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RETAIL’S FUTURE LIES IN ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION

Guy Kirkwood, Chief Evangelist, UiPath

 

It’s no secret that the retail sector is going through a monumental transformation, whether bricks and mortar or online. Consequently, it has never been more important to take stock of business processes, assess where efficiencies can be made, and determine how technology can be maximised to offer a compelling proposition of both superior customer experience and operational improvement.

The deepening high street crisis is placing huge pressure to keep customers coming through the doors – while increasing back-office efficiencies to cut costs. Digital native retailers like Amazon and Ocado are already using new technologies, such as software robots to automate, to boost productivity and profit. These technologies are also driving the automation of new customer-centric business models and initiatives – data-driven tailored promotions and enhanced customer service being just two examples.

Initiatives like these are raising the bar in terms of increased customer expectations for the wider retail industry and setting new standards for other businesses to meet. This is putting additional strain on companies within the sector that are yet to evolve, forcing them to find ways to survive and hopefully thrive. However, the real solution – implementing game-changing digital transformation strategies – can be a challenge. Many businesses recognise that technology is changing things and want to benefit – but lack the vision, understanding and, crucially, the financial resources required to adopt cutting-edge technology.

 

Automation in the workplace

Big-ticket IT upgrades, replacements and integrations are often risky and prohibitively expensive. However, transformative technology exists that can work within an existing IT ecosystem to create a platform for long-term innovation and success. This is driven by robotic process automation (RPA) and AI. RPA harnesses the power of fast and highly efficient software robots to emulate human employees’ actions within digital systems, in order to execute business processes. Implemented effectively in the retail sector, automation can generate huge productivity benefits across numerous areas – retail supply chain (including forecasting), through the back-office (including invoice processing) and onto the shop floor (including store planning).

RPA is growing fast: Gartner Inc. predicts that by the end of 2022, 85% of large and very large organisations will have adopted some form of RPA. That’s because RPA offers not just productivity benefits, but also a reduction in error rates and huge processing capability. It can also increase job satisfaction, employee wellbeing and employee engagement, boosting worker happiness by freeing up human workers to do more creative work.

When it comes to RPA implementation, there are two main types of software robots available – unattended robots, which automatically complete pre-set tasks without employee intervention and at scale. These automate processes and redeploy staff elsewhere, driving up productivity and delivering immediate ROIIn addition attended robots can be deployed that respond to employee-triggered actions by completing specific processes automatically on request. While unattended robots have an important role to play particularly in automating back-office processes, It is attended robots that can  play an exciting and crucial role in the future for businesses  – not just completing tasks to free man hours up, but also extending the capabilities of human managers. Having the digital fluency to manage blended human and robot teams is one of five ‘super skills’ that will be required for the ‘jobs of the future’ – in other words, the skills needed for success in the evolving workplace.

 

The opportunities of RPA for retail

RPA is of particular relevance in retail, given the level of automation on which the industry depends, and the vast data management required. In a retail environment, software robots can automate essential,  standard, high-volume, repeatable, rule-based processes, from supply chain right through to post purchase.

In the supply chain, software robots are able to analyse and make actions based on data patterns – for example, triggering alerts or processes. This is particularly useful for retailers working with short supply times and especially in today’s heightened customer experience environment.

Back-office tasks ripe for RPA include financial processes – invoice processing, bill checking, and payments and HR process-related functions e.g., onboarding and offboarding employees, a time-consuming process in a sector that relies heavily on seasonal employees.

In the front office, RPA is ideal in call centres, chatbot operation and data-driven behavioural analysis – as well as workforce management, trade promotions and store planning. Studies have reported that automation can generate an accuracy rate of 98% in retail product categorisation, whilst reducing human effort by 80%.

 

RPA and customer satisfaction

The notion of customer experience as a differentiator is not new, but isn’t being taken seriously enough in the current retail climate. UK retailers currently lose £102 billion each year due to poor customer satisfaction – but AI and other new technologies could help improve the consumer experience, increasing repeat business and minimising abandoned orders. Here, RPA can help – automating time- and resource-heavy customer-focused activities, including complaint handling and loyalty scheme management. RPA can ensure customer complaints are addressed quickly and effectively, turning disgruntled customers into brand advocates and improving customer loyalty.

