NCR Government Systems — the kiosk and ATM machine maker’s federal subsidiary — works to bring the parent company’s self-checkout and check-in technologies to U.S. government agencies seeking to change their transactions and interactions with civilians and other constituents.
The Germantown, Maryland-based subsidiary received two boosts to its pipeline in 2015 through a potential 10-year, $256 million contract to help update resale business operations for the Defense Commissary Agency and an award from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service to install new point-of-sale terminals at military retail stores.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, NCR Government Systems President Stan Ratcliffe describes efforts at both agencies to transform their technology infrastructures through the contracts and offers his outlook on the evolution of self-service technology for 2016, as well as where industry can help the government update their business systems.
ExecutiveBiz: What were some of the main items in your agenda in 2015? What do you expect to focus on for this year?
Stan Ratcliffe: In 2015 NCR wanted to continue the discussions with agencies on electronic government as well as the ease of doing business with government, which came in a multiplicity of ways. We were trying to get momentum going on these major topics in support of the president’s initiative on electronic government.
Taking a look at 2016, it is still a reinforcement of the message. The government is much more attuned now into the meaning of eGov as opposed to a buzzword around the internet into making that government access with individuals easier, more feature-rich, more information-rich and an omnichannel experience.
Omnichannel means the individual’s interface with the government and contract services through multiple media. It is about starting that transaction on a medium of your choice and possibly ending or continuing that transaction without a loss of data on other opportunities.
An example is starting a transaction by telephone or on your internet at home and continuing it through your mobile device during the day. It could also be concluded at another medium or mechanism. It is the ability to look at that interaction on a channel-independent basis. Now that we’ve got attention, it is thinking multi-dimensional on your access methodology, on how you start and conduct transactions and think about where the data is coming from.
A lot of what we started in 2015 is concluding and beginning to morph into that much bigger picture. It still falls under the moniker of eGov but it is around different ways to look at eGov as an individual interfacing into it or as an agency conducting transactional business.
Other commercial partners of the government are starting to be engaged in service access as well. Independent nonprofits, other partners with the government and private businesses are starting to make their solutions, e-commerce, point-of-sale devices available for that extension of eGov because it helps veterans, government employees and the country.
ExecutiveBiz: Describe some goals of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s point-of-sale terminals contract with NCR?
Stan Ratcliffe: It started in a traditional mode of modernizing those point-of-sale hardware devices so that they have the most current technology, which they can grow with, such that the hardware will be software-independent. We sold technology that is not only industry-leading but it also afforded the government a significant amount of flexibility in the maintenance and support of that equipment over the multi-year period.
The particular product that was chosen has a lot of flexibility on self-maintenance where needed. It allowed parts to be very modular and subsystems where you can essentially break the machine down into three or four serviceable components that could be done at location by untrained personnel and that would occur on a global basis.
When you look at it from the military perspective, they are looking for quality, low total cost of ownership and for flexible partners that can provide supply-chain to support the military and/or augment the military’s capabilities. The military is looking at these devices as not just singular-purpose but multi-purpose devices to extend the touch point.
Devices have a primary responsibility and function. When working with these agencies, we are able to account for the use of these point-of-sale devices and make these very efficient during their primary working periods. Then we program the software or add icons and several other unique features turning them into multi-purpose devices that are still performing functions outside of the normal business hours.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the Defense Commissary Agency looking to do with its business systems in collaboration with NCR?
Stan Ratcliffe: Both the software and hardware of DeCA’s infrastructure were at the end of their lives. DeCA put together a very aggressive plan of moving forward with commercial off-the-shelf system that was functionally very rich. They wanted to move more into mainstream operations using that software.
The software needed to be flexible enough to handle those appropriate, unique government requirements but at the same time allowed DeCA to operate within their mission standard, while looking, feeling and acting like a commercial grocer. Several strengths included our software architecture going forward which is omnichannel.
At the same time, we are able to open up our architecture and provide connect points for our commercial off-the-shelf products but others to be connected to and interface with our solutions and others in the easiest and most seamless manner.
We have been on that journey with DeCA for a year. Things are going very well. We are starting off with a lot of the global enterprise management systems. We have our first cut over two weeks of first phase of that. It is an aggressive program but we are on track and it is going very well and people will see when they go into a Commissary location.
You see the evolution of that stores and products be on par with any of the top line grocers worldwide. You are going to see the systems over time become as good as if not better from a worldwide perspective on the services that they offer and they are building up to that. That is what we are doing on the back end level of infrastructure systems side.
ExecutiveBiz: What can industry play in helping industries as they update their business systems more or build new ones?
Stan Ratcliffe: We have a mantra inside NCR to make those everyday transactions easier. That is a broad term but that is what our technologies really do. We can help the agencies stimulate the vision on the “to be” state. When you look at the “to be” state and where we want to move, historically it has always been new systems, giant forklifts and changing things.
With the technologies that we have, when you define that “to be” state better we can provide the roadmap to get to that destination in a prompt, efficient and cost-effective manner with the data that you have, as well as building and adding on pieces that make sense.
First and foremost, the role we are playing is trying to repurpose, reuse, and update assets that allow multi-functional use. There is a tremendous amount of data, from managing, accessing and interpreting big data. A lot of the information is there; it doesn’t have to be a total forklift, it has to be an approach on how to get access to the data that is important in the individual user’s hands. EGov is really about the government serving the citizen.
ExecutiveBiz: What trend in self-service technology do you expect to pick up steam and gain traction this year?
Stan Ratcliffe: There is a tremendous amount of discussions around omnichannel. Simply put, a lot of people look at that and say that’s mobility and the easiest one to think of. There is a tremendous amount of traction around starting and stopping transactions from a multiplicity of access devices. One is the physical device that you touch. Two is the commonality of the interface and access to the data making it easy to use. Three is making sure that the data is acceptable or accessible independent of channel.
The fourth layer that we excel at is securing that data so that you can move across multiple channels. We see this trend picking up very much this year in applications that are surprising. It does everything that we are talking about with DeCA – anything from starting a grocery transaction at home and completing it on your phone when you get it to the store to where we are doing this in military logistics of securing the supply chain.
It them moves to supply questions around protected devices or information in one area and concluding it in another and completely different location, protecting the integrity of the transaction and the integrity of the data, device or entity that you are reaching out to.
That is one trend that is significantly taking up that we are seeing is optimizing around the reuse and repurposing of technology. A lot of this is software-driven and we repurpose and reuse a lot of technology and that’s all part of the vision of the “to be” state and the access methodology. We are seeing a lot of value being brought to the table, building value on existing systems, maintaining the integrity but also preparing the installed base.