Anyone innovating?

1 10 2015

First off, I’ve been a bit quite on the blogging front for a little while – sometimes real work takes over and it’s hard to get motivated to post a meaningful blog….

So, I’ve sat through two rather dull technology events the past few weeks. First off Apple really did disappoint with their new releases, nothing new there at all. No, tell a lie, I did quite like the pressure sensitive screen feature on the new iPhone. It’s quite innovative, but its value is really hard to justify. Would I upgrade to the new phone because of that? Nope, but that doesn’t mean millions of “fans” wont, quite the contrary really. The second event was that of Google. Now this was awful. Dull devices and nothing new at all….

One thing though that I did notice in both events is the desire to copy innovation from a company that apparently is uncool and hasn’t innovated since the late 90s…Yeap, Microsoft. It seems that Microsoft new approach to a single OS across all devices is starting to pay off. Mix that with the Surface Pro range of devices, and there is a real movement in the market towards “hybrid” tablet/laptops. This is clear to see by the launch of the iPad Pro and some new Google option (its name is awful and reminds me of a fax machine). The Google copy though is blatant. The device looks like a Surface Pro all day long….

Why copy?

It seems that people are starting to realise that they can have a single device that acts as their tablet, but can also be their tool of choice when it comes to productivity. Business IT departments have started to realise this and now it seems are some of us consumers. I myself use a Surface Pro 3 to replace my laptop and my work desktop PC. It works brilliantly in both environments, especially with the Docking station. I also use it as my “tablet” machine that does find its way to the sofa – where it is of great use like most tablet devices.

With this in mind, both Apple and Google have to be aware that maybe “mobile” only tablets have a shelf life, after all, can both companies really expect businesses and consumers to continually shell out for multiple devices when one could do the job of three? I think there is an awakening that actually, Microsoft has been the innovator in the past 18months, and with its Windows 10 OS and launch of Surface Pro 4 coming any day now, that there could be a real market shift away from dumber tablets towards tablet/laptop hybrids. If that’s the case, Microsoft is a long way ahead of the game here, with both Apple and Google only offering lightweight mobile Oss on their devices.

The big bank cyber cover-up

15 04 2015

Something that I have long suspected (and been aware of) is that banks don’t like admitting when money goes missing. It doesn’t matter if it is their money, or yours and mine, the point is if anything goes missing it looks bad for an institution that is supposed to be your secure holder of money. It really doesn’t matter the circumstances either, be it with a dodgy employee doing something naughty at the cashier’s desk, or customers being subjected to cybercrime and fraud, the fact is the bank won’t report it…This thought of mine is backed up by a statement made by the City of London Police chief Adrian Leppard, claiming that he believes up to 80% of online crime goes unreported. Have a read of this article in finextra

The challenge

So why is cybercrime growing so massively? The simple fact is, something I’ve been complaining about for a long long time now, is that no matter what you do, you cannot secure something that is inherently not secure. What do I mean? Well card details are not secure. They are printed on the thing, nothing sophisticated is needed to get hold of card details at all. This means card schemes, banks, payment service providers, online payment gateways, businesses, all have to spend vast amounts of money on trying to prove that those card details (at the point of a purchase) are in the hand of the owner. The simple fact that I can get those card details so easily, means that for a person willing to undertake some cyber fraud or card fraud in general, it’s easy, it’s a weak point in the system.

My point is proven even when you add technology upon technology upon technology. Just look at the recent issues with Apple Pay. Apple, claiming the system is so secure is actually not a million miles away from the truth, if Apple could secure the card details that were added to the device, but since these are not secure in any way shape or form, it’s easy to just add other peoples card details to my own Apple device and away I go…

The solution?

The solution is so blatantly simple it frustrates me. Move away from Cards! We don’t move away from cards because of the cost of the card scheme infrastructure, an infrastructure that is so massively outdated in today’s cyber world. Card schemes are simply easy pickings for cyber fraudsters.

