Why I Need Mobile Payments NOW

I keep all my receipts and at certain points in the month I can no longer sit flat on a chair.  I’m moving to Google Wallet.  Please no Seinfeld jokes.

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Virtual Currencies – Where Next?

Introduction

There’s a rush and excitement around virtual currencies.  Much of it is being driven by social media giants, and the expected virtualization of everyone’s wallet that NFC will soon bring.  But which virtual currencies have the greatest potential and do these pose any threat to the fiat currency regimes of the physical world?  This article looks at these topics in more detail.

Growth

“Measured in real-world U.S. dollars, virtual transactions total $2.1 billion a year in the U.S. and $7.3 billion globally, according to Sometrics’ founder and chief executive, Ian Swanson. That is up 61% since 2008.” ~from Bank Technology News.

Many companies, not just start-ups, are getting into the virtual currency market.  Facebook, Visa, American Express and even the big banks see the possibilities of owning, controlling and growing private digital currencies.         But what’s fueling this rise?  What is everyone getting so hopped up about?

Arbitrage –  The most obvious eye popping opportunity is exemplified by the rise and fall of BitCoin.  The graphic below comes from Wired Magazine, and shows the phenomenal investment opportunity you had for in 2010.

Tax Shelters –  Corporations, the rich, pension funds, hedge funds, and others with too much money are always looking for some way to hide their capital gains from the taxman.  What better way than to invest in digital assets using a virtual digital currency?  Talk about off the books.  But wait…. is that legal?  Well it’s not regulated, at the moment, but governments around the world are aware of this phenomenon and many are watching it closely.

Deflation/Inflation Hedge –  Particularly pertinent today, the potential for fiat currency de-valuation or appreciation in the face of mounting debts and uncontrolled deficit spending has given everyone with significant wealth an interest in finding a liquid, hedge to the big 3 ( dollar, yen, euro ).  Gold has been the traditional favorite in this spot, but with gold prices soaring and the threat of a bubble looming….the need for alternatives is strong.

Power – Less obvious on the radar is the sheer power that comes from managing an entire economy’s money supply.  A currency in isolation isn’t much.  The dollar without the U.S. economy is little more than paper.  What people find valuable in the dollar is the ability to buy goods and services from the single largest economy on earth.  For that reason the dollar provides a very stable store of value and means of exchange.  Similarly if a private virtual currency were to achieve such economies of scale…..say….dominating the global internet commerce business, then one could imagine the influence available.  Even large physical economies like the EU and Japan ( and their respective central banks ) would need to listen to the issuer of such a currency.

Who Will Lead?

So there are three types of virtual currency players in the market today:

The Wildcats  – These are the Ven and Bitcoin makers ( among others ).  They’ve built their virtual currencies and are asking people to adopt it.  It’s a hard road, with little incentive to convert your hard earned dollars, euros, or yen outside of arbitrage….it seems unlikely they’ll gain wide adoption.

The Closed Social Media Economies – With a captured market that has goods only purchasable using their currencies, these companies have modeled the very structure and incentives that make our modern physical economies today.  The challenge is extending this concept outside of Facebook ( or whoever ) to other sites.  But, the base is there.

The Banks – Ah….the banks.  Long ago, private currencies were common place in Scotland and the Wild West of America.  But when a bank went belly up…so did its currency….leaving all its depositors and paper holders staring down an empty well.  Banks have a ready made market in their dealings with the wealthy, corporations, hedge funds, pension funds, etc.

The Transaction Grabbers – This is PayPal, Google, and maybe Isis. They’re seeking a sliver of the transaction fee market from their mobile payment platforms.  But there’s no reason these players couldn’t introduce a virtual currency of their own.

So which group has the highest potential?  My money would be in Google Dollars and Goldman Sachs Coins.  This isn’t to say innovative new players won’t spring up, but the transaction grabbers and the banks already have the real audience needed to leverage a virtual currency and the financial wherewithal to make it a reality.  Clout is important here.

