14
SEP
2017

How Softjourn Used Microsoft Cognitive Services for a Receipt Recognition POC

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Our client’s Problem

Our client manages prepaid cards for its clients, making it possible for them to track their expenses. Often, corporate customers wish to track the expenses of their employees. In the old days, traveling employees laid out funds for their expenses and submitted expense reports for review and, ultimately, reimbursement. Our client allows these expenses to be prepaid by the company, removing the need for employees to use their own funds and to sift through old receipts. Softjourn previously created a mobile app to allow expense-tracking to take place, including allowing administrators to monitor spending policies, to capture receipts, to transfer funds to a card, and to view specific transactions, account balances, or transaction summary information. But how to validate these expenses, when employees might, through their error or malice, submit receipts that should not qualify for spending through the card? Most immediately, how to even pull information from them?

Softjourn’s MSCS Solution

For this problem, the balance tipped in favor of using analytics-as-a-service, and in particular Microsoft Cognitive Services. Roman Kosiuk, middle .NET developer at Softjourn, implemented the proof of concept. He helped explain to us how it all works.

The corporate customer’s employee scans and uploads a picture of their receipt, taken with their smart phone. Softjourn’s proof of concept (POC) sends it to MSCS’s Computer Vision API to perform OCR (optical character recognition). This pulls out editable lines of text from the receipt image, which are returned to the POC along with indications of Microsoft’s level of confidence in this result. Text with a low confidence level must be sent to be read by a human; other text contains errors that Softjourn can correct automatically. Next, templates encoding standard receipt formats are selected and applied to extract the various important pieces of information from the receipt, including transaction total, amount of tax, card charged, and address of the establishment. This allows for initial validation of transaction totals. Receipts from designated vendors may already have an approval code  ??  for others there may be more work to do for validation. To this end, MSCS also returns a “raciness” indicator (checking for a situation in which the expense ought to be rejected for lack of relevance/appropriateness).

Other analytics-as-a-service providers

Microsoft is not the only game in town providing analytics services for financial and other applications. Another is IBM. Their Bluemix offering leverages Watson (yes, the Jeopardy player) to provide analytics in domains including investment management. Their Wealth Portfolio Management Bot, for example, might predict how certain events would affect the value of each investment in a portfolio. Bottlenose sources from a wide variety of data streams to provide analytic insights in areas including finance, competitive intelligence, and risk estimation. Domo provides a platform by which organizations can access analytics not via APIs (at least not yet), but via numerous 3rd party apps.

Because this client is a Microsoft shop, using .NET, Azure, and VSTS (Visual Studio Team Service), it made sense to go with the Microsoft product for this project. Roman also cited Microsoft’s excellent documentation for their Cognitive Services as a factor in selecting that tool.

 

The future with analytics-as-a-service

At Softjourn, we anticipate many additional potential uses of this technology. It could help our clients perform various forms of authentication or otherwise identify important situations. We anticipate brainstorming sessions with clients in which we will together identify use cases for this technology. Because MSCS is fully cross-platform, we can use it in iOS, Android, Windows, or Linux applications, i.e., in mobile, desktop, or server applications.

Roman found APIs such as those of MSCS to mark a breaking point in how software is developed. Rather than needing to handle each task in detail, the results of various services can be patched together to form a full solution. To him, this was “a breath of fresh air.”

Categories: Microsoft, Software Development |

23
AUG
2017

PROTECTING PAYMENTS IN EVERY WAY

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Asking your users to run your app is asking for their trust. These users may be your customers or their employees. They are likely a crucial resource, and their trust is, or should be, sacrosanct. If there is a security breach, you will be blamed, even if it is due to the actions of another user. The trust of your users is developed over time by all the decisions that you make based on their interests. When our clients ask us to design or implement apps to be run by your users, we take that responsibility seriously.

We’ll protect consumers by designing fraud prevention and security into your prepaid card app, making payment information more secure and alerting consumers to possible fraudulent accounts and transactions.