When I say move away from cards, I don’t mean just replace the physical card with your phone, ala Apple Pay, I mean ditch the scheme itself. There really is no need for a card to be required in a transaction, this is proven by a number of mobile payment technologies out there that move away from card schemes and look at their own scheme effectively, utilising “e-money”. These businesses / schemes have a massive opportunity to provide security that simply removes fraud, build technology built with modern day living security in mind, and all of a sudden, the fraudster’s life is much much harder. If you detach from the dependency on a card scheme, you have payment systems that are secure, you reduce fraud, you reduce risk, and you drastically reduce the cost of a transaction for a business, and ultimately the cost of products / services consumers purchase.

The only issue, business adoption, educating businesses of the benefits to them, the cost savings and the difference in user experience. That’s the massive challenge, something why mobile payment start-ups are failing. Business owners simply don’t have the time to be educated on this stuff….

So the company that cracks that nut, could get a new scheme out there and start reducing the levels of cyber-crime….Sure the banks eventually will like that idea!

The Joel test

10 02 2015

Yesterday I got asked my thoughts on the “Joel test”, as a good friend of mine got the bad news that his development team is scoring just a 7 on the Joel test. He wanted to know what it is and “Is that score a cause for concern?”

This post is going to be a little tech focussed as I am sure you are guessing, but if you are a CEO/CFO and want to know what’s going on (what you’re spending your money on in an IT development team), then you will find this post of value.

Now, I’m not a strong believer in trying to measure your development team success or their strengths by any means other than, are you happy with the product being delivered? All too often we get caught up in some form of metric for measuring just how good something is, and while we are doing that and maybe getting great “scores” we seem to lose sight that the product being delivered is actually poor. However, that being said, I think the Joel test is a good indication of your software development environment, and if that is in good working order you are at least giving them the best chances to succeed.

The Joel test is dead simple, and though I’ve read lots of opinion on it not working for Agile, I simply have to say – use a bit of common sense and apply it in the correct fashion to your preferred development methodology. I am a strong believer in agile and SCRUM, we operate that here religiously, and I would say our Joel score is at 11. Not the perfect 12, simply because I don’t always fix bugs before continuing on with new development work, I personally prefer to address bugs towards the end of a development cycle.

So here we go, the Joel test:

Do you use source control? You must be saying YES to this, simple as that. Good source control will also provide you with build services for continuous builds, see a later question.

Can you make a build in one step? Should be a YES. Builds or build scripts or continuous build services ensure your code is at least always able to build and run. When a build is broken, you have to fix that before anything else, and what’s great about a continuous build is you find these problems out sooner rather than later.

Can you make daily builds? See above I would say

Do you have a bug database? You MUST have something like this otherwise you have no hope tracking issues and fixing them. You don’t even need to be that sophisticated, though I like my UAT testers to push bug issues into the same control we use for specifying out storyboards (SCRUM).

Do you fix bugs before writing new code? This is the one I let slide. I make sure everyone is aware of them, and if they are in an area of the system that will be worked on then YES, let’s do that. However, often bugs are not in the same areas, and in such cases I prefer to keep the development velocity up and come back to those bugs at a specified date and time (typically the start of the following development SCRUM).

Do you have an up-to-date schedule? Now some will say NO to this as they use XP or something. Personally XP is hit and miss. SCRUM lets me specify out what storyboards we need to work on, and then we work on them. We don’t have an old fashion specification as such, nor an old fashion schedule, rather we have lightweight roadmaps and storyboards, because that is what SCRUM needs. So I still answer YES to this question, though we use SCRUM.

Do you have a spec? You need to have some spec, so if you answer no to this, then your development efforts will fail. SCRUM provides developers with a spec in terms of the storyboards they follow with the identified tasks. Without them, you have no hope.

Do programmers have quiet working conditions? This should be a yes, even if you are using XP. Collaboration is always ok, but the conditions will on the whole be conducive to concentration.

Do you use the best tools money can buy? We do, but I don’t think this is the end of the world if you write no to this. I personally like to push the team forward as the best tools typically help productivity.

Do you have testers? I hope you answer YES to this.