Challenge to Fiat Currency

Private digital currencies at the moment pose no threat to the world’s central banks.  But innovation has a way of challenging commonly held assumptions….especially ones as stodgy and long standing as government issued currency.  The internet has flattened the economic landscape and opened opportunities for global domination.  The digital, internet economy is owned by no country, no government.  There are no regulations guiding which currency an e-commerce site should use.  There’s nothing to stop someone from trying to capture this global digital economy and manage its money supply.  Therein lies the opportunity for those quick enough, connected enough and risk-averse enough to realize it.

Summary

Virtual currencies are still evolving, but growing fast.  Watch for the Transaction Grabbers and Banks to start making big moves in this space as near field communication and e-wallets become ubiquitous. Historically wildcat banking thrived in the lawless west….today it is thriving in the unregulated digital frontier.

How Will Tablets Impact Your IT Strategy?

Introduction

Gartner recently unveiled the top trends that enterprise IT should be strategically focused on.  One of those is the growing use of tablets in the work environment.   This post will take a look at the implications of increased tablet and smart phone use in the enterprise and hopefully deliver some insight into this trend beyond just a capacity replacement strategy for PCs and laptops.

Implications of Tablets and Smart Phones in the Enterprise

Let’s skip the obvious background and trend information and launch straight into the implications.

1. Printer exit strategy – Think of tablets as electronic paper.  That’s one of their utilities. Plenty of technology gurus have struggled to manifest using technology in lieu of paper only to be vexed by the utility, versatility and permanence of the 8.5 X 11 parchment of industry. So what’s different this time?  Portability, usability and eventually….sharing.  Right now it’s a little cumbersome to share notes, reports, and other virtual-papyrus artifacts with everyone in a room.  It’d be nice if my tablet recognized all those other tablets in the meeting auto-magic-ally and allowed me to share documents with them with little more than a button click.  A kind of permanent “LiveMeeting” or “WebEx” with RFID/GPS type sensory to recognize my location relative to the meeting schedule for that room.  It’s not there yet, but you can see it coming.

That alone won’t shut down your printers and get rid of the reams of stock in your office closet. Nor will it stop “Ed” at IKON solutions from frequenting your micro printing press to unclog the jam of a decade.  It will take you, the CIO, pushing, selling and implementing a bold strategy:  get rid of them.  All of them.  I’m talking about your printers.  People won’t stop using printers unless they’re gone.  Once they’re out of reach….they’ll find, and use the alternatives.

If you’re Hewlett Packard or Lexmark,  yesterday would have be a very good time to rethink your business model.  Kodak is foreshadowing you.  Tablets will get thinner, more collaborative, increasingly better at power utilization, and super cheap.

2. Embrace video/audio recording – Does anyone else see the paradox in someone with a tablet typing or writing meeting notes on his device when it’s fully capable of recording the visual/audio representation of that discussion?  Tablets and other devices can transform how your organization captures information and knowledge and shares that with others.  Written/readable documents don’t go away, but moving an organization toward a video/audio strategy should improve the quality of your work.  So much context is lost in written notes, documents, requirements, and emails.  How much does that quality cost?

Go with this strategy and here’s what changes:

  • A premium on presentation and verbal communication skills becomes essential.
  • This strategy augments your move to paperless ( number one above )
  • You need more storage and network bandwidth to capture all the videos / photos / audios:  think cloud here.
  • A tool to version, track and search this knowledge will be essential.  A wiki makes an ideal candidate.
  • Digital video and editing skills are now a key requisite on resumes.
  • Corporate policies need to be rewritten.
  • You might want to invest in pico projectors for everyone, but I think eventually tablet and laptop makers will make this a standard feature.

3. From office to work lounge –  Look at your desk/cubicle.  If you’re mobile and paperless…why do you need this space?   Work places are still relevant.  Collaboration and communication happen best in a common physical environment.  Working from home is like working in a really thick cubicle.  But to encourage the freedom and interaction that mobility and paperless bring to the office, the furniture and interior should be living, playful and open.  Many employers have already made this move:  mobile whiteboards, open touch down areas, couches, plants, and open space with lots of natural air are some of the interior elements that seem to work well for a work lounge.