Our clients can define their own policies to prevent fraud. You know how your cards are intended to be used. Make sure that this information is leveraged to help keep your users safe. We’ll work with you to help you encode invalid use cases, such as a card being out-of-state, into rules that will trigger alerts when violated, stopping potential frauds before they occur. Your users may not thank you for it until somebody else’s system is compromised.

Things we do to protect our clients and their users:

  • – We build EMV compliance into your chip-enabled card
  • – We leverage tokenization in place of the actual debit card number
  • – We use biometrics, like fingerprints, retina scans, face/voice recognition
  • – We scan receipts for malware upon importing them into a device

Learn more about fraud prevention and security with Softjourn.

 

Categories: Finance, Software Development |

21
JUL
2017

Your Body as a Password

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Even the most obscure password can be hacked. This means that developers are always trying to come up with the next best thing. In a classic example of life imitating art—think of all those sci-fi movies going decades back, where doors were opened by eye or voice scans—we may have hit the jackpot with biometric authentication. After all, your physical attributes, such as fingerprints, iris or voice, are not so easy, if not impossible to duplicate.

Biometric authentication takes advantage of features that are already native to nearly every single smartphone—a microphone, camera, fingerprint scanner —and allows your phone to use a layered authentication method to prove your identity. This could be a combination of face and voice recognition or any other mix of biometrics that is nearly impossible to hack.

Many companies are already leading the way when it comes to bringing multimodal biometrics to the average smartphone consumer. Some are even trying to bring biometric authentications to commercial entities, such as financial services and payment providers.

One very good verifier for biometrics that these companies are working on is GPS location. After all, if someone is trying to access your phone or bank account from a location thousands of miles from where you actually are, there’s a good chance it’s not you trying to do it and that can be easily verified.

Read the full article for more trends to follow in 2017.

Categories: Innovation, Software Development |

19
JUL
2017

The latest in Access Control processes

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Using smart tones.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/07/05/audio-tickets-end-long-lines-music-festivals-gigs/

Will it prevent “touts”, that remains to be seen.  Rival for RFID at venues, probably yes, especially since they are considering adding wallets using this technology to let patrons pay for goods at the venues.

 

https://ticketing.softjourn.com/en

Categories: Innovation, Ticketing |

6
JUL
2017

EMV Technology

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As EMV cards become the standard, it is imperative for software companies that work with financial institutions to upgrade their technology. But there are some distinct challenges involved in upgrading quickly and cost-effectively.

 

Advantages of EMV Technology

  • – Helps merchants reduce fraud
  • – Mitigate liability
  • – Give peace of mind to consumers because it provides greater security than conventional magnetic stripe cards
  • – Processing time is comparable to online transactions
  • – The microprocessor on an EMV chip card eliminates the possibility of counterfeiting

 

Upgrade Challenges

  • – Integrating a compliant EMV payment device with a software application can be a long and expensive undertaking because of stringent EMV and payment card industry (PCI) requirements.
  • – Technical issues may arise at the point of implementation because of incompatible software residing on a merchant’s client. In addition, store employees must understand how to use an EMV device and when to accept EMV payments with often with limited, or no, instruction.
  • – Chip cards take more time to process than mag-stripe and NFC payments.

 

Visit us at Softjourn.com to get more information about Upgrading to EMV Technology.

Categories: Finance, Innovation, Mobile Payments |

11
MAY
2017

Design Thinking: Walk through design in 5 stages!

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We’d like to tell you a story about how we put ourselves in our customer’s shoes and came up with a unique prototype following 5 stages of the design-thinking approach. The story ends with great design for a mobile cinema app, but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. 

