Talking With: NCR’s Eli Rosner about the current state of omnichannel

NCR has come a long way since the company was established in the late 1800s to manufacture and sell the first mechanical cash register.

In more modern times, NCR was known more as a hardware company as it produced the many ATMs you’ll find at bank branches today, but as early as 1997, when it became an independent company again after a short run as an AT&T subsidiary, NCR began to turn its focus towards software.

Today, NCR has a different approach to its business. Hardware is still a focus, but software is now a large part of the company’s offerings as NCR in recent years has acquired several companies, including Digital Insight, Radiant Systems and Retalix.

Mobile Payments Today recently conducted a phone interview with Eli Rosner, who is a senior vice president and chief technology officer for software solutions at NCR. Rosner has helped to lead some of the changes at NCR on the software side.

MPT: What’s the one biggest change you’ve seen at NCR in your five years with the company?

Rosner: One of the biggest changes is a very strong focus on software. When I joined the company [in 2011], there was a drive to change the company to a hardware-enabled, services-led and software-driven company. It was leveraging our heritage with hardware and services to invest in software and because we felt very strongly that as part of the reinvention (of the company), software was going to give us the boost that we needed to accelerate in the market and stay relevant. When I first joined the company, I believe our software revenue was in the neighborhood of $600-to-$700 million. In 2015, we ended with $1.86 billion. In the course of those five years, we’ve invested in acquiring several software assets. The focus on software is big and that’s been the biggest change.

MPT: One point, among many, that you mentioned during the Investor Day presentation (in New York City), is that some omnichannel problems still haven’t been solved. Things aren’t happening in real-time in multiple locations. What more can NCR do to solve these issues?

Rosner: We have solutions that cover supply chain management as well as the point of sale. So, we have solutions that cater to retailers, for example, to manage their supply chain, manage their inventory, promotion, loyalty programs, etc., and that connects to the point of sale. Having all those assets in place means we have a solution that can go end-to-end for a retailer. [One thing] that’s missing for us is a platform that would be running behind the scenes that would leverage those existing assets that are running today. For example, our inventory management system. We’re using an integration platform that we’ve built to integrate the inventory management system with the e-commerce engine of the retailer, for example. By doing that, when you purchase an item online and select a store to go pick it up, or if you want it sent to you from a specific store, then we know what the right inventory is at that store.

[Another] thing that needs to happen is that when you purchase items online and let’s say you have to return it or purchase more items while at the store, you want to get the same pricing and the same promotions. For most retailers, those are two separate systems that are not integrated at all. So, for us, putting the solutions that we have running today and allowing them to run on a single unified platform, looking at all the data in a single data repository, it gives us a significant edge that other companies don’t have.

MPT: What about on the banking side with omnichannel? What are the challenges there?

Rosner: On the banking side, instead of talking about it as an online order, think about a loan application, or a request to open a bank account, or something that you might be starting [in a remote location instead of the branch]. For whatever reason, you have questions or concerns, you save the process and you decide to continue it another time. Or, maybe I’ll go to the branch and talk to someone. That’s one example of omnichannel in banking.

With a bank, the challenges are a little bit harder because there is very tight integration into a bank’s backend systems. With a bank, we have to be even more worried about what data goes on the wire and it’s something that the banks manage because they will not give us access to this data. We are also integrating our solutions across divisions where if you pull out your statement on your mobile device, we’ve now developed the capability where, if you purchase an item at a retailer, you can now click that entry in your banking statement and look at the actual receipt from the retailer. That’s an example of where we’re using our reach across the enterprise [of our offerings] and not just within one sector.

MPT: Mobile devices, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, IoT device, etc. are in the spotlight now more than ever. How difficult is it for a NCR to keep up with all the changes happening with mobility?

Rosner: NCR has a vision to invest in four key technologies going forward: Big data, the cloud, mobility and IoT. Mobility, being in the center of a lot of interactions with consumers, is absolutely a challenge for NCR. It’s a challenge in the sense that we have people that are spread across the organization that do different types of developments for different types of mobile devices and having the challenge of catching up with speed at which those devices are coming to market.

To that effect what we’ve done, and we’re going to officially announce this the first week of May, is that we have created a mobile center of excellence in the company. As we formed the team, I allocated a leader to lead that group, and we have already identified others for the group. In retail alone, we have close to 50 people that are doing different types of software development for mobile devices. And honestly, no one knew we were going to end up with 50 people. Overall as a company, we will probably have a couple of hundred people doing just mobile development. I think that by putting those teams together in a single center of excellence, we have an answer to the challenge you mentioned earlier in regards to all the variations of devices.

MPT: NCR, and others, are dealing with more data now than ever before. How is NCR keeping that data safe in this era of data breaches?

Rosner: With everything that’s happened in the last 18 months, data protection is the first or second question that we get from our customers or prospective customers. There is significant investment in security. What we did is form a team that is reporting to our CIO, and our chief information security officer is also in that group. This group is like an audit team that provides us with best practices and is auditing our security practices. They are making sure our data services have intrusion detection devices installed to make sure we don’t have any hackers (in our network). We also have very strong PCI compliance.

Right now, we’re looking at big data across the enterprise and with more cloud deployments emerging, it’s an area where we’re looking at not just our physical security, but we are bringing companies from the outside like white hat hackers that are trying to penetrate our system.

By putting together this centralized team, it’s not something that the company has done before and we’re doing it, but we still have some more work to do.

MPT: What will omnichannel look like in 2020?

Rosner: What I see in general from myself and the customers we speak to, we will expect more things to get delivered to us without us thinking about it. We have machine-to-machine communication that’s happening with the IoT; the wealth of data that companies are collecting on what we do; more enhanced navigation systems like Waze; they will contribute to making recommendations for us in the future. The ability for devices and services to learn about us is definitely going to grow. I think that as consumers we will expect things to be recommended to us, so the systems will be doing more of the thinking for them.

Devices will change, too. The concept of an ATM, kiosk or point-of-sale device is becoming blurry in the sense that there isn’t a (traditional) point of sale in the future. For example, if you’re standing in front of a digital mirror, you’ll press a payment button and you’re done. All of those things are coming to fruition and there are some prototypes out there now. Overall, it’s very exciting in my mind.

Photos courtesy of NCR and the New York Stock Exchange.

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