When technology firm Micros Systems was founded in the late 1970s, its founders got their start persuading restaurant managers to replace manual cash registers with Micros's electronic ones.
More than three decades later, Columbia, Md.-based Micros is a 6,400-employee company whose equipment has found its way into thousands of businesses in the restaurant, hotel, casino and theme-park industries, among others. Micros' clients include Hallmark, Ikea and Panera Bread.
But to stay relevant, the company finds itself encouraging business owners to make yet another transition: from desktop computers to mobile devices, particularly tablets. This month, Micros announced it was partnering with Dell, Intel and Microsoft to introduce tablet-based sales systems customized for the food and beverage, retail and hotel industries.
"Mobility has always been one of those things in restaurants that's kind of expected," said Mike Russo, Micros' chief technology officer, noting that restaurant managers have historically been among the earliest adopters of devices so that they can process orders and sales in real time on the restaurant floor.
A growing group of start-ups and established tech companies are competing to provide mobile point-of-sale services for restaurant managers and retailers.
Square, founded by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, sells an app that small businesses use to process credit cards through iPhones and iPads. Last year, it released an update designed to allow cashiers in quick-serve restaurants to send orders to the kitchen.
PayPal, Groupon, Intuit and San Francisco-based start-up Revel also sell tablet-based point-of-sale software. And in the past few months, national chains Chili's and Applebee's announced plans to install tablets at each table that patrons can use to order food directly.
Micros' newest software runs on Dell tablets that are powered by Intel processors and use Microsoft's Windows 8.1 operating system. Restaurant managers will be able to use the tablets to control cash drawers, scanners and reservations, among other features. The software also keeps track of analytics such as sales metrics and labor and operational costs.
Micros, which had revenue of about $1.2 billion in fiscal 2013, has developed software for tablets in the past, but the new partnership means that Dell will help the company design hardware and software to support Dell tablets in particular, said Joyce Mullen, Dell's vice president of original equipment manufacturer solutions. For instance, Dell's staff helped Micros design a countertop stand for its tablets and a credit-card processing mechanism.
"It's a terrific opportunity to engineer something that will work and really change the work flow of restaurants," Mullen said.
The collaboration also drives Dell's business, she said: "It helps us understand the different opportunities where our tablets could be used and allows us to consider other markets where we can apply the same kinds of designs."
Micros' combined hardware and software solution is intended to help those who struggle with technology. "Our customers are not very tech-savvy at all, and that's part of Micros's secret sauce: We don't require our customers to be integrators," Russo said. He noted that other software-only solutions -- point-of-sale apps, for instance -- may be better suited for smaller businesses that can quickly experiment with new systems.
Eventually, the large volumes of sales and labor data that Micros' clients collect could be useful in analyzing market trends. But the company doesn't have plans to collect or disseminate big data, Russo said.
Often, he said, "that data belongs to (clients), not us."