 

How everything started

One of our previous clients, a chain of movie theaters, decided to rewrite their mobile app for ticket purchases. The thing is, they wanted something completely different from what they already had. Something that would offer ticket buyers an innovative, cool design and a better experience. They called a tender among Ukrainian software companies and the main requirement for the new app was “it should provoke excitement and admiration—in other words, have the Wow! factor.” Softjourn couldn’t stand back from this kind of challenge, so we rolled up our sleeves and took part in the competition.

 

Key facts when preparing this prototype:

  • – a total of 6 days spent
  • – 6 hours that included:
  • – preparing a concept;
  • – coming up with the design;
  • – developing a prototype;
  • – presenting the result to the client;
  • – 41 cups of coffee consumed;
  • – 2 whiteboards and 93 stickers used while brainstorming.

 

Read our full story because you, too, may have ideas that you aren’t quite sure how they might work in real life. Or you may even not know how everything should ultimately look. If this sounds right, try following these 5 steps with your in-house team—or make the journey with Softjourn—and see your prototype come to life!

Categories: Innovation, Mobile Payments, Software Development |

10
MAY
2017

Tips to Develop a Blockchain App

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At Softjourn, we recently launched SJ Coins, a blockchain loyalty program for employees, and in this piece, we’re sharing the steps that will help you create a successful DLT solution built on a blockchain application.

  1.  Define your use case. (What pain point do you want to address?) Answering this puts you in a position to determine budget and launch date. It will also help you determine if you can do the development work internally or if you need outside assistance.
  2.  Define how you want to handle your blockchain database. Next, you need to decide whether your blockchain database will be public, private, or hybrid. This information should help you analyze the available solutions and decide among these options:

– Plug into a running, public blockchain: Use an open, public blockchain like Bitcoin or Ethereum.

– Create a private blockchain network: Install blockchain software on premises and run it privately without open access for third parties or create a private network with partners or trusted peers.

– Go with a cloud-based solution provider: IBM BlueMix, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Microsoft Azure offer blockchain as a service (BaaS). Monax’s platform is available on AWS and Azure.

– Start a public blockchain network: Run your own open-to-the-public blockchain instance, which enables anyone on the net to become a node.

  1. Test your idea with a POC. Because you need to show stakeholders that your idea is worth investing in, you’ll want to consider how to demonstrate that your use case will function in your environment as promoted
  1.  Begin the blockchain software development cycle. During this step, you must make sure that developers have their own “sandboxes” in which to test and modify the app. Of course, it is also critical that your app passes user acceptance testing.
  1.  Run your blockchain application in the production environmentThe final step in the development cycle is to run your app in the production. When it passes the user acceptance testing, it’s ready to be sold on the App Store, Google Play, or other appropriate outlets

 

Ask Softjourn about a workshop to develop some use cases that could work for you and how Monax’s smart contract SDKs could apply to your planned use cases.

Categories: Finance, Innovation, Mobile Payments, Software Development |

5
MAY
2017

Rise of Contactless Payments

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The rise of technology has made it possible to cut out many annoying-but-necessary interactions. But one of the most common yet “low-tech” of these is when you have to wait in line to pay for goods or services. That said, 2017 could be the year that contactless payments take over to replace cash in the majority of our sales interactions.

The real rise of contactless payments started back in 2014, when Apple introduced Apple Pay. It was the only major contactless wallet app on the market at the time.Since then, however, the market has seen many, many mobile wallets become available, with apps like Samsung Pay, Android Pay, Walmart Pay, Microsoft Pay, Chase Pay and even Kohl’s Pay now available. Today, there are many contactless payment options that each come with their own set of perks and benefits for customers who regularly use them.

Softjourn has previously talked about mobile payments and how not to get lost while developing such apps. This time, we’ll let you know how it works, how secure it is, and the technology behind it.

Categories: Finance, Mobile Development, Mobile Payments, Software Development |

7
FEB
2017

“APPMAKERS” VS NATIVE?

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While the various mobile dev camps, from the exclusively HTML5/JavaScript/CSS3 mobile Websters and the native code purists, to the hybrid mobile app fans, argue over which approach is better, the reality is that businesses simply need mobile applications that work for their employees, business partners and customers. And some companies have started looking more in a different direction – low-code and no-code mobile development tools.

