Narian Technologies NFC app suite reviewReview Feature
Posted by Seth PlanckAugust 19th, 2011 at 1:09 PM Filed Under Featured, Latest News, Reviews
The good, the bad and the ugly of Narian Technologies’ suite of NFC-based retail and merchant apps
We told you earlier this week that we would be taking a closer look at Narian Technologies‘ new suite of NFC apps. Today, we took a spin through the suite with the CEO and in this post intend to share what we have learned. We have to be honest, the breadth of this project is pretty dense and communicating the vastness of what Narian is attempting to do needs to be abridged for a few reasons. As we mentioned, we conducted our research earlier today and when we were finished, left this article for some time to mull over all the possibilities, contingencies, its place in the market and threats to its success. The following represents our findings and to break it down a little, we are going to present it as an old fashioned “SWOT” analysis, without graphs.
Narian Technologies NFC-based retailers App suite strengths
A great start would be at the top, and in this case the top is the CEO of the company, Einar Rosenberg. Like many CEO’s with a plan, Rosenberg is a visionary – crazy inventor type visionary, but a visionary nonetheless. During our interview, his passion for his company’s product and the sheer NFC industry knowledge that was shared was without comparison. We could tell that mobile and NFC has been Rosenberg’s life for the last ten years. He has thought about NFC when awake and probably dreamed about it when he slept, but his experience is with all mobile technologies tracking back ten years to when WAP was seen as the latest and greatest thing and NFC was in its infancy and infrared was seen as a promising near communications technology for mobile. That’s when Rosenberg started working with NFC. At the time, it wasn’t called NFC but had all the hallmarks that we see in the protocol today, and people were already looking at the technology as a payments method. Most of Einar Rosenberg’s NFC career, however, has been involved in consulting and building solutions for other companies, working on couponing apps and other projects, steering companies through complex decisions and helping them find a way forward in mobile.
That is why Einar Rosenberg is known throughout the NFC industry today, and that is why when he announces a new product that he has developed, we all pay attention. If you have looked around the NFC news sites you will notice on the strength of a press release and short conversation, we have all given him space on our sites. What can I say? The man commands that respect within the industry. Narian Technologies is a privately funded company and has patented all of its innovations.
The name of the suite is Touch & Discover which is profound at best. We called the suite NFC4All in our coverage the other day but we have since learned that NFC4All is just a feature set of the suite, and we will go into that a little deeper later. Rosenberg has stated that the company has over 300 NFC app functions that apply to 15 market segments, but we are going to stick to what we experienced and what was arguably the seven core elements. Those seven elements, or core apps, housed within the suite are Valet, Maitre’D, Service Pager, Communicator, Order App, GiftCard and Line Pager. Imagine if you will, a website that houses different tools, each with a specific purpose all tied together with a menu or home screen and you can start to comprehend the main Narian Technologies’ Touch & Discover NFC app. Each has specific functions that use NFC tags for input.
However, the app is far more capable than a website and partially uses the cloud to operate while the main code sits within the NFC app on the user’s mobile device and utilizes low latency calls so is responsive and speedy. We say mobile device because the NFC app (available for Android at this time, other OS’s will follow when they adopt NFC) is said to render and scale perfectly on tablets, netbooks, laptops and PC’s. Obviously, the latter would need different builds as they run on different OS’ and require NFC reader / writers but the point stands. The NFC apps are built for the user’s experience and not the retailer’s, so a user-centric UI is what greets you when you boot an NFC app. Unfortunately, we viewed the NFC apps over WebEx so they appeared a little choppy, but then again everything appears a little choppy over WebEx. The graphics appeared pixelated, but Rosenberg sent us screen shots taken during our demo and the images show a clean, un-pixelated view of the NFC app suite.
The strength of the app / suite is that everything you see, aside from the welcome screen during boot, is customizable. Every option, every sub tool, every graphic and button and even font can be tailored to a user’s specifications, aesthetics and options. To explain this so it’s a little clearer, let’s take another look at the Line Pager sub app. The Line Pager app allows waiting lines to become non-existent, improves customer satisfaction and avoids lost sales. Rosenberg shared that lost sales cost the economy in excess of $1 trillion per year. Let’s face it, people don’t like to queue. Simply walk up to the NFC tag, wave your phone in front of it and you are placed in line and you are free to walk about. You will be paged when it is your turn, or there is a setting inside the app that allows you to choose at which stage the app contacts you. You can set it for when there is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or any other number of customers in front of you in line so you have time to get back to the counter and do not lose your place in line. Okay, so we can imagine how this would work for a delicatessen, but the app is so customizable it can be configured to work with a bank by using the Maitre’D app. Let’s say you are going in for a loan. You would need to speak with a specific department.