Do new candidates write code during their interview? This is harsh, but I insist on this, and what’s worse I insist it be done with just a pen and paper. I’m not looking for syntax, rather a good understanding of OOP and problem solving.

Do you do hallway usability testing? Not sure many people do this, but I do like it. I especially like expanding this out to focus groups if and when you get the chance. If you don’t have resources for this, hallway testing can be easily completed, just get some friends and family involved J

Anyway, that’s my take on the Joel test, don’t get too hung up on your score, but like Joel states, a score lower than 10 indicates serious development problems…I would probably say lower than 9 is big trouble…

Wearable’s…Would you?

4 04 2014

The vision of the future is always something you either love and want to embrace, or, like me many times, you find yourself sitting back laughing and wondering what planet these people are on. That being said, I’m sure people did exactly that when we went looking for the Americas, or someone said “hey, I can make a ship out of iron”….But in technology, and with the whole world of blogging, we have a lot more opinions that just frankly seem based on no real practicality or real thought. In some cases it feels to me that many tech businesses develop tech simply because they can, rather than thinking “does this have a benefit to real people?”

In this post I want to have a quick look at wearable technology with payments.


Wearable tech

Ok this isn’t anything new, hell, my first watch I was given back in the day, was and is a form of wearable technology, so let’s not start thinking wearable tech is something new. It’s also nothing new for wearable’s to steal from tech we already have. Does anyone remember the good old Casio calculator watches?

In some cases, it works well, but that is quite rare I believe. When I look at the majority of watches I see in a jewellery store, the added features apart from delivering the time, is a stop watch, maybe some form depth measurement, and then a convoluted way of measuring air speed. Now there must be a reason for this, as we have had digital watches for a very long time now.

I personally believe watches are more jewellery than technology in our minds. We want them to look good, act as a status symbol sometimes and do just one thing well, and that’s tell the time. Oh, and I don’t want to have to recharge them or change the battery even. That kind of feeds into the jewellery angle too I believe. In today’s mobile world, if I want to access computing power I will opt for a device that suits the job, and that is today a mobile phone. It’s a device that I carry everywhere, and will do even if I had a smartwatch (even if I can make calls on my smartwatch) because it’s far more natural to interact with a mobile than it is a watch. Just think of touch interaction on a watch as opposed to a large touch based smartphone? Experience is everything here.

So, do I want apps on my watch? Probably a no for the mass majority of us. We will continue to opt for stunning analogue devices that show real craft and engineering over their smart variety counterparts. But would I use wearable’s for other things, not just apps?


Payment wrist bands

I’ve seen NFC based wrist bands now, which again look kind of cool, but really, in the real world would I be seen with that on my wrist? If embedded in my watch then maybe, but in a rubber like band, made popular by Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” campaign, that’s a no go. I would also be paranoid about anyone reading my every broadcasting wrist band and swanning off with the capabilities to make payments from my card details.

Wristbands are a prime example of tech companies delivering technology for technology sake.


Finally, Google Glass?

Some people really love this concept, I personally don’t (are you sensing I’, not a fan of wearable technology). For one, I hate things in-front of my eyes or distracting my vision. I also don’t like to look silly, and until Glass looks a little more stylish they are always going to have issues.

This is before we raise the issue of data protection, privacy etc etc. I’m not saying wearable technology will not turn out to be profitable, I’m sure it will, but, and this is the thing for me, IMHO wearable tech is not a game changer and it won’t be adopted by the majority…

Usually I am very pro-technology….

Will HCE revive NFC mobile payments? No.

18 03 2014

As of late there has been a lot of press coverage regarding HCE (Host Card Emulation), which in a nutshell allows devices to make NFC based mobile payments without needing the mobile operators secure element on the device. Both VISA and MasterCard are backing this new approach, in the hope that finally, they can kick start mobile payment offering with NFC, effectively locking merchants back into the card schemes for mobile. Google is also heavily behind HCE, because they need a way of getting their Wallet distributed on actual devices and networks. Google has already had a rocky time with NFC, supporting it, then ditching it, only to now attempt to bring it back to their offering through HCE.

