Durham University Case study

The Client

Durham University is at the top of its game, ranking as one of the UK’s top three universities, 17th in Europe and 83rd in the world. The 1,000-year old establishment combines long traditions with innovation and modern values, resulting in an exceptional educational experience.  130 countries are represented in a staff body of 5,000 and a student body of 17,500.

Durham is known for its forward-thinking approach to catering and retail management, combined with its passion for food and attention to service.  Extending its commitment to excellence in education to its business operations, the University has implemented the latest point-of-sale technology across its campus. 

The Challenge

As the teams behind campus cafés and conference halls are aware, their market is rapidly changing. From what customers eat, to the how, the ‘where’ and with whom, the days of the functional canteen lie firmly in the past. A broader and more interesting menu; grab’n’go, freshly-squeezed juices, sushi and cappuccinos are the order of the day but strain ordering, stock control and pricing. The catering team at Durham University needed to find a way to rise to the challenge of new customer demands.

The Process

In 2010, the University had installed an EPoS system.  By 2013, it had become disappointed in its functionality, strength of reporting and support so issued a tender for new EPoS and Stock Control solutions.  In early 2014, at the end of a lengthy competitive evaluation process, Durham awarded the contract to MCR Systems, who are solution leaders in Higher Education. 

David Naylor, MCRS’s Business Development Director for Education, explains:  “This time, Durham was intent on finding a functionally-rich solution backed up by great service from a partner who could future-proof its investment and deliver new technologies.  With 25 University clients - a ‘roll of honour’ that includes Sheffield, Bristol, Kent, Portsmouth, Southampton and Warwick - we were able to demonstrate our industry understanding, expertise and proven solutions.”

The Benefits

  • The new universal solution meets the University’s campus-wide food service and retail needs;
  • The implementation project was well-managed and delivered all elements within a challenging timeframe, including the installation of new terminals;
  • MCR Symphony provides Durham with complete control over all aspects of EPoS maintenance and management from a web-hosted, back-of-house system;
  • Real-time, in-depth reporting from MCR’s software suite provides accurate data and business intelligence that guides the team’s operations and decisions;
  • Point-of-sale transactions are secure, fast and streamlined;
  • The new J2 terminals have proved to be reliable as well as space-saving and well-styled.

The Solution

To manage its catering, hospitality and retail operations, Durham University upgraded to SymPOS and Symphony Enterprise software from MCR Systems running on PC-based touchscreen terminals from AURES Technologies.  The new solution has rolled out across coffee bars, student shops and convention catering, provoking positive stakeholder feedback.

Whilst originally intending to retain its existing 18 tills, Durham decided to replace them with 31 of the latest terminals and peripherals from MCR’s partner J2 Retail Systems (now part of AURES Technologies.)  MCR put forward the J2 225 (now branded ninô) and the Durham team was impressed with the machine’s compactness, performance and reputation for reliability.

Project timescales were tight; only 8 weeks to install new hardware and software estate-wide.  MCR managed the entire project, from consultancy, to implementation, to training, and completed it on time ready for the start of the summer term.  “We fulfilled all our commitments in a challenging timeframe, including coping with changes.  We did everything when we said we would and always communicated well with the client,” says MCR’s David Naylor.

States Paul Taylor, Deputy Director of Catering, Durham University:  “Since the initial project start-up meeting, MCR fulfilled all commitments within the given timeframe.  It advised and discussed best practice regarding the system structure and hierarchy, which is now intuitive for all users. Training was bespoke to our needs, incorporating specific business processes to maintain service continuity. Implementation was executed without any delay or challenge, with end-users fully confident in the system. I look forward to implementing future system developments.”

Benefits of MCR software:

Durham University contracted for multi-user licences for SymPOS and Symphony Enterprise to control the day-to-day EPoS management of promotions, pricing, products and menus combined with real-time reporting. Symphony Stock Manager delivers multi-location stock management. 

The intuitive design of Symphony and SymPOS meant users were soon operating it confidently.  MCR also provided integration with the University’s Oracle Financials system and with an existing e-Commerce system for real-time stock updates and two-way transmission of sales and product information.

Management control - Symphony provides complete control over all aspects of EPoS management from a web-hosted back-of-house system, accessible from any location and by any number of people.  The solution is reactive and pre-emptive, able to respond to customer activity and to forecast and guide it.  Back-office control of all POS activity makes sure product pricing is accurate and easy to change.

Business visibility - Real-time, in-depth reporting from MCR’s software suite generates data that is more accurate and more detailed than Durham University has had in the past.  Business intelligence can be derived by item, department, outlet or group, at all levels. 

The teams now operate with a better understanding of their best and worst sellers and can ensure that products are being sold at the right price and margin across the estate.  An improved understanding of the sales mix means promotions can be better tailored to client demand.  “Live data is giving business visibility and control to a degree they did not have before,” observes David Naylor, “and makes it a lot easier and faster to identify potential issues.”

Benefits of J2 hardware:

University staff particularly like the J2 225’s small footprint and modern appearance.  “The new system has proved to have a very low maintenance requirement so far,” says Naylor.  “It works properly every time and the Durham team now spends its time managing the business rather than managing a system.”

Popular too is the fact the terminals are fitted with solid state drives (SSDs).  This eliminates moving parts and improves reliability and robustness.  Observes David Naylor: “Whilst it’s not yet been necessary, the IT team know we can come on site and replace a drive in minutes if there are issues, which will reduce downtime.”

Looking forward

The University’s payment operations have evolved, with MCR recently integrating Verifone Vx820 devices for contactless Chip & PIN with every terminal. And looking forward, the team plans to review SymPAY, MCR’s real-time Cashless Payment and Loyalty system, to integrate with its Symphony solution.

“Rarely, in my experience, do supplier installations go exactly to plan without some changes being necessary to accommodate delays or adjustments to specifications.  In this case, though, MCR did exactly what they said they would do at the times they promised to do it.  Information required by our network team was faultless and attention to detail in the implementation planning was impressive.  I look forward to a lasting relationship between Durham and MCR,” concludes Jim Macura, IT Project Manager at Durham University.

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