The franchise business model is a proven winner. With an attractive, established business others can buy into, a strong brand, and efficient management, the only limit to a franchise’s success is its ability to deploy new locations and expand into new regions.
While expansion is a sign of success, one of the other keys is uniformity across locations. That way, customers know what to expect every time they visit a franchise business, whether that’s a burger that tastes the same across town as it does across the country, or a standard of customer service that can be relied upon.
Consistency across operations also benefits management; the more consistent the locations, the easier they are to manage and operate. That’s particularly true for the IT franchise systems.
Let’s look at how a typical largescale franchise restaurant might set up its IT system:
- Three payment terminals out front
- Two back office PCs for accounting, inventory and ordering
- A Wi-Fi access point providing customer Internet access
- A router connecting the payment terminals and back office PCs to a Multi-Protocol Label Switched (MPLS) network
- A second router connecting the restaurant Wi-Fi access point to the Internet
While this setup can work for a franchise chain with a moderate degree of success, there are some drawbacks.
Using a MPLS network keeps the computer network separated from the wider Internet, increasing privacy and keeping sensitive traffic away from potential security threats and intrusions. But because of the way data is exchanged over the MPLS network, information is typically not encrypted, which has serious implications for sensitive information like credit cardholder details.
The Wi-Fi Internet connection is run wholly independent of the restaurant connection, and can be difficult to manage and administer. There’s likely little control over what sites are visited , what can be downloaded, or how long a connection is permitted. That Wi-Fi connection costs the franchise money, so it’s logical to get control and manage or reduce those costs.
If the restaurant network requires any technical support, the telecommunications company will have to be contacted and may need to send a technician for a site visit to troubleshoot and manage any changes to the sensitive MPLS connection. It’s not friendly to the nontechnical users at the store locations, and could leave a store crippled if even a simple problem arises.
Moreover, the MPLS network comes with a significant monthly cost for each location. If a franchise expands exponentially, so will the costs to maintain that MPLS network connection. The MPLS network is constrained by geography; each site needs to be within reach of the MPLS network provider’s service. That means that if it’s provided by the local telecommunications company, it may restrict the franchise from expanding overseas.
There’s an alternative way of building this network to incorporate the same functionality, while addressing some of the high cost and technical issues associated with private networks.
MerchantSecure is a fully-managed network security and compliance service, allowing franchises to focus their attention on their day-to-day business operations. Using the MerchantSecure Network Security, Management and Productivity service, all the site’s devices can be connected through an appliance connected directly via secure public broadband, that’s easier, faster, and cheaper to administer.
The payment terminals and back office PCs can connect to head office through an appliance that also provides Wi-Fi Internet access to restaurant guests, all while maintaining a secure network that meets obligations from the credit card companies known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
MerchantSecure provides complete visibility and control of network traffic and activity, ensuring that use is limited to a predetermined set of rules or criteria.
Rather than connect back to the head office through the MPLS network, the MerchantSecure service connects via the broader Internet and a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Since Internet access is available almost everywhere, this option also addresses the geographical obstacles of the MPLS network solution. As such the MerchantSecure service is not restricted by geography or ISP.
MerchantSecure appliances are administered over the Internet through a Central Management System (CMS), so network configurations and settings can be remotely adjusted from anywhere, anytime. This means that if a technical issue should arise, it can be dealt with remotely without the need for an on-site technician. MerchantSecure network appliances are plug-and-play, so non-technical staff can connect and set up the basic functionality without the need for a PCI DSS-certified technician.
MerchantSecure works with any Internet Service Provider, making for a truly flexible system. For franchise businesses that quickly expand, this means that the network is easily scalable; simply by plugging in an appliance they are able to bring new locations onto the corporate network and manage all configuration from one central location, providing global reach and limitless possibilities for growth.
Without the MPLS network, monthly network costs are substantially reduced and overall operations are streamlined, all while meeting the stringent PCI DSS security guidelines. Upgrading to a service such as MerchantSecure can increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs, secure the business infrastructure, increase staff productivity, foster a better working environment and broaden service options. It’s a compelling opportunity for franchise businesses and a great way to get the edge over the competition.