The implication of work lounges and the increased interaction is that work is not work anymore.  People aren’t laborers, they’re….well….people.   Work, fun,  friends, co-workers, ideas, and profits will begin to blend.  This poses some challenges to stodgy HR policies and Tayloristic views of management.  Those who’ll succeed in this environment will be leaders, not managers and the org chart will flow around them in an organic way.   Corporate empire builders beware.

4. Office supplies / telecommunication equipment reduction –  In addition to dropping your printers and paper supplies you can now chuck your sticky notes, paper clips,  desk phones, and almost everything else in that closet.   Again, if you keep it around people will use it.  If you dump it, then they’ll get creative and use the tools they have.  Force the change.  Be the leader and save the company money.

Office Depot, Staples and others should plan their exit strategy.  Maybe they begin selling the work lounge concept and the supplies for that.  To date, I see little evidence they *get* this.

5. Killer App Coming……Plan for it -> Intersection of Identity / NFC – An earthquake is coming to the landscape of identity and access management.  Check out my earlier articles on this for background.  Your mobile device is an abstraction of you.  People will come into your employment with their credentials and data already digitized and ready to be transferred and used in your environment.  You’ll pull this data from LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+…….and using those same tools you can give them rights/permissions to systems on your cloud.    Kaboom!

In time this destroys internal LDAP systems, multiple id and password issues,  corporate HR systems and physical security access control.  These will be thrown into a social mobile nfc blender and become the domain of mega vendors.   The tech war to control the identity market will have no comparison to previous epic battles.  Those who scale this out will capture the lucrative enterprise IT market.

The implications are vast and will touch every corner of the enterprise IT market.  Plan for this NFC hurricane to shake out vendors through 2012-2013.   You’ll want to embrace those software vendors that do NFC, cloud and social identities for access.  My prediction?  Microsoft’s collapse is right around the corner.

6. Build vs Buy vs…….Download for Free.  The implication of app markets is that you now have a third generic system strategy:  download for free.   Any options analysis for system planning should consider this.   While it hasn’t happened yet, that i know of, we could well see a big vendor crash as a freely available mobile app does the approximate functionality for none of the cost.

The download for free option should also be used as a development strategy.  Maybe you find something that ‘kind of meets’ your needs.  Download, play, experiment, trial and get a feel for it.   Then, approach the developers of that app and say you have some ideas to improve it.  They might do it for free.

App markets are consumerization of IT writ large.  Our work force will be our IT department, and our IT department will turn into technology strategists, gurus, enterprise architects.  High caliber, well paid business technology talent will replace the ‘system analysts’ of today and IT departments will shrink.  Invest in your best.

7. Email’s days are numbered – Email gave us a huge productivity boost in the 90s.  Indeed it was the killer app of the first internet explosion.  But as we’ve moved through time its weaknesses are costing us.  The loss of context in email, as apposed to physical presence undermines quality of work.   Mis-understandings, multiple interpretation, cultural differences and poor writing lead to *email threads* that are a semiphore of poor quality.  Think ,just for a second, how many issues you deal with daily that revolve around clarifying what someone meant in a cetain email?   It’s astounding and it’s holding us all back.

There’s a better way, but it hasn’t been built yet.  Google’s Wave initiative is a bold attempt at remaking communications tools.   It’s close, but the email replacement will incorporate the cameras, microphones, and NFC chips that are built into tablets and smart devices.

Any CIO will want to watch this space and price out the latent, untapped potential cost savings in boosting communications quality across the enterprise.  Combine this vision with implication #5 above, and you can see the scale of change coming towards us.

8. POS industry: look out you’re about to be remade –  Tablets can be turned into POS terminals.  Enough said.  If you’re a POS vendor and you don’t realize this: what in the name of clam chowder have you been doing the last 2 years?  With NFC in 2012 an avalanche of slim, mobile terminals will usher in tap-pay while still accepting swipe pay.

