For most people, making payments is something we can live without. Oasis Technology of Toronto, Ontario is helping to change the way consumers and businesses think about making payments. Pioneering innovative payment methods like virtual credit cards and personalized payments over any device – PC, PDA, mobile phone, ATM or POS (Point-of-Sale) – the company is putting the users of payment technology in the driver’s seat.
Digital Journal’s publisher, Janusz J. Uiberall, spoke to Ashraf Dimitri, Oasis’ president and CEO, about the standards for payment technology, why payments are going to play a larger role in our lives, and how to make payments painless.
If you think making payments is about writing cheques, waiting in long queues in retail stores, or even sitting in front of a PC, think again. Digital Journal takes a closer look at this Canadian payment technology innovator and glimpses the future.
Janusz Uiberall: You founded the company in 1989. What was your mission in creating a payment software company?
Ashraf Dimitri: I founded Oasis in 1989, and was joined the following year by my co-founder and partner, Sunny Siu. Our mission was simple, but aggressive: to create leading payment products that would be accessible to the industry and that would solve industry problems in a new way.
JU: What’s unique about your approach to solving these problems?
AD: Well, the first thing we did was create our products on open platforms like UNIX. What this really means is that we’re lowering the price of entry into the payments market and making it more attractive for a wider range of companies to compete. When we started, Internet payments were unheard of, but we quickly realized the potential for our technology in the emerging virtual landscape because they’re based on an open platform. There’s not so great a leap from the real world to the Internet as many companies might think.
JU: When did the Internet emerge, for Oasis, as a viable market that you had to address?
AD: In the period between 1996 and 1997, we took a step back and assessed the tremendous strides in technology and also in how people were relating to technology to live their lives. We realized that just as people and businesses used Internet technology to network themselves together, so, too, would they use this communications backbone to enable their payment transactions. It’s a natural extension, and all the indicators pointed to a critical mass in a very short period of time.
JU: How did you begin to change your approach to building solutions for this new generation of consumers?
AD: For a start, we invested heavily in R&D and market research to ensure that we could re-architect our products in such a way that we could leverage our core technology to meet any future payment need. That was essential to give us the agility to move into new markets and meet new consumer and business demands. Being first to market was essential for us.
JU: When did you release your first products for the Internet?
AD: We released our first “Internet-enabled” series of products in 1998, and then a second generation in 1999. What you’re seeing from Oasis today is the result of that process: new products that are changing the industry. The IST/iSeries of products, mobile payments, Internet
banking with PKI security – these are the first commercially available versions of these new solutions that have been made available on a worldwide basis.
JU: How did you know the new products would sell?
AD: Well, we took great pains to go beyond merely creating new products – we also helped to mature the market and create the need for the technology. What we did was change the paradigm for payment transaction processing by marrying the session-based model of the Internet to the transaction-based model that dominates the world of ePayment processing. That means that when somebody clicks on the “Buy” button on a merchant’s web site, our technology chases the transaction through the real-world networks underneath. We enabled the new paradigm to work, which was essential. Before you can market a product effectively, you first have to demonstrate you’ve solved a fundamental problem.
JU: And what is that problem?
AD: It’s really about making consumers and businesses trust the Internet and mobile networks as secure vehicles for making payments and conducting business. To speed that acceptance, we build our products to support the existing security standards, but we also make sure that we can always track transactions from one end to the other.
JU: And is this considered ePayments? If so, then what came before that, traditional payments?
AD: Not many people catch this subtlety. We think what used to be called ePayment is traditional. We’ve moved past it. Personalized payment objects are the future. Mobile Commerce is the future. Television commerce, too. Everything today is traditional, regardless of how the transaction is processed. Payment technology is now just cost of entry: if you don’t have it, you won’t be in business very long.
JU: What do you mean by “personalized payment objects”?
AD: It’s really about consumers and businesses taking control of the instruments they use to make their payments and how those instruments work. Most of the instruments we use today are developed by banks. Today, we’re working with these very same banks to put control back into the hands of the consumer or the business user. As a consumer, you want to be able to pay in a way that is convenient for you, and that’s a natural extension to the way you live.
