Over the holiday period I exchanged a lengthy chain of emails with retailer Huw Griffiths and with Tokheim Solutions UK (over a dozen all told).
Huw says that ever since Tokheim purchased Background2 (BG2) with its Flow Back Office system, it has rarely managed to sort out any of the fault issues he has had at his Bridgend site.
To his mind the problems came about because, when Tokheim purchased the system, it did not purchase the brains behind it, ie the two program designers (although it turned out that the two previous owners of BG2 had decided to go on and do other things several years after Tokheim first invested in BG2, so not entirely as Huw thought).
He says: "The fact that Tokheim is still selling this back office system and the problems with their new cloud-based system even after three-plus years of development is a big concern to me, and still no link to Htec tills, which I have.
"It was Htec who sold me the Flow Back Office."
He also said, on email: "Every phone call to the help desk is a total waste of bl**dy time, it takes weeks for anyone to come back to us that is if they bother to even call us back.
"Today it took up to 10 attempts to open an invoice for posting, which happens on nearly every one. My fifth till does not import credit cards or promotion discounts into Flow. I now have to manage on four POS for Christmas, which is totally unacceptable.
"This week, after a double input of sales on 11th December and no help desk call back, I have had to waste over 20 hours inputting dummy invoices to correct the stock levels."
I contacted the company and managing director Alistair Clarke pointed out that Tokheim Solutions UK was now an independent company (entering its second year) and had sold Tokheim Products to Dover Corporation.
He says: "We are happy to be independent but you will note we are also happy to continue to have use of the Tokheim brand as it represents an international quality standard." He added that he completely understood that between Tokheim, Dover and BG2, they needed to get the retailer sorted out.
He prioritised this and got the right result after consultation with the other two. By January 11, Huw was up and running.
Alistair Clarke said: "The issue with the cards not being accepted from the fifth till was acknowledged as a genuine set-up error by the support guy.
"It does highlight one of the issues that may lie among this that the system, which was bought more than eight years ago and was designed then for a three-way till set-up, has been extended on the POS side to what is not in any operational parameters of the original Flow Back Office."
He also said that Dover had confirmed that there would be no further development on Flow (which is what Huw suspected).
The problems Huw was having did send the companies involved into a huddle to check whether the support for Flow is contracted with Tokheim, which sends the second- and third-level calls to Dover, or is contracted with Dover (BG2) and Tokheim sub-contracted to handle the first-level call.
Whatever Huw said it was news to him that Flow was Dover's responsibility.
He says: "All my BACS payments go direct to a Tokheim account and all my invoices come from them. My Bridgend site's invoice has the Tokheim Media petrol pumps and Flow software support on the same invoice."
And Huw concludes: "It still needs to be said that whoever is responsible for Flow software support, they need to invest in the necessary IT support team to provide the service that we retailers require to run our sites 24/7.
"The two-hour, four-hour, 12-hour response times in our contracts need to be honoured."
How do you shop a shop?
As retailers you are used to competition. It comes in many forms ranging from the healthy sort to the unfair sort sometimes with no redress as in this case.
A trader in the north, who requested anonymity, rang to report that his nearest competition was not paying workers the National Living Wage. It was just cash in hand. He asked how do you shop another shop? I knew the answer to this because I was asked much the same thing six months ago. At the time, I wasn't sure whether to recommend HMRC or Acas so I rang the Employers' Direct helpline and they recommended Acas. However, when I checked back with the retailer he said they didn't seem interested. "So no one checks on the living wage," he said.
If it had been smuggled cigarettes or black-market booze there are numbers to ring and you can stay anonymous. I suggested to the forecourt operator that he should have a quiet word with the staff. If an employee reports such shenanigans to Acas they will certainly act. HMRC ought to be interested too. Just to be clear on the details the government's National Living Wage was introduced on April 1, 2016 for all working people aged 25 and over, and is currently set at £7.20 per hour. In April 2017 it will go up to £7.50. The current NMW for those under the age of 25 still applies.