Cash and checks will be digitized too and while the exact shakeout is still fuzzy to me; private digital currencies ( Ven, BitCoins ) are going to play a role here.  As I professed in my article about the externet ( internet of things ), the combination of an amorphous, unaccountable virtual world and the ability to pay with a tap lower and free the barriers to entry for those enterprising enough to believe they can challenge the global fiat currency oligarchy.  Nation states, banks, and the overlords of international finance will surely capitalize on this opportunity in some way.  Watch my blog for future posts on this….I’m still noodling on it.

9. Healthcare – Goodbye clipboard, hello iPad.  It’s all over the place, and doctors and nurses are demanding that all their software tools run on tablets.  FINALLY technology understands healthcare’s unique needs.  God bless Steve Jobs and the Apple-neers.  Steve, this was truly your greatest gift to the world…..not the iPhone.   You’ve given doctors a tool that will help them treat and solve the very problem that took you from us too early.  Rest in peace.

Taking this further, digitizing medical records and sharing that with patients is the bonfire lit by the meaningful use regulations passed in 2009.  NFC, smart devices and tablets will make the sharing part real time and collaborative.  People will really know and understand their health.

Summary

Surfing the waves of enterprise tablet integration has great possibility for the visionary C-level executive.  Will you be one of them?   My consultation to you:  tear up your current IT strategy document and vest your talent with the authority and energy to make these nine implications happen.   If you don’t…your competitors will.  You can be sure that some of the finest minds in IT are reading and following this blog.  Numbers don’t lie.  Be part of the revolution rather than a victim of it.

Identity – The Killer App for NFC and Social Media

If you’ve seen recent articles about Google+ and Google’s moves to acquire handset maker Motorola…then it should be clear that Google’s vehemence and focus on NFC and tying it together with Social Media are not just about mobile payments or competing with Facebook and Apple.

There’s a bigger focus and it becomes more apparent after relfecting on some of  my older posts  The Externet and  NFC is about the eWallet Right? and Social Networks or Virtual Countries? 

Identity is the killer app.  Why?  In order to accept and transact payments ( or any piece of information/data ) you need TRUST.   Trust comes from knowing someone’s identity is real.

If Google can secure and hold your identity, YOUR REAL IDENTITY, then they’ve become a trusted global store / directory of people.  Tie that together with NFC and your identity ( or the parts your willing to share with others: credit card numbers, names, phone numbers, pictures, really anything you share with people and businesses today ) becomes easily transferable between mobile devices, nfc readers and computers.

Ok, so what?  What’s the big deal?  For starters Google will make gobs of money off this through marketing, advertising, security, finance & banking, and academic research.  They’ll do this the same way that they do through search advertising: minute transaction fees spread across monstrous volumes.

But more importantly NFC and Social Media will solve one of the biggest problems the internet has today.  What is it?

Security.

It’s great to browse websites, but how many ids and passwords do you have?  50? 100?  You’ve left a trail of different identity signatures over a myriad of databases across the world.  As time goes on and you continue to use different sites; your security becomes increasingly likely to be stolen by hackers.

Not only is it insecure, but it’s down right annoying.  Why can’t i just save my identity once.  Then, while I’m on the internet it reveals the necessary parts to any website?   Believe it or not…many have tried to solve this problem ( remember Microsoft Passport ?? ), but there’s no vested reason for me to sign up for OpenID other than “I”m sick of having so many ids and passwords.”   That’s where social media comes in.  There is a vested interest in things like Facebook or LinkedIn.

But before you think this is a problem relegated to the web….take a look around your brick and mortar neighborhood.  The same problem exists.  How do I know who you really are…quickly and reliably!!!!??  So that it doesn’t hold up a line and anger my other customers.  This is where NFC comes in.

By tying together your real identity through a Social Media service like Google+ and an NFC enabled handset; I can now quickly transact pieces of your identity ( health, financial, personal, legal, or otherwise ) to third parties through NFC readers, other NFC phones, or even on the web once your laptop has an NFC reader too.  ( Yes, it’s coming Jim Bob ).  Your Android device and Google+ would be the gatekeeper to you.

