Successfully transmitting transaction data across different nations, platforms and devices, is a little like taming the Tower of Babel; getting all the components of disparate systems to ultimately "speak" the same language is complex. Transaction Network Services Inc., as a global provider of data communications services to retail, banking, financial markets and telecom industries, frequently comes up against the challenges of arranging interoperability.
"There are a lot of hard, challenging issues in the payments area, and at TNS we look to find those hard problems and solve them because we think we're good at it," said Gerry Grealish, Vice President of Product Marketing for the company's payments division. "We're looking to solve problems beyond just the carrying and delivering [of transaction data]."
TNS is a publicly traded company with revenues of more than $500 million and three divisions: payments, telecommunications and financial services. The company's telecommunications division provides signaling, roaming and intelligent network services to fixed, mobile, broadband and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) operators around the world; the financial services division facilitates transfer of market data among brokerage houses, investment banks and exchanges.
"On the telecommunications side, we have assets that allow us to enrich what we can provide on the payments side and vice versa," Grealish said. "For example, with our payments expertise, our telecom division has brought applications such as store card payments and tokenization for billers to their large telecommunications and cable company customers."
TNS has had 20 years to develop the expertise required to expand into the global market and keep pace with an explosion in communications technologies. "When TNS started in 1990, the company provided dial-based services to banks and processors," Grealish said. "And then these banks and processors would wrap this up as a piece of the connectivity into the broader acquiring offering they brought to merchants."
The company opened up its services to acquirers, processors and ISOs, which in turn offer the connectivity services to their merchants. "ISOs are clearly a key way that TNS, either branded or through somebody else's solution, goes to market," Grealish noted.
Travis Lee, Director of Product Marketing at TNS, added, "We have relationships with ISOs and MLS groups where we provide turnkey solutions to them or provide underlying services they can resell or use to drive the products they are utilizing."
Since the company's launch, the transaction network landscape has changed tremendously, and so has TNS. TNS now does business in 29 countries, delivers 13 billion transactions per year and offers a host of options beyond dial-based services.
"We now do broadband connectivity and delivery for POS and ATM," Grealish said. "We offer Internet gateways for e-commerce, wireless gateways, and we have a product here in the States for wireless mobile merchants called Synapse. We also have gateway products for e-POS, not just dial terminals."
All of the new ways that have emerged to collect and transmit transaction data, however, can create compatibility issues that range beyond customers' expertise. "Our approach is to take a consultative role. We have a unique set of assets and we're pretty creative about how we deploy those assets to solve problems," Grealish said.
He believes the company's geographic scope is a boon for clients who are likewise looking to expand into overseas markets. "The fact that we are global means we have domain expertise specific to some of the markets where we're helping some of the processors launch new services," he pointed out.
Grealish cites as one of TNS' "creative assets," its POS and ATM Message Conversion Service, which provides a cost-effective alternative to host system development for the acceptance of new payment message types.
"Message Conversion can be used in two different ways," Grealish said. "For acquirers looking to bring in transactions from outside of their country, TNS can actually, within our network, translate a message format delivered by a payment terminal into a format that an acquirer's host can recognize.
"Another example is when a processor wants to decommission a host for efficiency purposes but doesn't want to cause issues at the merchant level.
"TNS can provide message conversion inside of our network that will allow the processor to route those transactions handled by the host they want to decommission to the host they want to keep running."
Message formats can get out of sync over time as new payment portals arrive on the scene and mergers and acquisitions of companies with dissimilar technologies occur. "TNS can actually handle all that complexity within our network so that the merchant doesn't need to make any changes," Grealish said.
Updating from a legacy system to another network is another point at which clients can experience confusion and concern. TNS "put together a core set of experts, project managers, technology folks and business process people who focus on making the transition from a legacy system to our network as painless as possible," Grealish said. "We manage the transition so there will be no disruption of services."
Two other TNS products, called FusionPoint and FusionPoint Express, allow merchants who have terminals that use dial communications to utilize a broadband connection for transmission of transaction data.
"We have services that sit between their old payment terminal and the network and convert the communications layer into an Internet protocol," Lee said.
"That's a service some of our ISOs are selling to merchants that are doing credit, debit or ATM transactions," he said. "This helps strengthen relationships ISOs have with merchants because they are solving a problem for them and helping them cut costs."
According to Grealish, TNS' ability to deal with differing systems is one reason the company has been able to grow; another is its ability to handle the immense traffic load. "Our knowledge allows us to deliver some clever things in the cloud and our ability to scale and handle all this traffic and peak loads in a resilient fashion, makes us different," he said.
That reliability and capacity is confirmed by Chris Lee, Senior Vice President for Product Management for National Processing Co., a long-time TNS partner.
"I think of them [TNS] as kind of like a utility," he said. The network "should always be there and never go down. And that's been my experience with them, both in traditional dial network services as well as with the wireless," Lee said.
But even reliability is useless without a guarantee that transactions will be transmitted securely. "Security is something we design into the product; it's not an afterthought," Grealish said.
Security was simpler when dial-based service was the only option. Along with IP service came issues such issue as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which involve hackers flooding hosts with enough traffic to crash them. "We've had to stay ahead of trends like this with our DDoS protection," Grealish added.
TNS worked with partners VeriFone and Simptec Co. Ltd. to create a managed POS encryption function within the TNS network that occurs at the POS.
"It's actually a piece of functionality inside the TNS network so it helps alleviate some PCI [Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard] burdens on the merchant," Grealish said.
In response to market demand, TNS offers a wireless gateway called Synapse that allows ISOs to have greater flexibility in what they offer to merchants, board terminals more quickly and still have at their disposal flexible, web-based reporting.
"For an ISO that doesn't have wireless POS sales in their bag of tricks, Synapse gives them the opportunity to open up the scope of merchants they can deal with and gives them an opportunity to offer a greater range of options to meet their existing merchants' needs," Travis Lee stated. "More and more merchants are looking to do nontraditional payment transactions."
Greater flexibility in where and how merchants can receive payments is proving attractive. "Many merchants are looking to expand their revenue options beyond just their storefront," Travis Lee said.
"They're looking to take their wares out to boutiques or fairs or farmers markets, and not just driving people to their storefront. [A mobile payment system] gives them that capability."
According to product literature for Synapse, wireless service fees are typically less than the cost of a dedicated phone line or digital subscriber line and a merchant can set up a wireless POS account much quicker than a traditional dial- or IP-connected service, which can have longer lead times and potentially require additional in-store wiring.
"We have many ISOs that have contracted with us to resell Synapse," Travis Lee stated.
"We provide them the tools that allow them to board merchants and to do ongoing monitoring, reporting, and management of the wireless transactions. If the merchant has a question or problem, they call their ISO. If the ISO can't answer that question, we have a technical support team to aid them in the support of their merchants."
While Grealish is proud of all the various applications and added-value services TNS provides, he feels the company's core technology remains a reliable payments network.
"Our mission has always been to carry and deliver transactions from merchants to processors faster and more reliably and more securely than anyone else," he said. For a company with a global footprint, that's no easy task.
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Product Marketing Director