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We Need to Consider the Techno Gap

"Don't touch that!" was the chastising phrase Q said to James Bond. Technological advancement was to be treated carefully and with respect — lest it blow up in your face.

How many of us have used the same phrase with our kids, sometimes even with their own toys? Take the remote control helicopters that looked so cool on the toy shelves and broke so quickly when the joystick was in the hands of an over-excited youth. Technology is fragile.

Most of us learned to be wary when dealing with new gadgets. Is it any wonder then that we have created an age-based “techno gap”? Today the people who make you want to shout “Don’t touch that!” are more likely to be your parents.

My parents eventually succumbed to a mobile phone a few years ago but it is one of those big button, big screen, basic feature phones — it’s basically a portable land line. Even their grandson’s expert lessons can’t get them to use most of the features. I have often joked that I know when my Dad has read a text because I receive a blank one back.

Of course, there are some older users of technology who are confident, astute and capable, and some younger consumers with an almost irrational fear of gadgets and gizmos. But for many older folk, technology remains a foreign country, complicated by the lack of user guides in favour of "download now" guides from the Internet.

The problem is that society generally is ageing, with far more of us in the autumn and winter years than ever before. However, the "new order" of doing things is increasingly vested in what many will consider to be unfathomable or inconceivable technology.

If we cannot bridge that gap and instil confidence in those who lack awareness and appreciation of technological opportunity, then we create fragmented practices and a discriminatory, non-inclusive society. Regulation and compliance will rightly demand inclusion, but the resultant exception processes will prove costly to create, administer and maintain.

A step change is possible (consider, for example, the transition from magnetic stripe with signature cards to chip-and-PIN in the majority of the world's card payment markets), but it takes years of perseverance, commonality of experience, and constant reminders and support to achieve that. Today's "in the moment" society may not have the necessary patience, especially when technology advancement  outpaces consumer adoption, such that the innovators and developers have moved on to the next big thing long before yesterday's developments have truly taken hold.

What it needs, in my personal view, is to lead with the creation of services that are relevant and needed to those parts of society where uptake has been scarce. For example, an online booking service for hospital and doctor appointments is available in certain places, but not universally.

Or what about those supermarkets with customers whose loyalty cards reveal their regular in-store shop consists of 80%+ of the same goods and yet have never accessed any online facility? Why not offer, the next time at the till, a printed copy of the regular shop and a simple code to be texted, called or typed in to the web page to arrange home delivery of the (same) next order?

And for those of us chasing the nirvana of better authentication (especially on remote or digital interaction) through the use of device information and multi-factor challenges, perhaps we need to give due regard to the fact that any solutions need to be inclusive, and the customer journey may need to be differentiated for "first time", "occasional", and "regular/experienced" individuals. That is certainly occupying my mind as I consider the strong authentication demands of today's regulators.

After all, we want to preserve and encourage customer independence on the Internet, not simply throw them!

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