5 Most Common IT Problems for Dispensaries & How to Prevent Them

There are some types of tech problems that you can do little to nothing to prevent. One example is POS outages. Most cannabis POS software is cloud-based, so you don’t host and maintain it yourself. If the software itself goes down, only the POS company can fix it. This happened recently when both Greenbits and Flowhub apparently went down for several hours on one of the industry’s biggest sales days of the year, 4/20. 

For tech problems that are out of your control, we put together a guide for how to prepare and respond to minimize the damage to your business.

But there are other forms of tech outages that are both more common than POS backend outages and easier to prevent. In this article, we’ll cover the most common forms of tech outages and the best ways to prevent them.

Internet Outages

backup internet diagram for cannabis dispensary
How LTE backup works, from Cradlepoint, an LTE backup solution provider.

One of the most common causes of tech outages for dispensaries. Many are in areas that have minimal to no internet access. We wrote an entire article about preventing internet outages, and we’ll cover the top preventative measures you can take here. 

These outages can be tough because most POS systems and track and trace systems are web-based. Even with offline mode, you can still run into problems with logging in, tracking inventory, and fulfilling online orders.

Best Way to Prevent: LTE internet backup or second internet line

We covered these solutions in a little more detail in our article about preventing internet outages. They both allow you to maintain internet access and continue working in the event that one of your internet connections goes down. They should be set up so they automatically take over all of your traffic in the event of an outage. 

LTE backup is similar to a mobile hotspot. A second line is more expensive but more reliable (as long as it’s from a separate ISP) and gives you more bandwidth to use outside of outages.

How to get started: check if a second line from a second ISP and/or mobile data is available in your area, get pricing, and compare your options; Cure8 can help you set them up

POS Outages

flowhub outage status update
Flowhub’s unfortune 4/20 outage highlighted on its status page.

Uncommon in our experience but can be highly disruptive when they happen, especially if you’re relying on the POS system’s offline mode to act as a backup but it’s the POS itself and not the internet that’s the problem. Could be a complete outage or a bug that affects one or more important features.

Best Way to Prevent: Pick your POS wisely

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to switch from your current POS, you can ask around or check out online reviews to see if one POS is more reliable than another. In our experience, most cannabis POS systems are pretty reliable. 

Even MJ Freeway, which had problems with major outages and security breaches in early 2017, late 2017, 2018, and 2019, hasn’t had any major problems lately, and if you wanted to be nice you could argue that the only reason those incidents occurred was because they were so widely-used at the time and thus a bigger target, not because it was necessarily less secure or reliable than the alternatives.

How to get started: research the reliability of the cannabis POS systems you’re evaluating; ask the POS vendor for uptime data and what they do to prevent outages, and if they offer a money-backed SLA for outages

POS Hardware Breakdowns

cure8 cannabis it product store homepage
When buying hardware for your dispensary, check out our curated store for our expert-recommended tablets, scanners, receipt printers, and more.

When your POS tablets, terminals, scanners, printers, and cash drawers stop working. Pretty common. Easier to fix than other problems in many cases since all you may have to do is disconnect and reconnect or restart the device, and you can always just switch out the problem device with a spare one.

Best Way to Prevent: Use mobile device management

Solutions like Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Jamf let you remotely manage your tablets. This is useful for several reasons, including being able to remotely update tablet operating systems and apps, prevent users (both employees and customers) from being able to use the tablets for unapproved activities like browsing the web and installing inappropriate or dangerous apps, and remotely wiping lost or stolen tablets. It helps prevent outages due to security breaches, outdated OSes and apps, and from users overloading the network with unnecessary traffic. 

Don’t assume these devices are secure just because they’re not Windows PCs and are supposed to be used only for POS and display purposes. If you don’t want to manage the mobile devices yourself, you can outsource this to an IT company like Cure8 for a low cost per month.

How to get started: evaluate MDM software options and read up on how to deploy them, or reach out to Cure8 for an MDM quote

Another option: buy recommended, commercial-grade hardware

In our experience, cannabis companies that try to get by with cheap, consumer-grade tech hardware just end up costing themselves more with decreased performance, productivity, and reliability and increased downtime. 

Our partners at BlueStar give the example of walking into a cannabis cultivator that spent millions on licensing and grow operations and seeing a pile of new, yet already worn-out/busted consumer-grade label printers on the floor. 

