University of Plymouth Students' Union (UPSU) is an independent registered charity with a broad remit and commercial scope.
Seeking to represent all of the University's 18,000 students, it facilitates involvement at all levels, hosts sports clubs and societies and runs campus sports facilities. In addition to providing volunteering opportunities and offering independent advice, the Union also manages campus entertainment, a retail outlet, accommodation, catering and bars.
Now with an annual turnover of £5.5million, UPSU employs 80 permanent staff and 250 casual student staff. The Union is, not surprisingly, student-led and democratic. The majority of its trustees are elected student officers and all major decisions are made by students. Its high operating standards have secured a number of performance awards including an 'Investors in People' – Gold Award.
Commercial outlets include the Quarterdeck Restaurant, the Pasty Shed, the Costa Lounge, a nightclub, three bars, plus a shop selling food & beverages, clothing and miscellaneous goods. In addition, a small Accommodation Lettings office generates fee income. Each business has its own manager, responsible for sales transactions and back-office functions including product management, accounting and reporting.
Whilst the University provides the central IT infrastructure, it is up to Director of Commercial Services Velu Balasubranamian and his team to manage the software solutions and hardware that each of these businesses requires. "Our requirements differ from those of other commercial businesses," he says. "We have four types of outlets and across them POS systems are used for a huge range of operations."
The benefits in summary
- Specialised support services from Greenhouse ensure optimum systems performance;
- Comprehensive software from Fidelity equips managers to drive front- and back-office functions;
- New SANGO and YUNO touchscreen terminals from AURES deliver fast and reliable POS performance across all outlets;
- Clear and intuitive screens lead to fast service, high transaction volumes and relaxed staff - especially valuable at bar and nightclub 'rush' times;
- UPSU's combination of software, hardware and services reflects its diverse business mix and contributes to profitable trading.
Prior to Velu Balasubranamian's arrival three years ago, UPSU had selected a comprehensive software solution from Fidelity to run its front-of-house and back-office requirements. For installation and support services (software, hardware and infrastructure), Greenhouse Business Systems was appointed and remains the preferred partner. Its owner, Richard Veevers, has now been looking after UPSU for 10 years. He undertakes all staff training and provides both first-level telephone support and onsite support.
Upon appointment, Velu Balasubranamian immediately undertook a review of hardware, software and services. "I was keen to maintain our partnership with Greenhouse. It's very important for us to have someone who understands the type of business we are and can be flexible with us. Richard altogether fulfils this need. He gives us value for money and an in-depth understanding of our operations."
Fidelity software continues to deliver the required functionality. "It goes across all our different areas, tracking product and making it easy for managers to control sales and stock, to see everything. We don't use Fidelity for purchasing but once a product arrives on our premises our systems are updated and the product is tracked through to its eventual sale."
All accounting and reporting are performed through the Fidelity solution too. Daily sales, product analysis, average sales transactions, special promotions, timing by operational periods ... these are a few of the many reports that staff use extensively and rely upon to meet fulfil responsibilities.
Point-of-sale hardware was included in Velu's initial review. "It was clear what we needed to do, to change some of the terminals. Whilst a few were quite new, having come in as part of a refurbishment project, our bars and catering operations had old models. They were chunky and operated in an outdated environment. However, upgrade wasn't an immediate requirement so we embarked on a phased project to change old terminals to something much newer."
Today, 80% of UPSU's terminals are new models from AURES, a total of 24, with just 20% still needing upgrade. When it came to selecting new models, the decision was an easy one. "Just before my arrival, four new AURES SANGO terminals were installed in our nightclub. They were really effective and looked trendy. At that point, it made sense to acquire more SANGOs."
UPSU has since acquired further SANGOs, together with a number of YUNOs, the latest model and sister product from AURES. "Our new hardware is faster and more efficient. For our staff they are a big bonus."
Explains Velu: "Our new hardware needed to be very user-friendly and easy for students to operate. It's important for us to employ students but as they work on a part-time, casual basis there can be lots of training. Our systems have to be integrated and self-explanatory. With the AURES terminals, you don't need to enter transaction values. Both our staff and our student customers love the way they look and work."
"In the nightclub in particular we need a very slick system. The new screens are very responsive. Screen layouts have been customised, items predefined to touch buttons and menus set up to reflect our needs. We're now equipped to serve drinks very rapidly; ideal for when there's a crush at the bar and we need process a high level of transactions at speed and accurately." He adds that the new terminals are pole-mounted in the bars. Not only does this make them easier to use but it also protects them from the potential hazards of knocks and spilt drinks.
Also contributing to rapid service and queue-busting is the installation of Verifone units on all terminals. The ability to process Chip & PIN cards including Contactless is ideal for the shop and bar environments where most purchases are modest.
"Sometimes in the past transactions would freeze and we'd have to divert customers to another till. We no longer have that problem. Our new terminals are quicker and more reliable."
"Richard Veevers' involvement is critical for us," concludes Velu Balasubranamian. "From helping managers with report formatting through to spending time on site – including through the night when we run massive events such as Student Balls – his technical skills, flexibility and industry expertise give us a real sense of confidence. He's demonstrated himself more than capable of supporting a large system a busy University."