There are many companies pinning their hopes to HCE, touting their solutions and the promise of mobile payments. But is HCE really the saviour of NFC based mobile payments, or is it simply the same old issues dressed up in a new party frock?


Secure NFC in the cloud

Effectively HCE allows secure details to be stored in the cloud. This makes a lot of sense if you want to bypass the mobile operators and effectively quash their mobile payment offerings (ISIS in the USA and WEAVE here in the UK). But does it actually add any value for the consumer or for the merchant? Is there actually any real difference? The answer is pretty much no.

If you are using the solution in its pure form, then your phone (no matter how it gets details, from the cloud or a secure element on the device) will broadcast card scheme data to the merchant’s terminal. No matter what that data is, it is being broadcast and is data that is used to complete the payment. This is actually very powerful if you are looking for mass distribution, potentially. I say potentially because though there are businesses accepting NFC contactless payments, they are still small in their numbers. In addition, the merchant still has to opt into accepting contactless payments – and it is worth noting that contactless payments in pure card form are not the same as contactless payments using your mobile phone. In many cases the “handshake” is different requiring businesses to invest yet again in contactless for mobile phone. Do we really think SME owners will continue to invest in technology for zero benefit to their business?

So does HCE make any difference here? No…



HCE and NFC are only available on Android based devices (and not all of them). Though Windows Phone 8 supports NFC, it is locked very much into the Secure Elements, so no HCE support there. If we then look at the most successful mobile smartphone out there (iPhone), we should note no NFC or HCE support (and it doesn’t look like there ever will be). So with this in mind, you are only available to customers on 1 of the top 3 mobile platforms. Though many will say that Android has the lion share in the mobile world, it’s worth noting that they are a distant third in their share regarding mobile web being used. This indicates that the majority of Android users are not embracing all the features on their smartphone, and as such, these probably are the same users that will not look to be early adopters of any form of mobile payment.

Essentially, the consumer base that could potentially look to HCE and NFC payments is quite limited.


The customer experience

Many articles will talk about adding value into the mobile phone payment option, but when we do this, any distribution advantages you may have due to card schemes and contactless being accepted vanishes. You may ask why, but the fact is that the acquiring banks (the people who actually operate those contactless card devices) will not be accepting data regarding a discount, or loyalty scheme. To be blunt, they simply can’t accept that data as it’s meaningless to VISA, MasterCard, the Acquiring bank and the customers bank. So in order to accept that data, the mobile payment provider needs to sign the merchant up to their particular version of mobile payments, in order for them to enjoy any added value. Therefore the argument for NFC as an open loop environment using card scheme rails doesn’t fly.

So what does HCE bring my customers in terms of experience over what they have currently with a card. The answer is nothing, unless I buy into a particular vision of HCE by a particular company, and if I am going to do that, I may as well look at alternative payment solutions, that save my business money.


Payment processing costs

Do these decrease with HCE? Nope, the poor old merchant is still paying full wack for their card processing, and maybe in some situations more. They will be paying for more expensive NFC based infrastructure on a monthly basis too, so mobile is now costing businesses more to accept. That’s simply not good news for any business owner.


HCE a game changer? Nope…

To make mobile attractive to businesses it must be cheaper for businesses to run, maintain and it must bring some added value to their business. It also needs to be available to the vast majority of my customers, so that means available to the top 3 mobile operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows Phone). HCE simply doesn’t stack up on any of these basic business needs. It’s more expensive and provides no added value.

Mobile will no doubt be a game changer in the payments world, but it will not be changed by solutions that look to the same old rails dressed up in a pretty new mobile dress. It will be companies that offer real added value through mobile services, and companies that deliver savings back to businesses with large reductions in payment processing fees.

So if you are a small business, look to see what alternative payment solutions out there provide you with the added value and services you want to move your company forward, helping you increase sales and increase your profitability? It’s an exciting time, and a chance for businesses to break away from the old and embrace the new more productive world.