Each option can be changed within the NFC app so loans could be one option, account openings another and the list is endless. All the customization is controlled from within the back end web account which we did not get to see, but we were told it is simply a matter of working your way through a wizard. That flexibility and the ability to brand an NFC app and control its look and feel definitely goes in the strength column. The configurations are only limited by your knowledge of your own workflow and business model, and the impacts under the pretext that the model you build for the consumer is positive. Advanced Photoshop users can change buttons and any other element to fit their needs and the app can be saved in as many versions as are required. One NFC app for a deli, one NFC app for a cafe and one for a financial services section in a large supermarket, for example.
Consumers on average spend 2.5 years of their lives standing in line. If you are a retailer with Narian Technologies’ NFC apps, you can negate that pain point for the most part for your customers. Rosenberg shared that at supermarkets, the deli section represented the highest growth area and most profitable line of products a store has and yet loses around $120,000 in revenue per store per year to consumers who become frustrated waiting in line and who abandon their intended purchase. If you are not in the supermarket trade, how much revenue do you lose from walkouts at the time and in recurring income?
The user interface is intuitive, even if the NFC app names are a little clunky, but Rosenberg reported that the NFC app names would be changed before the product came out of private beta. The aim of the apps was defined by Rosenberg with an aim in mind called “human nature co-efficiency”, or to put it another way, each process was designed to maximize consumer experience while not compromising or forcing order on human nature and our distinct dislike of waiting in line. Rosenberg said, “We wanted to make the apps so a layman could create them.” Whereas we didn’t actually see the backend admin, from what Rosenberg described it sounded like a 3rd grader could build an app on the fly. Einar Rosenberg gave the example of his grandfather, who had owned a pizzeria. He reflected on how the NFC app would need to work so that even his grandfather could build and deploy an app easily. This customization is what is known as NFC4All and is built around what Rosenberg described as a smart matrix. Now you know about the customization, here is a quick run down of the other NFC apps:
Valet: Call for assistance for a specific purpose.
Service Pager: At a restaurant, you can ask for water, bread, a general request or your check. As soon as you tap your phone against the tag, the clock starts ticking and the results are logged in the management section of the suite for management to review. Each staff member is given a card which they tap against the consumer’s phone when the request has been met. This stops double handling of consumers and ensures prompt service is given. This app can be configured for a bank, doctor’s office or anywhere that requires a wait and multiple services.
Order app: The order app is an app where consumers can place an order with your company by waving their phone over an NFC tag. That tag doesn’t even have to be at your premises. At this time, there are no payment functions built in but that may change in the future, Rosenberg said. Imagine uses that include trade shows, ads in public spaces or simply at your store.
Communicator: We really like this app, it allows a consumer who cannot find a member of staff to page one. If a member of staff is not available at that location, the app performs a round robin until it reaches somebody who can help who may be in another store or a call center. The app then allows consumers to take pictures and videos and show them to a remote representative. Einar Rosenberg told us that Narian Technologies is even considering making the video a streaming service.
GiftCard: Self-evident from the title, although no payments are accepted through this app.
Line Pager & Maitre ‘D: Please see above.
Overall, the strengths of the platform, for lack of a more accurate description, is its flexibility and ease of use. When a consumer first uses a tag, they are invited to download the retailer’s app there and then. Lost sales can be minimized and consumer experiences enhanced. Another strength is the pricing structure of the service which has a minimum payment per month of only $20 and that covers a retailer’s first 400 requests. Each request after that point costs 5 cents, which is around the price of a plastic grocery bag with invariably more return on investment. For the smaller retailer, the platform is invaluable – it adds modern NFC facilities at a low cost with no huge setup fees and that is indeed another strength of the service. If used correctly, the cost of the system could be completely negated and the retailer could profit indirectly from the system in the form of increased sales and loyalty.
The strengths portion of this review is the largest and we will write subsequent posts for weaknesses, opportunities and threats. However, our last word in the strengths portion of this review comes from Einar Rosenberg, who said during our in-depth interview that “retail is about about three things: price, quality and service. You don’t want to compete on price, the quality of your products is available elsewhere so that leaves service and our suite helps merchants and retailers differentiate themselves on service.” And we are inclined to agree. The NFC platform is impressive for the most part, but we will get to weaknesses in the next post.