At Softjourn, we’ve seen the evolution of cross-platform apps that have “learned” to do more and over a few years (see for instance, Xamarin – a great fit for some apps, It seems we are still comparing. Do we use PhoneGap or Titanium?). But what about the low/no code approach? Is it possible to build an app with no coding?

Today, we’re looking at a few mobile app development frameworks to understand if this is the next big thing to mobile app development. Not long ago, we heard from one of our customers that they were looking at Appmachine to create a video live-streaming app similar to http://liveairshow.com/, so we decided to look at that tool. In addition, we looked at BuildFire and iBuildApp to test what the three products can do.

Here is a quick overview of all three: LOW-CODE DEVELOPMENT PLATFORMS: “APPMAKERS” VS NATIVE?

Categories: Mobile Development, Software Development |

19
DEC
2016

Fintech Trends of 2016

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2016 has been a year of major changes in finance technology. Despite the many changes to payment processing methods, brand-new systems that were ushered in not long ago are already are widely used for everyday cash flow. For retailers who are interested in staying on top of the latest technology and the convenience that their customers expect, here are the nine top fintech trends that we at Softjourn noted in 2016 that are likely to continue into 2017. Some of them we originally saw at Money 20/20 in Copenhagen in April.

 

1. Banks and Distributed Ledger Technolgy (DLT)

Banks are now using the same blockchain data that is collected on cryptocurrency. As banks come up with alternative uses for blocking technology, third-party transactions will become more trusted and secure while offering a much less costly method for transfer between accounts. Blockchain technology could also work in drafting contracts, executing different kinds of permissions and transfers, and much more. 

At Softjourn, we decided to try out blockchain for ourselves and developed an in-house loyalty system based on a cryptocurrency called SJ Coins with smart contracts. Check here for the full success story and what Softjourners are saying about blockchain as users.

“We’re talking not specifically about blockchain so much as about distributed ledger technology, which has enormous potential to disrupt business models that have been used decades. We are living in interesting times when the financial sector is actively investigating what it could build using DLT. The spirit of innovation is leading to new use cases every day and we should see the first DLT production systems within a matter of months or at most a year or so.” —Anatoliy Okhotnikov, director for development at Softjourn.

Know your Customer (KYC) is possibly the most popular application of DLT today. Companies like Alloy counter false positives, which can cause a service to lose revenue by rejecting potential customers who are actually creditworthy. KYC and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance mean that every service has to remain cautious, but the flexibility offered by tools like Alloy’s means that companies can easily customize their own rules for verifying identity when taking customers on board. PS Softjourn especially loved their dashboard. At FinDEVr in Santa Clara, in October, this was a hotly talked-about topic. You can read our complete review of this conference here.

2. Moving from cash to bank cards

With many mobile payments linked directly to credit cards and to tap the technology and enhanced security available on many cards, consumers are moving away from cash. Not only do providers offer amazing bonuses for regularly using and paying down a credit card—it’s just much more convenient to carry one card that can handle every purchase. Customers are not only using plastic to pay for products online but also linking it to social media for money transfers. As mobile payments continue to grow and the ease of using cards at payment processing terminals becomes more evident, customers are switching to banking cards over cash. One Softjourn client, a prepaid business Visa card service provider called PEX Card, also developed mobile applications as an extension to their card service.

3. NFC mobile payments spread

Contractless mobile payments have become extremely popular throughout Europe and elsewhere. Mobile payment systems using Near Field Communication or NFC are now widely recognized for basic consumer uses, such as the London tube, cafés and restaurants, and more. “Contractless” is the hot term that’s being used to push this form of payment. With many ATMs across the UK increasing limits for contractless digital payment to £30, the convenience of this type of NFC technology is growing. Although the NFC payment option has been around since 2008, many supermarket chains are still not on board with this new trend. As contactless NFC payments become more versatile, we expect to continue to see demand for this type of payment grow. At Softjourn, we learned how not to get lost with mobile payment apps: you might want to try it, too!