The cost of plastic

7 02 2014

We live in a digital age, and yet all our online and over the phone payments are carried out based on a very non-digital technology – payment cards. Essentially cards are protected by you needing to know a few numbers off the face of the card, and 3 additional security numbers on the back. If you aren’t the only one who knows those numbers, then you aren’t the only one limited to spending on that card.  Yes, there are many new security measures online, such as 3d secure and verified by blah, and yes, there are endless reams of PCI compliancy rules that businesses should follow. But at the end of the day, a bunch of numbers is hardly the easiest thing to secure.


The end of cards?

Cards have served us well for a long time now. But the cost of issuing a piece of plastic with some numbers on, isn’t cheap (on such a large scale). The costs of trying to protect those numbers for banks and mainly businesses are always on the increase, and this always results on businesses being charged more to accept a card based payment. What’s worse is, that when that card isn’t physically present, such as online or over the phone (especially when online sales are increasing) the poor old merchant is charged even more for the pleasure of accepting their customer’s payment.

What we must remember is that fraud doesn’t cost your issuing bank much at all. Rather it is the merchant who sold the goods that loses out financially, and they will lose out on the value of whatever they sold. For small businesses that’s quite a risk, especially when they branch out onto the web. I have known many small businesses to be stung like this, loosing thousands in revenue and of course lost product (a double hit for them).

Now we have a number of alternative payment systems and services starting to become available, some in the form of virtual currencies, mobile payments, different payment schemes and processes online (ala PayPal) and these are starting to become quite disruptive to the traditional card schemes and banking business. With alternative payment options growing in popularity, could this possible be the beginning of the end of the card? I say the beginning, as cards are heavily entrenched in our daily lives, and to date, only Starbucks IMHO has shown that consumers and businesses are starting to really make a choice when making a payment – and opting for something other than their card.


Digital payments for a digital age

I am a strong believer that when the technology landscape changes drastically, you need to embrace it fully. When cards were first becoming popular, there was no internet, no over the phone payments nor over the phone banking. But the internet is here, and cards haven’t changed at all. The infrastructure hasn’t changed, all that has changed is that software developers let us type in our card details so that the card can be identified. Not much evolution or embracing of the new digital age there.

Payment schemes need to be designed with their current landscape in mind, payments need to be designed for the digital world, which with mobile devices now blends seamlessly at times into the real world. This is what we have done at CloudZync. We have designed a payment scheme for the digital world that can be used online and out there in the real world, day to day via your personal mobile device.

For me, this is just the beginning of looking at how we transact, how commerce takes place, how customer relationships are forged in the real and digital worlds, and it’s an exciting time to be in this space. CloudZync is pushing the boundaries of what we expect from financial products, commerce, customer relationships and in terms of technology making our lives easier. Technology making my life easier and safer as a consumer, and the same applies to businesses. Technology making sales, transactions, experiences and relationships easier to manage and more profitable. To achieve these goals, we must always challenge what has gone before and that includes cards and banks…

Tech looking for a business problem to solve

4 02 2014

There are some wonderful new technologies coming to the market at an alarming pace it seems, some technology really helps a particular market, perhaps speeding up processes, changing our experiences, even having quite an impact on our lives. Then we have numerous technology that seems to be made, simply because it can be.

Just in 2014 alone (already and it’s the start of February) I’ve been exposed to a number of new technologies that are technically impressive, but they don’t have a problem to solve. They don’t have a real way of impacting our lives as consumers, or as businesses. Technology for technology sake is a phrase that I find myself uttering quite often, and none more so than when I look at the world of mobile and of-course, mobile payments.


My friend, NFC

NFC is a technology that has been around for years now. I remember it in an early Nokia phone (dumb phone not a smartphone) and it’s never really delivered anything in terms of impact on my life. I will be honest, most phones I have owned have supported NFC, and yet I have never used the technology for anything more than showing that it works.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful applications of NFC, but it’s a technology that doesn’t really solve any real issue, no matter what it is used for. Sure, it’s great for sharing data quickly, perhaps triggering music from my phone to play on a set of speakers when I rest my phone on them, great, but has that changed much compared to playing via Bluetooth? No, not really, if anything, NFC is more limiting than my Bluetooth pairing of speakers to my phone.

