Two-and-a-half years ago, banking solution experts Eckehard Schmidt and Ali Asif founded an SAP innovation lab to give employees a place where they could invest some of their working hours in new ideas. The latest prototypes the lab has brought forth facilitate mobile payments through Google Glass and the Pebble smartwatch.
In establishing the Mobile Banking Innovation Lab (MBIL) some 30 months ago, Eckehard Schmidt and Ali Asif set out to achieve three main objectives: promote new ideas, learn about new technologies, and provide the corresponding organizational setting. The format they have gone on to refine through an initiative of the Financial Services & Master Data Governance (FSMDG) development unit is now in use at SAP’s development locations in Walldorf, Bangalore, and Newtown Square.
“There’s a clear organizational framework and dedicated facilities, as well as access to various devices, an extensive technical infrastructure, and above all, the expertise of experienced colleagues from the core MBIL team who have been working together since 2011,” Schmidt explains. A banking development manager who heads two development teams, Schmidt has an ideal partner in Asif – a product manager in mobile banking with an excellent eye for solutions that make sense on the market.
It all starts with a short proposal
The MBIL has since become a well-connected element of SAP’s organization thanks in part to joint projects with related areas of industry and a regular exchange of ideas and experience with the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg. There, a diverse team of designers, strategists, and project managers from the Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC) work alongside customers in a series of co-innovation projects.
Each project begins with a short proposal: Someone presents an idea, an estimate of costs, and the potential and risks involved, much like in a miniature business case. Along with the core MBIL team and the “product owner” at the company – who is often both the potential beneficiary and sponsor of the idea’s prototypical realization – the parties involved then decide whether the idea should be pursued. In most cases, partners from the fields of science and industry are brought on board to support the projects or take the reins themselves.
Mobile payment prototypes based on Google Glass, Pebble
One of the MBIL’s latest ideas with innovative potential involves shopping and paying with Google Glass or the Pebble smartwatch. This seemingly simple idea is based on a concept a group of students developed for their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in recent months under the supervision of SAP experts.
In an example scenario involving Google Glass, a consumer creates an electronic shopping list before heading to the store. When he enters the store, he uses the voice command “Okay Glass, start my shopping” to activate an app that then displays his list. To mark an item for purchase, the shopper only needs to hold a product in his hand and scan its barcode or QR code. After finding everything on his list, he can either continue shopping or start the payment process by saying “Okay Glass, pay”. The smart glasses then display his PIN, which the shopper enters into a terminal at the cash register to confirm the amount that will be automatically withdrawn from his bank account.
The smartwatch scenario is similar: When the user enters a store, the device vibrates on her wrist to notify her of newly available coupons. Like with the Google Glass app, she can also bring up her bank account on the watch whenever needed. Since the Pebble smartwatch lacks a camera, however, items need to be scanned as usual at the register. No need to dig out your wallet or smartphone, though: Another vibration indicates when it’s time to pay, which only requires a quick confirmation.
Findings set to spur additional innovations
Schmidt sees the main advantage in the fact that this system makes paying an afterthought, which allows the shopping experience to come to the fore. Providing the underlying technological foundation, meanwhile, is SAP Mobile Platform 3.0. One of the platform’s components, SAP Mobiliser, delivers functions that ensure the integration and security of the transactions involved. Identifying yourself by pressing your fingerprint onto your smartphone is also possible, as is handling all payments through a stored value account. These virtual accounts can be stocked with funds using micropayment providers like PayPal. In addition, SAP Mobiliser supports current accounts and card accounts: When the user buys products using Google Glass or Pebble, the corresponding purchase amounts are subtracted from his or her balance.
It bears mentioning that the scenarios described above are currently concept prototypes; whether and how they reach the market in SAP solutions remains to be seen. According to Schmidt, however, the potential their basic elements present for future use cases is hard to overlook.
“Through these and other ideas we’ve realized as prototypes in the past, our development organization has already gained a number of valuable insights that have resulted in considerable added value for our customers, either in combination with or as complements to existing SAP solutions,” he reports. “The projects we’ve taken on over the past two-and-a-half years have also enabled us to discover some skills that had been lying dormant in our employees and attract other talented people to the company.”
Meanwhile, the results presented at gatherings such as SIBOS 2013 in Dubai, the DSAG Fall Conference 2013, and the SAP Forum for Banks 2014 have met with considerable interest from customers and partners alike.
In-store navigation planned for Google Glass
The innovations the MBIL is planning to come up with next include an in-store navigation enhancement for the Google Glass shopping experience.
“We’re going to employ iBeacons in the same way we’re already using them to identify customers at the point of sale,” Schmidt explains. Here, Bluetooth signals relayed by installations in place around the sales area will constantly transmit various information, such as on a customer’s position in relation to an item on his or her shopping list.
“It’s not all that complicated from a technical perspective, but our employees will be able to use this as inspiration for further innovations,” Schmidt says.
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