a Tom Cruise fan, I was drawn to the book because of my own brush with Scientology when I purchased a software company in 2000 which was owned (unbeknown to me at the time) by a Scientologist and run according the principles set by the ‘church’ of Scientology.

Within 24 hours of buying the business I became aware of a Scientology connection. It took several weeks before the extent of the Scientology influence over the business was clear. What followed was a tough two years while the business was realigned.

Had I known of the Scientology connection prior to signing the purchase agreement I would not have proceeded – having read Bare Faced Messiah many years earlier. Employees had been coerced into undertaking Scientology training, data was collected on the most ridiculous stings – Scientology has a thing for stats – and, the first training provided to customers as part of their learning when they purchased the software was a course based on the teachings of Scientology founder, Science Fiction write L Ron Hubbard. As I note, it was a dreadful time dealing with the mess which erupted from the clash of Scientology versus, well, normal.

So, I wanted to read Tom Cruise biography because of what I had heard it had to say about Scientology more so than what it said about Tom Cruise. Once I found out that Australian publishers were too scared to publish it here, I arranged for a copy through Amazon.com.

I found Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography eminently readable. The account of Tom Cruise’s past, his rise to fame and how he lived in the prism of fame was interesting. Equally interesting, to this Australian, was Morton’s account of Nicole Kidman’s life with Tom Cruise. She does not fare well in this book, poor Nicole. There was also passing mention of James Packer which felt placed to me to support a point about Scientology. This is a book about Scientology.

The big take-aways for me from Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography, if only half of what Morton has written is true, are: Scientology is clearly not a religion, it is a cult and it is dangerous – Governments ought to withdraw its religious status; Tom Cruise is a bigger nut than I thought – actors should not have access to any stage or platform other than to act. I am glad my brush with Scientology was relatively brief.

The book provides an interesting connect with my own Scientology story: the way they attract people into the cult and how they use data to control and manipulate once you are in the web. It reminded me of what I found in the employee and other files of the company I purchased. I’m glad I read it and am disappointed that it has not been published in Australia.

Curiously, more have requested to borrow my copy of Tom Cruise: an unauthorised biography than any other book I have ever mentioned reading.

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More spin, spin, spin

Bernard Zimmermann one of the owners of POS Solutions is at it again, publishing false information to justify previously published false information.

Yesterday he made a series of claims about me. These are untrue.

He says I started my It career working side by side with him at Fluor, an engineering company. I did not start my IT career at Fluor. I had been in IT seven years by then (CSIRO (4 years), GMH (2 years) and CBA(1 year)). At Fluor I was a Systems Programmer, Bernard wes an Application Programmer. We were in different areas. We had little to do with each other.

Bernard says I then brought (sic) my first newsagency software – inferring this is when I started Tower. I started Tower just prior to joining Fluor. We had developed our newsagency software prior to this time – so the timing Bernard claims is way off. Further, his claim that i acquired the newsagency software elsewhere is false. By the time I was with Fluor I already had a full time software developer working in Tower Systems – in addition to my evening and weekend work.

Barnard says he came across me next when I was selling software to real estate agents. I have never sold advertising to real estate agencies. Indeed, I have never sold advertising.

Bernard says he has been banned from publishing comments here. He has never been banned from posting comments at the Tower and newsagency blogs.

The blog post from Zimmermann conatins considerable false information – all because he is trying to spin that his company sets IT standards for newsagents. It does not. POS Solutions today is a pale imitation of what it once was. It serves, I estimate, around 600 newsagents. This number is falling. POS is fading because of appalling support. I offered to purchase the business. They declined. Since my offer, in writing last year, Zimmermann has stepped up his public slanging including saying he offered to purchase my company. His attempts to rewrite history are breathtaking.

Zimmermann ought to focus on building his business. He can start to do this by treating all newsagents equally. I know of people who have waited more than five days in the last week to get a call back on a serious problem with the software. If they were one of his chosen users they would have received a call back immediately. Fixing this is more important that being a revisionist when it comes to history.

There’s no doubt I benefit from the POS Solutions mess. Each week we are converting people from their software. This growth is one reason we have increased our team in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. It’s a good challenge.

I am sorry for airing dirty laundry here. It’s a waste of my time and your time – if you are still reading that is.  I feel that I have no choice. If I leave Zimmermann’s blog post unchllenged then it becomes fact by default.   His false statements need to be shown for what they are.

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False statement from POS Solutions

So it was good the newsagency industry adopted our invoice files as a standard for the industry invoicing.

This statement was published by Bernard Zimmermann or POS Solutions yesterday. It is false. The newsagency industry did not adopt POS Solutions file formats as a standard. The standard was developed through a broad consultation process involving newsagent suppliers, software companies and external IT consultants.

Why give focus to a competitor? In this online world publishing anything, even something false, gives it credence. I’d rather give a competitor some focus and correct a false statement than leave it there without challenge.

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