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How smart cities will change the way you manage your smart payments

Future banking

With the advent of smart payments, companies need to be careful how they track employee spending

Recently a leading IT company held an event where every attendee was given a smart name-badge. Smart as in it had some circuitry in it. Aided by the identity encoded inside, the card was half-passport, half route planner for the event, with some doors that would open as people got close, and others that wouldn’t.

However, on leaving the event the card made a nuisance of itself because all the clever circuitry that had opened doors at the event clashed with an Oyster Card at the nearby Underground station.

While the Oyster Card is not, strictly speaking, the last word in smart city technology, the experiment is appropriate, because smart city projects have inceptors and life-cycles that do not have the look and feel of a classic private-sector IT project.

Singapore reinforces this observation, because Singapore was very early into the road pricing game - and they took to heart the idea that road pricing should be variable. This has led to the installation of immense steel gantries over the entry/exit points to road-priced areas, and in-car electronics that use a short-distance radio to talk to the charging system, and a driver accessible card reader showing the balance on their special-purpose credit-card shaped ERP cash card.

The system uses a charge card that closely resembles a conventional credit card, but which can’t be used for other purposes. The flow of purpose is very important in smart city systems as they tend to be characterised by service models that fit a narrow use case on the part of both users and administrators. This in turn drives a tendency to use custom devices, rather than recycling previously existing or open standards.

Oyster cards are interesting in this context, because they are able to use standard NFC charge/debit cards in place of the Oyster Card at the barriers; a relatively recent innovation when measured by the normal pace of change in city infrastructure projects.

As these more municipal projects become more widespread, there is also movement in the small business and private sector. iZettle, for example, is gaining ground rapidly as a payment method of last resort for small business operators, cabbies, etc. An iZettle reader will use a surprisingly wide range of bank cards and authorisation schemes to obtain payment. This is reassuring for small business operators, less so for those who have sent a workforce out on a citywide job with company cards mixed in with personal cards and single-purpose device cards all in the same wallet.

Need for transparency

This brings us to the solution of transparent card management. If your workforce is at risk of double charging or inadvertent card use by smart technologies of unknown platform or implementation, then the next best thing you can do is catch the payments as they come in to your systems. In theory you could put together that stream of transactions with an alerting system tied to the user’s cell phone, though by the time the charge has got that far it will be a moot point. Much more useful to an administrator is the statistical view of all the transactions of this type, or with this particular municipal creditor.

The normal answer to this is not to have company cards at all, and put the responsibility back on the staff; this is in part supported by the development in self-reporting by card suppliers, who market to consumer/employee selectors by having smartphone apps and indeed smartphone-based billing. These approaches are perfectly good for the casual individual user, but lack the appeal of a centralised overview that comes from administrative oversight. One important aspect of smart city functions and costs is presenting your business to the scheme operator as a large user, and hence in line for bulk-use discounts.

There is no doubt that all these technologies are in their infancy. In a decade or so the jobs now focussing on mobile phones as displays for payment systems will be moving down to smart cards themselves, or to wearables - but the diversity of platforms finding uses in smart city deployments means we will be seeing both the use of, and confusion about, card-based smart city payments for many years to come. Managing these is the only answer.

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