The five-minute CIO: Niall Hodson, EVO Payments/BOIPA

29 Jul 2016

Niall Hodson, chief operations officer, EVO Payments and BOIPA

“BOIPA has played an integral role in driving this migration from cash payments to contactless payments,” said Niall Hodson from EVO Payments/BOIPA.

Niall Hodson is chief operations officer at EVO Payments International GmbH, operating as BOIPA – BOI Payment Acceptance – in Ireland.

BOI Payment Acceptance is a marketing alliance between Bank of Ireland and EVO Payments International.

‘The introduction of Apple Pay has dramatically changed customer behaviours in recent years’

Can you outline the technology roll-out across your organisation?

We combine Bank of Ireland’s understanding of the Irish business community with EVO’s expertise in creating innovative payment solutions.

A key focus of our business is contactless payments. There are currently 3m contactless payment cards in circulation in Ireland and over 35,000 businesses accepting contactless payments on transactions up to a value of €30. Business owners and consumers are increasingly recognising the obvious benefits of cashless transactions, namely that they are cheaper, more secure and more convenient for all involved.

BOIPA has played an integral role in driving this migration from cash payments to contactless payments and, as a result, technology is obviously a key enabler to our business and is at the centre of everything we do.

We are constantly evolving our product and looking to identify new ways to meet the demands and behaviours of our customers and to respond to market expectations. A prime example is Apple Pay. The introduction of Apple Pay has dramatically changed customer behaviours in recent years. This new technology has placed fresh demands on our customers, which in turn means they look to us to provide the necessary technology solutions to meet this demand placed on them by their customers and the wider industry.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

There are three main tenets underpinning our IT strategy:

  1. Ensuring that we have a sufficient technology capability and infrastructure to meet the needs of our customers. This means being able to process payments 24 hours per day, whether it’s a late-night petrol station or someone making an online purchase while lying in bed browsing on their tablet.
  2. Building the necessary capabilities and product to enable execution on the wider business strategy. This means developing a product proposition capable of meeting the growth demands of our business and that of our customers, in an environment of constantly changing demands.
  3. Building a robust and reliable security system underpinning our technology, which not only provides protection for our organisation but enables our customers and their customers to transact in a secure manner. Having confidence in the payment experience is critical to our customers’ ability to sell goods and services to their customers.

How extensive is your IT infrastructure?

We provide services to customers across 20 different countries in Europe. This includes everything from point-of-sale technology right through to integration into major payment card systems.

In Europe alone, we have close to 160 individuals working in IT, overseeing the operation of our handheld terminals, e-commerce, and smartphone and tablet-based payment operations.

In total, this includes in excess of 210,000 terminals across Europe. In Ireland alone, we have a total of 10,000 terminals and we process over 120,000 contactless transactions every week.

In terms of managing IT budgets, how can CIOs and heads of technology achieve their goals?

From experience, CIOs are constantly looking to achieve a balance between investing in new technology to meet the demands of customers and their growing businesses, whilst also maintaining the underlying technology systems that are in place already.

As COO, one of my primary responsibilities is in achieving this balance between maintaining existing products and investing in new ones. As a result, we have very little opportunity to consolidate or get comfortable. Instead, we are always pushing forward to better our product offering.

How complex is the infrastructure?

Given the nature and breadth of our business operations, and the requirement for real-time processing of payments in a very short space of time, our technology infrastructure, by its very nature, is highly sophisticated.

In order for our systems to be able to process payments as quickly and seamlessly as possibly, we are continually investing in scale, performance and resilience, all the while ensuring we have robust security in place at all times.

On this point, we are currently looking to simplify and consolidate our infrastructure across Europe to enable the company to become more efficient and better placed to leverage the scale of the organisation.

Do you have a large in-house IT team or do you strategically outsource where possible?

Currently, we do both. We have approximately 160 working in our in-house IT team and we also have a number of strategic partnerships with other leading technology suppliers where it makes sense for the business.

As earlier discussed, our aim is to achieve the right balance between providing a robust and efficient operating system while also delivering change in the correct manner.

To achieve this, we sometimes bring in third-party technology suppliers where it makes sense. We then only work with suppliers who understand the importance we place on our long-term relationships with our clients, and are willing and capable to work to our high standards.

What are the main responsibilities of your role?

My key responsibilities generally fall into four categories:

  1. Driving product strategy to align with the needs of our customers and business.
  2. Overseeing the transformation of the organisation from multiple individual businesses into one pan-European operation.
  3. Establishing the strategy and prioritisation of our change delivery functions.
  4. Building and maintaining relations across the industry with key suppliers and business partners.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Working at the cutting edge of technology, the challenges are many and varied. Constantly changing regulation, competition and consumer demands mean we can never get comfortable in our industry.

Key to the delivery of our systems and services is regularly revisiting these factors and building in the correct level of flexibility in order to allow the business to adapt to these ever-changing challenges. For example, we are currently consolidating our multiple technology platforms into one single platform in order to enable the business to become more efficient at delivering change. In practical terms, this will mean that, when incorporating change, we will no longer have to do so across multiple platforms.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use?

Our performance metrics are aligned with those of our customers.

Everything we do is motivated by meeting the needs of our customers so that they can in turn meet the needs of their customers. We therefore have to make sure our service is available 100pc of the time, with payment-processing capabilities of less than three seconds end to end, and delivering change at pace and at a cost in line with market demands.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve?

As an organisation we are constantly trying to improve how can we deliver change more quickly for our customers and more efficiently for ourselves. Customer behaviours are changing at an ever increasing pace which places increasing demands on our customers to adapt to these behaviours, which in turn means we have to be able to support our customers with new products, tools and services at a much greater pace than was traditionally expected. The ongoing move to a digital world is forcing the payment industry to evolve rapidly yet in a manner that does not compromise the traditional values of security and control.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year?

Like most growing organisations there is more demand on the IT organistaion than supply available. We continuously assess the priorities across the businesses to ensure that the right long-term needs of the business are being achieved.

In addition to the platform consolidation programme, key initiatives for the organisation this year include digitising and automating the new customer on-boarding processes to get customers active more quickly, and launch of the EVO Snap EMV product to provide customers with an advanced and secure POS proposition that takes away the overhead of PCI DSS data security controls and provides enhanced customer experience at the point of sale.

Equally, delivering a payment acceptance product set to support the growing number of different industry vertical integrated software vendors and the support of additional payment methods required to meet the increasing number of international consumers are a focus.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years