We strongly recommend not trying to go cheap with your tech hardware. This includes POS hardware like tablets and scanners, as well networking hardware like switches and wireless access points, back office IT hardware like laptops and office printers, and other products like surveillance cameras and TVs. 

For example, commercial-grade WAPs will give you better WiFi performance and coverage, and commercial-grade TVs won’t burn out even with 12+/hr day use. Check out our curated store for our recommendations on what hardware to buy and why.

How to get started: check out our store or request free white-glove procurement services

IT Security Problems

sophos firewall features
A diagram from Sophos showing what protection you’re missing when you don’t have a professional-grade firewall.

IT security breaches can lead to outages. For example, malware can cause problems with POS tablets and terminals, and hackers can lock you out of your POS, email, file storage, and other resources. Ransomware can hit your managers’ PCs and your PCs at headquarters, preventing you from being able to access any of your files.

Best way to prevent: Protect and maintain your IT security, or get someone to do it for you

Security measures you should implement include a network-level firewall, antivirus, segmented networks, and patch management. This’ll protect you from security breaches that can seriously disrupt your business. You should continually monitor and maintain your security infrastructure as threats evolve. 

If you don’t have the time or expertise to do this, and especially if you have multiple dispensaries and don’t know where to start, you can outsource security monitoring to an IT services provider.

How to get started: Cure8 or another IT services provider can start by auditing your networks for security vulnerabilities, or you can check out our guide on a dispensary security plan which includes advice about IT security

Local Network & Back Office Problems

dispensary networking rack
Your network setup should look like this rack that we installed recently for a client, with a professional-grade firewall, switch, and UPS.

If your internet, POS, and end-user devices are fine but you’re still having problems, the issue may be with your local network. Problems here can include poor WiFi coverage, IP address management issues, services using up too much bandwidth, and configuration problems and hardware failure for routers, switches, firewalls, and wireless access points.

Back Office IT Problems – These usually aren’t as critical because non-security back office problems usually aren’t very urgent or damaging. Examples – managers’ PCs crashing, email problems, and office printers not working.

Best Way to Prevent: Manage and maintain your IT, or get someone to do it for you

In addition to security, you should also be managing and maintaining the rest of your IT. This includes installing updates, managing local network IP addresses, and adding new devices as needed. You can hire an in-house IT manager to handle this for you or outsource to an IT services provider like Cure8.

How to get started: put together a job description for an IT manager or look into IT services providers like Cure8 or ones in your area

Other Good Ideas

Get professional setup

It’s a good idea to get a professional to set up your IT for you, especially if you follow our recommendations and get commercial-grade switches, firewalls, access points, etc., which can be complicated to install and configure. This will help you get set up quickly and easier, and avoid outages and other problems later on. POS systems and hardware are relatively easy to set up in most cases, though a professional can help you if anything goes wrong and allow you to focus on other areas of your launch. 

How to get started: contact Cure8 for a free consultation or quote, or search for other IT services providers in your area to help you

Back up your data

Most cannabis POS systems claim to back up your data, and we’re not really aware of a cloud-based one that gives you direct access to your files on the backend; so you’re covered there as much as you can be. 

Still, you’ll want to make sure that your non-POS data is backed up as much as possible, including your PCs, NVRs, local file servers, and cloud services like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspaces that don’t guarantee data retention. 

Losing critical data can bring your operations to a halt, result in lost productivity, make tracking and managing your business difficult, and lead to compliance violations. Backups won’t prevent outages from occurring in this case, but they’ll make recovery much quicker and smoother.

How to get started: review your company’s digital data and decide what needs to be backed up; for backups, follow the 3-2-1 rule and consider getting a local NAS; look into backup solutions like Veeam

How Cure8 Can Help

opening a dispensary in ontario
We succeed when you succeed. Photo with an owner from a recent installation.

Cure8 is the cannabis industry’s go-to IT partner. We’re trusted by dispensaries, cultivators, manufacturers, and distributors throughout the US and Canada including Canopy Growth and Tokyo Smoke. We can help you with pretty much everything we mention in this article, offering services for your POS systems, networks, surveillance systems, and back office including:

  • Planning
  • Audits
  • Procurement
  • Installations
  • Internet Setup & Troubleshooting
  • Security
  • Management

For a free consultation, visit us cure8.tech today or call 1-855-394-1420.

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