TORONTO – Scotiabank is using familiar technology in a new way to streamline data capture using digital pens, digital paper and BlackBerry wireless handheld devices.

Seeing familiar technology from a new perspective and exploring emerging technologies and business concepts were the main themes at this year’s MindShift 2006 conference hosted by Allstream.

Scotiabank, for example, was looking for efficiencies in the highly competitive residential mortgage business by improving the application process used by salespeople. While it wanted to increase revenues for the bank, it didn’t want to push new technology down to users.

“Their comfort zone is pen and paper,” said Nando De Francesco, manager of business innovations with Scotiabank.

The bank embarked on a proof of concept with Allstream to pilot digital technology. Its salespeople use digital pens that scan as they write; they can be Bluetooth-enabled for wireless connectivity or used in conjunction with a docking station. Digital paper uses small black dots in mathematical patterns to map handwriting. Ink recognition software converts handwriting to text, while IP connectivity transmits data to the back-end.

Scotiabank chose to use BlackBerry devices over a wireless network. Using the thINK mobile wireless solution, handwritten information is forwarded to the server over a secure communications link using BlackBerry devices.

“The business process doesn’t change,” said De Francesco. “All we’re doing is digitizing the capture of data.” While it’s still too early in the process to determine ROI, the real benefit will come from salespeople processing more deals than they would have in the past.

Other benefits include cost savings, since it eliminates redundant data entry and scanning, as well as streamlined workflow and automatic backup. Another benefit is that the business process remains unchanged. “Technology adoption is virtually non-existent,” he said, since it’s just like using a pen and paper.

Other potential applications for the technology include account opening, security log book, signature capture and privacy compliance.

Another technology that is actually changing business processes is virtual payment, including chip-based technology in credit cards and using debit cards to pay online. Online debit payments are already a reality with retailers such as La Senza and The Source, but the concept doesn’t have a lot of publicity yet.

“Retailers are realizing their existing POS systems must be upgraded to accommodate new technology,” said Amer Matar, vice-president of product development with Moneris Solutions. Retailers want to move customers faster through checkout lines and provide more payment options but their systems are, on average, eight years old.

Data packet networks are becoming obsolete as IP penetrates the market, said Matar. The company’s network, based on Allstream, provides an always-on connection for merchants to connect with Moneris.

“You can see how fast it works at the Beer Store,” he said, where it takes about two seconds to approve a transaction. Merchants can connect directly to the Moneris host via a private IP network or the public Internet – or even dial-up. About 50 per cent of retailers are still using dial-up but, down the road, he expects dial-up will remain flat or decrease as legacy networks are phased out.

“IP allows us to penetrate new solutions taking a foothold (in the market),” he said. Within the last three years, Moneris has gained customers in new market segments, including insurance and education, by introducing capabilities such as batch processing and recurring payments.

Another technology that’s changing business processes is RFID. But data synchronization is a necessary first step to radio-frequency identification, which can then provide a foundation for collaboration with business partners.

RFID doesn’t need 100 per cent accuracy to gain substantial benefits, said Pierre Deschamps, executive vice-president of Cactus Commerce and chair of the marketing sub-committee for EPCglobal Canada. Its true value, he said, lies in sharing information with others.

That can’t happen, though, until you have your data in order. Without data synchronization, your information is not complete and you can’t base business decisions on it. “Otherwise you’re just pushing around bad data,” he said.

MindShift 2006 wrapped up on Thursdays.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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