JU: Is that what IST/iCard is about?
AD: Yes, it’s the first step in changing the Internet payment paradigm. It’s really about taking what we know and trust in the real world and extending it to the virtual world. It’s a new channel – a new vehicle – but a familiar process. Most of us have made an online purchase now at least once, so even that’s become familiar.
JU: How do I use an iCard? Will it replace my plastic card?
AD: What iCard lets you do is create a virtual credit card that is flexible. You decide how you want to use it, who you’re going to give it to, how much you can spend on it, when it can be used, where it can be used. The user has complete control.
JU: Can you give me an example?
AD: Imagine this scenario: you have teenaged kids and you want to give them a credit card, but you have some reservations about security and how they’re going to use the card. As an iCard account holder, you can instantly generate virtual cards according to any limit you specify, and they can only be used on sites that you’ve approved. Furthermore, as a parent, you don’t feel comfortable letting your kids shop online whenever they want. Maybe you only want them to use the card for just one purchase, in which case it’s really like a gift card. That’s what a personalized payment object is all about – it has the flexibility for it to be whatever you want it to be.
JU: What happens to the card after it’s used?
AD: Well, if it’s valid for only a single use, for example, the number ceases to be valid after that use. Or after a spending limit is reached, or a period of time has elapsed. That’s the security benefit. Even if somebody was standing over your shoulder, that card number would be rejected. There’s no security risk because the card simply stops working.
JU: So to get an iCard, I would just go to my bank’s web site, enter my username and password and I could start creating an iCard? Would other banks use this technology? Is it universal?
AD: Yes, to the user and to the merchant, the card looks just like any other branded credit card, like Visa or MasterCard for example. In fact, it leverages your existing real-world credit account to generate the new virtual card numbers. Beyond credit, again you can personalize it for the way you want to fund it. A good example is that you might want to fund an iCard from your savings account or a credit line – it’s up to you.
JU: How did you convince customers to adopt this technology? Were they receptive?
AD: No convincing was required. The market is demanding it and so banks are responding by providing it. It’s really that simple. The real question has been, “when can I have it and how fast can you implement it?” The challenge certainly isn’t about finding customers, it’s about delivery.
JU: How does a product like this come about?
AD: It all begins with ideas. Concepts. Brainstorming. We sat down and looked at what was missing in the industry, at what consumers and businesses needed to overcome their payment challenges. From this process, we sketched out the initial vision, and then we talked to banks and retailers, as well as our own customers and partners. Then we started development and hit the road – not to drum up interest, but to gauge the response and the demand.
JU: What was the reception?
AD: It was tremendous. Everyone understood the potential, but there were a few surprises along the way. For example, it became really apparent to us just how large the need was in the business-to-business market, and for corporate procurement purposes. We also realized how this kind of technology could be married to mobile devices – that’s a key part of our future. The timing in the industry couldn’t be better.
JU: What about emerging regions in the world? Did you consider those? Not all populations have access to the Internet and mobile devices.
AD: We sure did. We’re established in China and India for example. The market is exploding in these regions. And what we encountered is that businesses and financial institutions in these regions may not be ready to fully leverage the Internet, but because they can use our technology to solve their real-world problems first, they have a competitive advantage. When the time is right, they can then migrate their solutions as consumers and businesses come online. They can anticipate and use our technology as a stepping stone.
JU: So what’s next for Oasis? What’s the future of payments going to look like?
AD: Well, do you own a television or a mobile phone? Do you own a phone?
JU: Yes, except the television.
AD: Okay, so you’re the one exception who doesn’t have a television! The point is: if you have any of these devices, then you’ve already seen a glimpse of where it’s all going. The thing is, that future is really here now: mobile commerce, television commerce, smart homes – all of them are driven by payment technology.
JU: Thanks Mr. Dimitri. Its quite clear that there is a promising future for the iCard.