Denny Muller
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Ringing Up New Opportunities Within Digital Economy

Oct. 13, 2020
Digital transformation puts NCR into a power position within the new digital economy.

Talk to any number of companies about their digital transformations and chances are how each one defines the process can differ significantly – and for good reason. After all, every business has different needs. And, how specifically an organization needs to transform to compete within the digital economy should be the one defining quality. 

Consider the case of NCR. Long known for creating the cash registers that served as the cog for commerce within most consumer facing markets, the company and its iconic offering date back to 1884. Of course, in today’s digital economy, data plays an increasingly important role, and unfortunately, the traditional cash register has increasingly become little more than an antiquated fixture. After all, even antique stores use digital technology rather than the traditional hardware that served as NCR’s primary offering for over a century.

For NCR, digital transformation has essentially translated into a complete redefinition of the company offering which now involves providing a dynamic platform for POS systems, ATMs and self-checkouts. “Our transformation has really been about making the shift from a physical product to the digital world. While hardware will always be part of running commerce at a bank, a restaurant or a store, there's so many more things that are happening above the store,” says CTO Tim Vanderham. “And, it doesn't always have to be a physical in person interaction. It can start on a mobile device or a web browser. It might finish on the device, with a transaction at an ATM, or even within a store."

NCR’s focus has really shifted to providing software platforms to enable its customers (banks, restaurants, retailers, etc.) and consumers to interact in different ways.,” he says. “It is the omni channel point of view that allows us to link the digital and physical worlds much closer together. And, we're running millions of transactions a week to that platform.”

Of course, when Vanderham joined NCR a few years ago, it was an immature software organization. “We had to overcome that immaturity to provide a software as a subscription model where customers pay for the value they derive on a per click or per transaction basis,” he says. “We've also leveraged an open API ecosystem that allowed us to be much more open architecture for our customers. In the past there was quite constrained, tightly coupled monolith. This has afforded us openness to the ecosystem of startups and partners that our customers need us to interact with as well.”

Putting NCR to the COVID-19 test

When COVID-19 hit the global economy, it became strikingly clear that NCR was an essential business – tasked with helping consumer facing companies weather the storm in two regards. First, because there is still a physical aspect, NCR’s 15000 global field engineers have remained in full force working to keep customers' physical assets (ATMs, POS systems and self-checkouts) working.  Also, keeping the business services platform running enabling customers to respond to the consumer growth on order pick up, delivery, pre-staging and finalizing transactions with less interaction in a physical store. In fact, when restaurants rapidly transitioned into delivery order online and pick up businesses, NCR saw a 343% growth in number of online orders coming through its platform.

Buffalo Wild Wings is a prime example of a company who has depended on NCR throughout the pandemic. Historically, BWW's  biggest online ordering day has always been the Superbowl. However, as COVID-19 hit, each day was like the Superbowl and the stability of NCR’s platform enabled smooth customers interactions.

For NCR's bank customers, as the stimulus checks came out, there was a dramatic increase in digital banking activity with people signing up to use online services because they could no longer interact in the same way. “We also saw more usage on bill pay, money transfers, etc.,” he says. “Our platform was able to scale and support our 600+ digital banking customers and their 25+ million consumers.”

Lastly, in the retail space, NCR is the market leader in self-checkout operations. “We've actually enabled our customers to keep the throughput coming through their stores. We are work with customers to touchless environments including removing the need to touch the pin pad to pay, or even touch the screen to look up fruits or vegetables,” he says. “It’s a story of innovation to ease the concern around COVID19 through touchless activities.”

As the movement towards mass customization and enhancing the consumer experience continues to move in high gear, the need for a market shift has been on the horizon. However, COVID-19 accelerated the digital shift by months if not years. Being a part of 700+ million daily consumer interactions, whether it is digital banking, an ATM or a self-checkout, NCR has a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of continued shifts.

In recent years, this insight has driven investment in developing frictionless technology – something NCR demonstrated at NRF two years. “We knew the demand was on the horizon, but we should have been advancing it faster because despite the challenges and the price point of the technology needed to truly allow grab-n-go frictionless capabilities in a store or in a restaurant, the need and desire have become crystal clear.

Road ahead

The next big trend is already ramping up and it has everything to do with data. “Data privacy is moving towards being at a supreme, upmost importance. I have a vision where consumers will be in control of all of their data including digital receipts and digital interactions,” he says. With this in mind, NCR is building an ecosystem where consumers choose how they want to share their data back out to their trusted partners such as their bank or favorite retailers.

“Everything is moving towards that digital consumer experience model, and it's only going to get exacerbated because they now we're going to control the data, which is at the heart of understanding what consumers are doing, where they're doing it and how they're doing it,” he says. “It is going to be a great use case for leveraging distributed ledger technology and the ability to take digital receipts at a line item level, and allow consumers to share information in a very pinpointed way.”

Of course, a few hurdles exist. One is the connected systems. “There are so many systems in the marketplace today and they are not as interconnected as we would like because of how they've grown over time,” he says. “We want to create this connected world, but it will require cloud technology and advanced analytics (which are still evolving) to how ensure that loyalty data, personal data, and transaction history living in multiple systems can accurately and securely come together.”

The second hurdle is customer adoption. After all, consumers have to feel comfortable and confident that they really are in control. “If they want to destroy their data, they need to be able to do so. This is a crucial component of providing privacy and transparency,” he says. “People have been talking about this for several years, and we're getting close to where the technology advancements are going to enable us to cross those two hurdles and bring it all together.” 

Bottom line: “We have to be convicted as technologists,” says Vanderham. “While you can never predict a pandemic, you need to be market leading. It’s important to always be looking for ways to optimize that innovation horizon.”

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