For those of you who are not familiar with Parent Petroleum, we are a second generation family-owned business. We started in 1983 in St. Charles, Illinois and now service more than 170 gas stations across Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Our philosophy has always been to build trust with the petroleum retailers we serve by delivering cost effective and innovative solutions to their businesses that will help them to continuously grow.
While there are a multitude of services we supply our retailers, Parent made the strategic decision to assist our dealers in utilizing new technologies to improve their businesses. We understood that this would provide our customers with advantages in marketing, sales forecasting, centralized billing, intelligent logistics, product delivery and on-time pricing. One of the most pressing technology concerns our dealers had was how to address the new PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) requirements. This, along with their obligation to move to EMV to meet the global standard regarding chip-based debit and credit card transactions, is why we knew we were going to need a solution that could provide an answer for this tangle of questions.
Having gained relevant knowledge in my college studies, I was given the opportunity to develop a program that would help future-proof our retailers’ networks. The best resources available to us were the major petroleum brands like BP, Chevron, Citgo and Marathon, with whom we had long relationships. Of course, all of them were immersed in the same set of concerns. We already knew that some of the popular network firewall solutions common in the industry were not going to be adequate to meet the challenges we faced in the near term, but with PCI DSS and EMV on the horizon, we knew those solutions were definitely not going to work for us over the long term.
Since our largest petroleum brand, and partner is BP, I was invited to serve on the BP Technology Committee that had been convened to steer the brand’s retailers’ choices on these very issues. Somewhat to my surprise, the internal network security officers at BP had vetted and decided to employ a company that I had not previously heard about that was based in Elgin, Illinois. I did some research, and quickly learned that this company, Mako Networks, was deployed at Chevron, and that BP was planning to have their retailers employ Mako as their new “bring your own broadband solution.”
Upon further inspection, it looked like the feature set was impressive, but what I found particularly interesting is how they address PCI compliance by using a unique security template that is managed by a cloud-based Central Management System (CMS). Using the template and the associated firewall rules helps make each retailer’s credit card environment secure and even “certified” in many ways. In addition, the Mako appliance had a built-in 4G/LTE cellular failover, keeping credit cards continuously transacting even when the Internet connection is down, which definitely sounded like something our customers would appreciate. I was also impressed to learn that the appliance offered four secure and separate Wi-Fi networks so dealers could use them for their customers and employees.
But, I was still unsure about many of the intangibles. Who were the people behind Mako? Could I work with them? Could I trust them? For those of you who are familiar with the geography of Northern Illinois, St. Charles is only a few miles from Elgin. So, I called the sales contact, Barry Goldberg, to see if I could visit their headquarters. After a short, friendly conversation with him, he invited me to come by and meet with him and with Mako’s CEO, Jason Kubasak.
Jason was sincerely engaging and our conversation convinced me that Mako had the answers to several of my burning questions. Could they handle the BP rollout? Did they have the personnel to provide the service I demand for my retail customers? Were their claims about a unique and more capable security platform genuine? And if all of this was true, were they there to help to implement this across our multiple brands? This would require, in my mind, the best technology, but also the kind of people who would offer me clear communication, direct access and flexibility if we did decide to implement their product as our chosen network solution.
Of course, this did not happen in one conversation, but I can tell you in my many conversations with Mako, including several with Mako’s President, Simon Gamble, I became thoroughly persuaded that Mako was a perfect fit for our BP rollout and for our enterprise across the board, and even for other brands. If you hear Simon talk, by the way, you will quickly realize he is not from Elgin, Illinois! Simon is from New Zealand, where he and current CTO Chris Massam founded Mako back in 2002.
At every turn, when I had questions, Mako found solutions, both for our concerns as well as those of our retailers. As I continue to learn more about the capabilities of the Mako solution by digging into the CMS, I find I am gaining visibility into individual stations for trouble shooting, reporting and making changes without having to go on site. This increased visibility and access has resulted in a boost in up-time for credit card transacting and a reliable, worry-free means by which the PCI audit process is managed. Since Mako’s CMS creates an audit trail in the cloud (and thereby can apply its PCI template to each of our retail locations) their PCI certification covers our retailer credit card environment, which means that when it comes time for our mandatory audits, the Mako certification can be applied to our retailers. Believe me, the amount of headaches and hassle this has eliminated is worth the cost alone.
Even though we have not yet fully mastered the use of the VPN (Virtual Private Network) technology that is built into the system (and at no extra cost), we do intend to employ it to develop a more secure service model and a better means of marketing to our retailers’ customers. Setting up secure VPNs using Mako appears to be very straightforward, and we like that we can use the same technology that we are using to create highly resilient connections between our stations and our payment and loyalty processors to create VPNs between our stations and our support teams and/or HQ offices as well.
As I said at the start, we wanted to find a technology partner that could help us grow and secure our future technology goals. We certainly found that partner in Mako Networks.