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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 14, 2009 • Issue 09:12:01

Automate or flounder

By Scott Henry
VeriFone

Nothing stays the same. Today's payment terminals are no exception. Their software must be updated periodically for compliance purposes or to provide new functionality. This is not a problem if you only have a handful of customers; you can hop on a scooter and personally download new software to each terminal or talk merchants through the download process by phone. If you're dealing with dozens, hundreds or thousands of units, it's too time consuming to be practical. And it diverts efforts from activities that generate incremental revenue.

So why not automate the download process? If you preschedule "behind the scenes" remote updates, there's no need for on-site visits or phone calls to walk merchants through the download process. You set schedules on the download server and let the technology do the rest.

Industry inefficiencies

In the payments industry, the inability to effectively manage mass updates to the installed base of deployed systems is widespread. We are lagging far behind other industries in our ability to automate core processes.

ISOs are dealing with ongoing frustrations and high support costs for application rollouts. This can cause them to defer upgrade cycles, which further increases costs due to inefficient legacy applications left in the field far too long. This results in greater demand for support as things go wrong and risks alienating customers unhappy with system performance or uptime issues.

Manual download processes simply aren't scalable. Mustering tech staff or diverting sales staff to this can be a mammoth effort complicated by merchant schedules, download failures and long knowledge-transfer cycles on system operation. The typical result is to upgrade only when merchants call in for support.

A better way

The software industry has aggressively implemented server-automated updates. Windows desktops and laptops typically connect to Microsoft Corp. servers every Tuesday to find the latest patches for the applicable system.

Imagine if Microsoft had to mail out CD-ROMs every week and then deal with a barrage of help-desk calls. The company simply wouldn't do it often, which would result in persistent security gaps, inefficient system performance and general user unhappiness.

Past attempts to provide such automated functionality in our industry have been unsuccessful; however, technology has evolved to provide a more seamless, easy-to-use experience. It is now possible to implement next-generation technology that provides a simple interface to enable download automation across a subset group or an entire, installed base of terminals.

Advanced intelligence technology can automatically balance loads and schedule downloads, based upon the number of terminals targeted for software updates and communication resources available. The result is virtually hands-free application deployment, limited support costs for upgrades and limited customer interface with system-level functionality. The terminal automatically polls the server at preset intervals to find out if a download schedule is available. If so, the schedule is downloaded to the terminal, which then automatically requests that download at its scheduled date and time.

Download activities occur in the background according to predetermined parameters (such as only in off hours and if no conflict exists with other applications), so there is no need for merchants to participate in the download process.

Error correction and detection procedures ensure that if communication is down at the scheduled download time, or if a conflict is present, the terminal will reattempt the effort until successful.

This advanced approach to download management provides secure downloads of an unlimited number of parameters, system updates and applications simultaneously, at the most economical and least disruptive times. Comprehensive, dynamic reports can keep you completely in sync with and in control of the upgrade process.

Managed services

Much of the computerized world is marching, if not running, to take advantage of hosted services, also often referred to as managed services. As devices increasingly become attached to the Internet, it is easier to take advantage of centralized services that are able to leverage the intelligence the various devices contain.

In this manner, it is more cost-effective to deploy and manage advanced services such as automated download.

A hosted environment makes it possible to deliver security solutions (end-to-end encryption, for example) and a wide range of application services (including value-added applications such as loyalty, gift card and prepaid) right to the POS, without requiring a large capital investment.

For ISOs, hosted services can transform the POS into a new point of profit and expand the value they provide to merchants. This technology has allowed many online merchants to quickly and easily set up shopping cart applications.

And the hosted payment service model has well-known advantages: it provides merchants - while incurring little to no upfront costs - a quick, easy setup process; fast transaction speeds; and now integration with existing POS terminals.

Move ahead or fall behind

Improving ongoing business processes is vital for improving productivity and ensuring competitiveness. This is a primary factor why U.S. companies have generated surprising profitability in the teeth of the worst economic recession of our times. end of article

Payment professionals need to continually find ways to introduce greater automation to replace manual intervention, or we'll risk falling behind other industries in our ability to achieve maximum profitability and keep our customers happy. Scott Henry is Director, North America Product Marketing, for VeriFone. He can be contacted at scott_henry@verifone.com.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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