 

RPA can address processing returns and exchanges – time-consuming and costly for retailers and involving several steps in a number of different locations (from warehousing to finance). Handled badly, the returns process can alienate customers forever – so it’s a vital element to get right. Here, RPA can create sales orders for replacement items and process refunds – also taking care of financial accounting and inventory management. In short, RPA can transform the returns process from a financial burden into a streamlined and automated service that builds customer loyalty and gives retailers a competitive advantage. And, when it comes to planning for the future, RPA can extract and analyse marketing and consumer behaviour data, powering future campaigns and decision-making.

 

RPA is the future of retail

In summary, RPA offers retailers the opportunity to automate processes and data management today, while simultaneously positioning them for the future. Early adopters are already reaping the benefits. Those retailers still uncertain of the opportunities that RPA can bring will be assured by the fact that RPA can provide more opportunities than threats for retail workforces. It’s a no-brainer for businesses, too, as the benefits of RPA easily transcend headcount and cost reduction.

 

It’s time for retailers to welcome the (software) robots.

 

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Technology

BEFORE THE INK IS DRY: CORRECTING BIOMETRIC SPOOFING MYTHS

Eric Setterberg, System Design Engineer at Fingerprints

Biometric authentication is highly robust, and the latest solutions offer considerably greater security than their authentication predecessors: PINs and passwords.

But as biometrics moves into new areas such as payments and access control, privacy and security concerns are rising. Biometrics has long been subject to scrutiny, with many elaborate examples of people working to trick biometric sensors to crack devices in the media and online.

To ensure the continued adoption of biometrics, it is important to shine a light on the reality of biometric spoofing.

 

The Evolution of Biometric Solutions…

The first use of fingerprints as forensic evidence was in an Argentinean court case in the late 1800s. With the technology still in its infancy, this was done manually and by eye, comparing latent residual prints lifted from crime scenes to charts of inked fingerprints obtained from the suspects at arrest.

A few decades later, the FBI began collecting fingerprints of criminals and civilians. They also introduced the automated comparison of fingerprints by computers in the 1970s. These “traditional representations” have now been standardized by ISO and ANSI.

… and their Spoofs

The earliest and simplest of these matching devices were easy to spoof. Really, all you needed was a photocopy or a good image of a fingerprint to make a successful spoof.

But as biometrics moved to more advanced technology, the game for biometric ‘spoofers’ has changed and the task of crafting fake fingerprints is considerably more difficult.

The biggest boost for biometric security, however, came with its introduction into mobile phones.

 

How Mobile Changed the Game

Before the widespread integration of fingerprint sensors in smartphones, the technology underwent significant evolution. No operator wanted to use large biometric sensors in modern phone designs. Sensors had to become much smaller to reach the perfect price and design point for the mobile world, but this meant needing to capture data from a smaller surface area of the finger.

To maintain the security of these smaller sensors, algorithms evolved significantly in order to utilize a greater amount of data per unit area. These mobile-driven hardware and software changes resulted in the optimized image capture of modern touch sensors.

As a result, tricking these systems now requires a considerably higher level of detail to be reproduced correctly for a match to be successful, far beyond rudimentary gummi bear spoofs and photocopies

 

Setting the Perfect Spoofing Scenario

Compromising fingerprint authentication via spoofing can still be done, even with all the technological advancements. However, it now requires considerable care, skill, money, and time. And to start, a good latent print…

To retrieve a latent print that’s high quality enough to work, you either need a willing volunteer to lend you their finger, or the commitment to stalk a victim until a viable fingerprint can be retrieved. Even with a decent latent print, modern spoofs then require advanced photoshop skills and/or a lab to successfully convert latent prints into effective moulds.

So – what about those articles boasting how easily they have hacked the latest smartphone device’s fingerprint sensor?

In fact, there are only two instances of fingerprint spoofing seen in the media nowadays: proof of concept and cooperative spoofs. Lay enthusiasts and media go through the effort of setting up a lab to create spoofs with latent fingerprints either from themselves or cooperative volunteers. Even the most successful of these take months of work, a highly skilled team, and the perfect scenario of circumstances.

Put simply, the effort required for spoofing modern fingerprint sensors cannot be applied at any scale. Each biometric spoof needs to go through the same laborious process and clinical conditions. So, if you can bring together a willing group of spoofing enthusiasts, tricking a biometric device could earn you fifteen minutes of fame on the internet, but it is likely to be conducive to a successful criminal business plan…

 

A “How” Without a “Why”

Spoofing biometrics remains technically possible, and there will always be those up to the challenge of trying to hack the latest technology. But the reality is that modern biometric solutions require more time, skill, and frankly, luck, to successfully spoof than ever before. Not to mention that tireless R&D work is continuously strengthening spoofing resistance. And, as use cases start to combine multiple biometric authenticators, such as combining fingerprints with face or iris to perform an authentication, spoofing will only become more complex.