When we look at mobile payments, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s a great technology trying to fit into this space, even though it doesn’t quite fit.

At the end of the day, NFC feels like a great technology, but for the sake of technology. NFC doesn’t change the game.


Bluetooth beacons

The latest mobile and mobile payment tech to raise its head is beacons. Apple launch their iBeacon and PayPal have released information on their own Beacon project coming in 2015 (possibly). Both are quite neat, and pretty cool technology, they demonstrate well, and when you read about them you do think “wow – that could be cool”. However, the actual use of the technology again doesn’t solve anything, or remove anything from a process (deals or payments).

Even if a Beacon checks me into the store, I still need to have my mobile phone app (maybe even open), I still need to pay at the till using a payment account (maybe PayPal which isn’t exactly cheap or merchant friendly) and I still need an additional way of assigning that transaction to me the customer. With that in mind, is it worth me having Bluetooth switched on and having my phone pinging off beacons?

Even if PayPal manage all this, has it changed my life as a consumer? Probably not. Because there is no added value. All I have done is identify myself to a PayPal system that I am in that store, and at the expense of battery life. There is no added value to the merchant nor to the customer, only a technology that demonstrates well. We must remember too the practicality of all this for the consumer, even if all stores supported beacons, how long before I need to charge my phone? Having my phone constantly pinging beacons via Bluetooth is not good for my battery life, or my sense of security as a consumer. So much so, that most people have Bluetooth disabled on their devices by default, rendering the whole proposition pointless.

Apple beacon is a different approach, it’s not focused on payments and you have to open the app as the consumer, giving you a little more control. However again the concept of only providing deals or information through the beacon app or iPhone won’t stop businesses having to show deals visually in the store or online. Has this made life easier for the business, or actually made it harder? After all, a business won’t want to lose those customers who aren’t on the Apple iPhone platform. What about the majority of smartphone users who are on Android? That growing number on Windows Phone? What about the number of people who don’t even have a smartphone? Do we really expect a store to not provide all those offers exclusively to their iPhone customers? No, so life isn’t easier for the merchant, it’s more complex. No matter the merits of beacons, it still isn’t a game changer for businesses or consumers.


Wrapping up someone else’s tech

This is a particular bug bear of mine. There are lots of technologies now out there, and proposed solutions (especially in the mobile payments space) that don’t actually deliver anything at all. Rather, they wrap up someone else’s tech / app, and all they do is pass information to it to semi streamline a process. Now I don’t have anything wrong with streamlining processes in this way, after all, I spent 14 years as a TA doing this for corporates. But does that make my own technology massively valuable? No, it really doesn’t….I don’t want to point fingers at all, but if you again, look at the mobile payment space you will see a fair few of these examples.


Payments, tech first, solve a problem second

Unfortunately most technology companies at the moment seem to rush to get a technology together, then try to shoe horn it into some business problem or experience that either it doesn’t fit in, or simply doesn’t work for. The mobile payments industry is rife with this, with a multitude of different approaches to payments, all based around technology first, user experience second and practicality for the business and others a distant last.


Look at a problem, and then solve it with technology

I must be “old school” when it comes to creating technology. I still like to have a problem to solve, either in terms of a real business need / driver, or an experience we need to get to before I start designing and creating solutions and new technologies. I still maintain that if you want your technology to work it needs to exhibit all of the following 3 points:

  1. Make life easier for you and or your customer
  2. Add value to your current process
  3. Reduce your costs

If your solution doesn’t do all of these potentially for the majority of your customers, then it’s not worth investing in or using.

Shameless plug here, but when you look at mobile payments, Zwallet is the only mobile solution that ticks all three of these points off, and that’s because it’s a technology and solution that looked at real problems, needs, drivers and experiences first.


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