In 1985, bright colors and shoulder pads were the height of fashion, the perm was the nation’s most popular hairstyle, and WHAM was behind the No. 1 and No. 3 most popular songs of the year (Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” broke up the WHAM party at No. 2, between “Careless Whisper” and the eternal classic “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”). COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) was the world’s most popular programming language, and had been since about 1970. The latter makes perfect sense considering the entire market for personal computers was roughly equivalent, as measured by revenue, to America’s pet food market in the mid-1980s.
In 2015, fashion designers no longer have to find ways to make fuchsia or linebacker-sized shoulder pads look good in an outfit, hair stylists are not graded entirely on how big they can make hair and the synthesizer is not the pre-eminent musical element in American Pop music. Like in most every other thing, the world moves on.
But here’s a thought. If one is a computer programmer – particularly one working as a developer in payments or e-commerce – it might not be time to get rid of those books on COBOL-85 just yet. Sure, computers have grown to become much bigger than cat or dog food sized market and it’s true enough that COBOL has been in a 30-year decline as the diffusion of personal computers has risen and systems like C++ and Java supplanted it.
However, even though it has been described by tech commentators as “a programming relic of enterprise systems gone by,” it remains, nonetheless, the unsexy, unappealing, complicated, and difficult to use backbone of legacy applications deployed on mainframe computers. Just like those found in large-scale batch and transaction processing jobs. And, that means that it shows up in one of our all-time favorite industries – payments, commerce, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments.
The good news here is that there are many companies that offer a developer platform that makes it easy for developers to take advantage of a portfolio of solutions for building commerce and payments apps. The bad news – they may not all work that well.
"What most [companies] have done is basically built a cool little tool that sits in front of legacy Base 24 [system] that’s run by Global [Collect] or First Data. And then [they say] ‘don’t ask me to do any more than what’s in that ISO 85-83 interface and don’t call me up and ask for help, because [all] I’ve done is create a simple API that makes it easier for you to connect to the legacy world.’ So it’s a translator that sits in front of the legacy [system],” Tony Catalfano, CEO of Worldpay US told MPD CEO Karen Webster in a recent interview.
Worldpay, an international payments technology and services firm, announced in November that it was acquiring SecureNet Payment Systems. This move, which was finalized in December, has enabled Worldpay to combine its size, scale and global distribution with the integrated payments and multi-channel commerce technology from SecureNet.
SecureNet’s secret sauce resides in its cloud-based, multi-channel commerce solution that integrates a variety of payments, commerce, processing, marketing/loyalty, data analytics, mobile and inventory management capabilities into a merchant’s POS. And, live customer service and developer support is also available so that their technology capabilities are used to their fullest extent by the developers who wish to take advantage of them.
"There are some nice SDKs out there, but it really is a self-service mentality,” Catalfano explained. “So, if you need help, there is none. For Worldpay, it’s about serving this development community and having someone who is available to work with them."
Catalfano noted that since the SecureNet acquisition was finalized in December of 2014, it has become “everything I thought it would be and more.” Catalfano’s view is that SecureNet technology is far ahead of anything else in the market, explaining that SecureNet has “ really built a next generation solution with the software development kits, the switch and the settlement engine that’s a full object oriented relational database."
Playing what she characterized as the “devil’s advocate,” Webster pointed out that the market is actually full of “next-generation” platform solutions for developers and merchants to take advantage of if their goal is, in fact, to change the face of commerce.
Catalfano made three points in response.
First, he said, that big players like WorldPay simply can’t afford to continue to do for the next 30 years what they had done for the last. “Thinking about how to enable a next generation customer experience is, for us, about interacting with the software developers and the people creating the next generation POS system or with the existing POS systems that are trying to drive a next stage experience,” Catalfano said. That means, he said, a single focus on creating a new experience for merchants and a new focus for the company.
Second, Catalfano emphasized that the SecureNet platform was far more than “a cool little tool” that acts as a translator for legacy systems. “[SecureNet] was thinking about the customer experience for merchants, but also the experience for software developers and ways to simplify really complicated payments API in a way that is really, really easy to use,” he said. “The key is that their applications don’t sit in front of legacy solutions. They’ve actually built a next generation switch,” Catalfano emphasized.
Third, he emphasized, is in how clients actually interact with the Worldpay platform today. Catalfano noted that one of its clients had built an app that couldn’t close the loop on dynamic pricing and loyalty options because it couldn’t tie into its back end inventory systems in real time. The Worldpay/SecureNet combination was able to do that and get that app and that capability up and running in two days.
The Worldpay/SecureNet combination is new, only about two months in, and Catalfano told Webster it was not their intention to overwhelm their new partner early. But even in the short time they’ve been operating together, they’ve seen big upswings in business as the combination of a next generation technology platform, strong customer support, and a long-established name in the business is proving to be very compelling to developers and other innovators who want an easy partner to work with and a robust set of capabilities to further their commerce ambitions.
As for what’s next, Catalfano would like to expand this platform capability to big market players, who have the greatest tendency to be constrained by the shortcomings of their legacy systems when it comes to updating to new capabilities.
“’I’m constrained because I can’t do this in my system’ is something we hear a lot and what we want to fix,” he told Webster.
However the bigger conversation going forward is, Catalfano said, much bigger than payments.
Right now, he said, the questions about choosing a payments partner are almost always about price – who’s cheaper. But Catalfano is all about making sure that those conversations are more about how the Worldpay can both deliver and support innovation in commerce.
"I want to change the conversation so it’s not about saving a 25th of a percent on processing fees, and instead about increasing a business’ total market cap though smart integration."
Changing a whole conversation is hard, he noted, but he thinks one that the marketplace is ready to have. And one he believes that Worldpay and SecureNet, now together, are in the best position to start.