By comparison, hacking PINs and passwords is considerably simpler and more scalable, making it far more lucrative. And, criminals generally take the path of least resistance.

For the average consumer, greater use of biometric authentication is not only a means of simplifying authentication, but dramatically improving the security of their devices, applications, and personal data. With PINs and passwords still the most common authentication method outside of mobile, it is imperative that the true security and advanced nature of modern biometric authentication solutions are understood.

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Finance

ARE WE AT THE TIPPING POINT FOR GLOBAL BIOMETRIC PAYMENT CARD ADOPTION?

By Vince Graziani, CEO of IDEX Biometrics ASA

 

Following the coronavirus outbreak, consumers are ready to go cashless more than ever before. With many businesses discouraging the use of cash because of hygiene questions that surround handling money, contactless payments are front of mind to avoid touching pin pads.

But in an increasingly cashless ecosystem, there is a growing threat of card fraud from the lack of authentication. So we have reached the point where contactless payments need to be made more secure in order to ensure transactions are hygienic, convenient and free from the risk of fraud.

To resolve this, it’s time for biometric smart cards to reach the market on a global scale. By integrating fingerprint sensor technology into a payment smart card, it can provide convenience and greater security to prepare for the cashless economy. The user can pay for transactions by authenticating their finger on their own card and without having to touch a pin pad or sharing their card with the retailer.

 

Consumers want biometric smart cards in their wallets now

We know that consumers are ready and willing to embrace biometric payment cards. Thanks to scan-to un-lock functions on smartphones and finger or face scanning at passport control, consumers are already familiar with biometric technology in their everyday lives. The acceptance of that technology in a payment card is no lower. In particular, IDEX research revealed that 41% of consumers would be willing to adopt a fingerprint biometric payment card.

However, banks and card issuers aren’t responding to that demand with the speed that consumers need. As early as 2018, tech magazine Wired announced that biometric payment cards were ready to hit our wallets. But following more than 15 years of research and development, and a number of biometric payment card trials around the globe, we still don’t have biometric fingerprint payment cards in our hands.

So why haven’t banks responded to consumer demands and embraced global adoption of biometric cards?

 

Jumping the global adoption hurdles

Well, according to analysis from Goode Intelligence, there are several hurdles to overcome before biometric payment cards can be shipped to users in their millions – including cost and scheme certification.

Despite being hailed as the future-tech solution to end our use of cash and cards, mobile payments haven’t reached anywhere near the expected level of public adoption in the UK. As of 2019, only around 19% of the UK population used mobile payments. Of course, the fact that Apple, giants in the payment app space, launched a physical credit card  last year, and that Google is set to follow suit is further proof of the customer demand for bank cards over mobile payments.

Therefore, it’s clear that the majority of the population still prefer the ease and familiarity of contactless cards. In fact, IDEX research found that six-in-ten (60%) UK consumers would not give up their debit card in favour of mobile payments, so it’s crucial that banks continue to evolve smart bank cards for the next generation of payments.

 

Breaking down the cost barrier

Of course, cost caused by the manufacturing complexity of biometric payment cards has long been seen as the main barrier to mass adoption. Initially, the cost of the card was considered so prohibitive that a charge would have to be passed on to the end-user. But now this barrier looks set to come down. Thanks to new low-cost sensor technology combined with an enhanced biometric-system-on-chip ASIC, the cost of materials required to build a biometric smartcard, has been drastically reduced.

If card issuers embrace the new fingerprint system technology, it will lead to an improvement in manufacturing processes and yields. The sensor technology will substantially reduce the overall time to market and ultimately reduce costs to the bank and the end-user. Therefore, this development will help manufacturers to overcome the barriers preventing mass adoption of biometric smart cards.

 

Towards global adoption

We’re now at the tipping point. Consumers today are demanding greater security and hygiene in their payment process. They want biometric payment cards now to make sure their payments fit the bill in this new world.

Many of the barriers to global adoption are no longer the concerns they once were.  With the obstacles overcome, the adoption of biometric payments cards is likely to start ramping up in 2021. Banks and smartcard providers should now adopt biometric payment cards on a global scale, to prepare for payments of the future.

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