In a bid to smarten up ATMs (automatic teller machines), NCR has developed a new software package enabling a myriad of online services to reach consumers via teller machines. Not everyone's convinced, with competitors labeling the concept "confusing".
"ATM networks have become host-centric. The machines at the user end are still treated as a dumb terminal despite the fact they have their own computing power and processing capabilities," explains Jeff Davies, northern region manager, self service solutions for NCR Australia.
90 per cent of ATMs run on the outmoded OS2 platform using complex switching technology that contributes to a number of hurdles -- the foremost of which is cost, according to Davies.
"When banks attempt to alter the ATM interface, even in the slightest way, the expense quickly runs into the hundreds of thousands and millions," he said.
To overcome this archaic methodology, NCR sank $4-5 million dollars in research and development into a middleware gateway, christened eRIC (engine for reaching individual customers). This effectively Web-enables the ATM and allows targeted marketing and services to be dispensed.
"All financial transactions go straight through eRIC and are still performed via the switch," said Davies. "Anything else is intercepted... eRIC can identify the user via their pin, offering targeted information or services pulled from the Internet or any alternative system."
NCR is currently exploring the possibilities of eRIC with two of Australia's major banking institutions. A launch announcement is expected within weeks. Davies said NCR will do most roll-outs via its own services arm, but will engage one or two partners for low-end installs.
Meanwhile, NCR's peers are questioning the validity of the concept saying the company has neglected to consider consumer/ATM interaction issues. ATM host services firm ACI Worldwide has attempted to offer recharge options on prepaid mobile phones via ANZ, Westpac and National Australia Bank ATMs - a service it said has caused unbelievable confusion.
"At an ATM people follow a pattern rather than reading the signs," said Harry Thomas, marketing manager of ACI Worldwide (Pacific).
In addition, Thomas said any services, such as ticket purchasing linked into the financial transaction will cause severe complications. Davies said NCR is in preliminary discussions with switching vendors such as Cisco and Compaq Tandem to flesh out the implications for content management and links into the bank's IP networks.