4. Cryptocurrency on the march

As a way to manage online payments, cryptocurrency is of huge interest to investors. Bitcoin remains at the top of the heap as a trusted cryptocurrency and as it becomes more widely accepted and valued, cryptocurrency can only continue to grow by leaps and bounds through 2017. With more and more types of cryptocurrency being developed, it’s only a matter of time before we start to see the wide acceptance of other cryptocurrencies and potentially even a financial institution will come up with its own version of a cryptocurrency for customer use. For the most part, consumers appear to enjoy the convenience and the security of using this alternative payment method.Softjourners explored this particular trend at CeBIT 2016. You can check out our recent article about the impact of crypto-finance on financial services.

5. Cloud servers and “big data”

Moving data sets that are especially large or complex to cloud servers with point-of-sale (POS) applications and financial institutions could offer a number of huge changes that will have a positive impact on customers. This data could help improve security on every transaction, simplify the shopping experience, and make applications for loans or registers for new accounts much simpler. With wider access to big data on each consumer, marketers can enjoy better information to sell products and consumers can enjoy a much greater level of user-specific design and experience. Of course, the big challenge with big data is to manage security and privacy alongside data capture.

6. Online business lending

By using big data, a catalog of credit ratings, secure information and more on every consumer, the process of online business lending is becoming much easier. A number of financial institutionshave set up sites for small loans, and banking and credit card applications all aimed at small businesses and individuals. Rather than having to go into a financial institution to apply for a business loan, it’s now possible to fill in forms online and receive almost instant approval to start up a business. Third-party companies are using this same system to provide more opportunities and greater competition in the commercial loans market. With improvements to this technology and with big data being collected on each consumer, Softjourn expects the nature of online business lending to change. Not only is it easier to transfer money to clients, but through crowd-funding and resources like social media payments, it could become easier for a business owner to gain support from the average customer or investor.

7. Online transfers can improve credit ratings

Online money transfers are becoming easier than ever before thanks to online digital wallets and the development of payments over social media. In the past, using many digital wallets would not affect credit ratings. Today, however, digital wallets like PayPal are enacting a big data chain initiative that will actually affect their customers’ credit ratings. This means that when users send and receive payments through their digital wallet their credit ratings could actually improve when the digital wallet is linked to their credit card. As what we call the digital wallet is re-engineered, we are beginning to see how future online payments could change the average consumer’s finances and credit history. See how Softjourn dealt with iKobo’s online money transfer service.

8. UX—not just a buzzword

User experience is not only just a buzzword commonly used in application design: it also plays a key role in the research and development of virtual payments. Customers are demanding responsive technology that can actually improve their lives and increase the convenience of financial transactions. Applications like Amazon and Uber have designed a user experience in payment processing that is the new industry standard in customer service. Customers are now interested in informative applications like Netflix, which offer recommendations on the types of shows that the customer might want to watch with added convenience. Consumers are reacting positively to the availability of easy virtual payments via an application or a service-based product. With a less confusing payment strategy that’s all in one app or user experience, customers can save both nerves and time.

9. Fingerprints to reveal financial fraud

In 2015, there were a number of huge data breaches in the global financial sector. With new types of technology being introduced in cash systems, it won’t be long before Big Data is implemented with fingerprint technology at points-of-sale. With a record for each consumer that includes their fingerprint, it will be possible to better verify payments and to reduce fraud at POS terminals. To some, this may seem like an extreme measure, but it’s the future of preventing financial losses for everybody.

 

Keep these trends in mind when considering the next fintech changes coming in 2017. When you’re ready, contact us at Softjourn to brainstorm your ideas and decide how to bring them to life.

Categories: Finance, Software Development |