By Maura Keller
Since 1995 Conexxus, formerly known as Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS), has been dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technology innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and petroleum marketplace. As a non-profit, member-driven technology organization, Conexxus strives to improve profitability by reducing the cost of IT ownership and improving the competitiveness of its members, who collaborate on key present and future industry challenges and innovations.
In 2010, the urgency of data security mandates and realization that technology was playing an ever-increasing role in “regulating” society, PCATS integrated its operations into NACS, in return for assuming the traditional role of NACS Technology Committee. At its most recent annual meeting, the organization announced its rebranding efforts—transitioning from PCATS to Conexxus, to better reflect the increasing importance of connections and technology. The name “Conexxus” encompasses all of the organization’s activities, but most importantly, their dedication to building a community of expertise to solve tomorrow’s challenges as well as today.
Fuel Marketer News recently had the opportunity to learn more about the rebranding efforts and and other developments with Conexxus Executive Director Gray Taylor.
FMN: What is the current state of Conexxus today? What does the rebranding effort mean for its relationship with NACS?
Taylor: Conexxus is expanding its retailer membership—scoring the highest number of retailers since the start of the recession. The consolidation of technology vendors has impaired our vendor membership, but we have been very successful in replacing traditional vendors with vendors outside our market, seeking to do business with convenience/petroleum retail.
Conexxus rebranded this spring in order to recognize the expansion of our mission to include technical advocacy; in support of government relations expertise that NACS brings the industry. Historically, advocacy in Washington, D.C. was confined to regulation, labor, taxation and other “non-tech” topics that adversely impacted our membership. Today, technology is such a fundamental building block of our economy that it is increasingly dominating threats to our industry. Think of what can happen if a large provider of services is allowed to single-handedly dictate how their product is used, on a platform that does not allow competitors to compete.
In this very real case, billions of dollars of industry cost are at stake based on highly technical specifications. Our job is to provide NACS with the technology standards and expertise to effectively keep markets open, fair and provide a level playing field for even the smallest retailers in our segment.
FMN: What is the driving benefit of Conexxus to the industry, and the various parties involved, including retailers, solution providers and suppliers?
Taylor: Connections are the primary benefits of Conexxus. As our industry wrestles with the increasing pace of technology change (particularly with our customers), we find excellence in numbers; the benefit of aggregating the smartest tech people in the industry to unite on a common challenge. This is of benefit to all members, whether that is a vendor trying to break a technical log-jam with a new standard, or a retailer trying to reduce the unnecessary costs of interchanging data with a trade partner. With our community, we seldom find a challenge that isn’t shared with another in the group, or a solution to that challenge.
For suppliers—including fuel and merchandise suppliers—our value proposition is simple; where there is paper, there is money to be saved for all parties. Our store systems have gotten pretty sophisticated over the past 15 years, and suppliers who are not taking advantage of our integration standards is leaving money on the table in terms of both sales and operating expense.
For the fuels retailer, our device integration work has opened up the “black box” of fuel operations. Technology coming to market today—predicated on the standards work we have done—allows the retailer to have systems excellence in both fuel AND in-store; something that was not possible when we started our work. Further, our chosen architecture of XML running over IP—long before it was accepted as a store architecture—has enabled our industry to “snap on” new innovations like media, real time analysis and even EMV. We saw the future as an industry, and designed for it.
FMN: What are the major challenges faced with developing and fielding these standards?
Taylor: Free riders. There are very few retailers out there NOT using at least one of our standards. There is no one retailer out there who hasn’t benefitted from the architecture that has developed from our work. There is not one retailer who has not benefitted (and will continue to benefit) from our deep work in card payments, mobile commerce and data security—and that takes investment from the industry to sustain and expand.
Even the largest player—not intentionally using one of our standards—will benefit from the work we are doing on payments systems and representing the industry to card brands. Where large retailers can tweak payments to reduce costs, we change the paradigm and that is worth millions of dollars of future cost; but not without the support of all of those who will benefit.
Many believe that membership in NACS does this—and yes, that is part of the equation—but Conexxus provides the expertise on these highly complex topics that feeds NACS’ advocacy expertise. Economic freedom is not free—I wish more companies would understand this and how our mission is slam dunk to finance.
Another challenge we face is the expansion of mission and staffing required to improve our success. I literally could stay on the road attending payments conferences and regulator sessions on how payments should change in America. A lot of the work is being done in larger standards bodies, like X9 and World Wide Web consortium that requires our staff to lead efforts in these events so that our industry needs are best realized in policy and macro standards. We need more membership to fund these initiatives, or we will need to accept a smaller role in shaping our technology future.