Effectively, Google or Facebook or Twitter or Apple, would be a bank of identities, a directory with ancillary services tied to that identity.  They could charge other businesses to access that directory on a transaction fee basis and provide services.  This is a powerful business model and shouldn’t be discounted.

Within 6-9 months, if my post is accurate, I’d expect to see a headlong rush into identity services as global handset manufacturers proliferate NFC technology across the globe.

NFC is About the eWallet Right?

Who is this article for?

Technologists, investors and business professionals that see opportunity in near field communications will find interest in this article.  The primary purpose of this article is to help broaden the vision of near field communication and its impact on our world.

Just the electronic wallet?

So near field communication is all about electronic wallets like the Google Wallet or Square right?  Partly.

Near field communication is more than this.  The eWallet is the first, and potentially one of the more profitable, applications that near field communication makes possible.  But the killer opportunity that sits within reach of Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, RIM, Microsoft and others is your identity.

The fundamental flaw in the world wide web

Jump in the time machine for a second and go back 20 years.  The internet was just starting to be adopted, but there was a major flaw that no one took seriously at the time.  That flaw was security or more appropriately: reliable identification of users on the internet.  The flaw was intentional.  The original creators of the standards that now comprise the internet didn’t envision a world of interconnected web applications.  Their vision was isolated to viewing, sharing, editing, and preserving documents in electronic medium.

As the web evolved web applications became common place but each site had its own authentication and authorization mechanisms.  There was no common way to identify a user across the many different websites being published.

In time, attempts were made to set standards, and some organizations promoted their identification technologies as a standard that other sites could use.   But all of these solutions required scale and size.  Even with the means to promote a security standard many of these organizations hesitated in opening it up to other sites, developers for fear of hacking attempts.

Sites were loathe to accept the standards promoted by others because they weren’t “open” and tied the web site to a particular security standard that couldn’t be easily shared or transferred.

This all led to the common problem each of us has today: a laundry list of user ids and passwords for each web site.

How does NFC solve the multiple user id and password issue?

Your mobile device is becoming an abstraction of you.  They’re not just phones but small computers that can contain all key information about you and your possessions.

In any given day you may need to transmit this type of data to other people, companies, employers, organizations, web sites, governments, or healthcare providers.  But today you have to transmit this information manually by writing, typing or speaking.  What is the problem with this?  Well…some of that data is hard to remember or gets lost easily.  Another problem is that this data can change, but you can’ t remember everyone that needs an updated record….so some of your accounts have bad data.  Still another issue is that the data is all over the place…increasing the chance it will be subject to identity theft and driving up the cost for an organization storing such data.

Near field communication will change all this.  You can keep all your personal identification data securely on your device and then share it with an organization by simply tapping it on a reader and then entering you passcode on the device’s software to authorize and select data to transmit.   The key to security in this case is that your ‘account’ is stored on your device and can only transact data with a reader when you authorize it through entering your passcode.   It can’t be lifted by someone walking by with a really strong antenna and good hacking skills as some have suggested.

Think about how that changes applying for a loan, authenticating to a computer, registering for a 5k race, setting up an account to play World of Warcraft?

Killer app?  You bet and worth 10s of billions.  Whoever holds the identities of the world will know how, what, when, where, and glean why those identities do what they do.  That’s marketing data.  That’s security and homeland defense data.  That’s research and university study data.

Summary

So near field communication along with other mobile technologies ( GPS for example ) turns your device into….well….YOU.  It will connect you to everything  and in turn will identify you to all the things, organizations, and people around you.  This has the potential of reducing wait times and account authorization.  Further benefits might include greater security and trust as we begin to know that  there is one trusted identity for every person.  Google’s Wallet may be the start of the NFC revolution…but there are more fantastic applications coming.  As I posted in my last article, The Externet,  mobility and NFC are bringing our real and virtual worlds closer together.

About the Author

Christopher R. Goldsbury is a software development professional who has played the roles of developer, architect, scrum master, development manager, project manager and quality assurance manager  throughout his career.  Chris writes on his experiences and ideas at his blog: http://www.anagilestory.com.