Don’t Ask Dumb Questions, Alexa

Contextual experiences for secure-enabled ecosystems don’t quite roll off the tongue. When I first came up with this expression, which in typical engineering fashion was distilled down to an acronym – CESEE – by my technology team, it was almost immediately changed to Lifestyle by my marketing team.

Regardless of what you call it, the concept was to focus on letting the applications drive transactions, simplifying the overall experience, leveraging (responsibly, I must add) underlying data to drive the necessary intelligence in taking away all the repetitive and mundane transactions (like picking a card or applying a coupon or paying for co-pay or paying the electricity bill on time – duh!) across the entire ecosystem.

I was involved in evolving the early digital wallet into a platform for enabling mobile wallets, and eventually deploying various mobile commerce and mobile payment services. When I say early, what I mean is really early, or rather too early; we built a digital wallet in the mid-90s, used infrared as the proximity medium for our first-generation mobile wallets in the late-90s, and started to deploy platforms for mobile commerce by 2000.

As we eventually built and deployed several generations of our platform for large carriers, banks, and merchants around the world, we realized that the mobile wallet was actually a component, albeit an important one, of the overall e-plumbing. What we needed to do was to evolve the mobile wallet interface and infrastructure into an overarching contextual experience for conducting secure transactions across the entire ecosystem – for finance, retail, health, and government applications.

Before we go to the sexy contextual and intelligent experience, let us explore the underlying secure-enabled ecosystem. This may appear to be archaic, and at times, even boring – especially for all the new tech, but rest assured, this is not trivial.

By secure, we mean the necessary security to drive transactions across disparate domains without any intermediation between various participating entities. By enabled, we mean the necessary technology, business model, and compliance environment that will be necessary to strike the right relationship between these entities. By ecosystem, we mean entities related to connectivity & distribution, payment & settlement, and product & service provisioning for finance, retail, health, and government applications.

While all too nearly, and most current wallets focus on enabling transactions between two dedicated domains. In the real world, we need to conduct transactions across diverse and disparate domains. To add to the complexity, in most instances, these disparate domains have competing or conflicting interests. To makes things even more interesting, given the current sensitivities (rightly so) around personal data and related access, we can now expect tighter scrutiny and eventually regulation of some kind of walled gardens.

If either the regulators start dismantling walled-gardens or the business model becomes unviable because of growing consumer concerns, the complexity of building this secure-enabled ecosystem will grow exponentially.

Hence, whether you prefer CESEE or Lifestyle, the guiding principle that is as much applicable today as it was almost a decade ago, is to allow providers to balance performance with risk on a per-user-per-transaction basis, and simultaneously, interrupt consumers’ lives only for decisions that the underlying technology cannot make on its own. Or, as my marketing team would have said, Don’t ask dumb questions, Alexa!