Managing What You Don't Know: Factors for a Successful EMV Implementation

Retailers need to have secure payment solutions for their stores, online or any commerce channel. EMV, the technical standard for smart payment cards and terminals, has long been used in Europe but only recently became relevant to U.S. consumers as chip readers started showing up in the checkout lanes. 

The U.S. has lagged in EMV adoption in part because retailers' implementations have been anything but smooth and consistent. Authorizers are building and adding to EMV even as retailers are getting certified. There are also many players that need to get involved: The point-of-sale software provider, signature capture provider, authorizer and others are all specialized and focused on their niche, and all come from different organizations.

As a result, the Strawhecker Group says it will take until the end of 2017 before 90 percent of retailers are EMV ready.  In addition, the National Retail Federation reports the average retailer will take 19 months to get EMV up and running.

How do you manage what you don't know?
With all of this uncertainty, you need to have some measure of control over the project and its effect on your organization. An experienced technology partner can collaborate closely with you and manage all of the players and pieces. They know the requirements and can advise you on whether you have the infrastructure to meet them; lead you on the most efficient and effective way through the transition; communicate an end-to-end view of your project; and guide the other players through it.

Knowing what to look for in the right technology partner is critical, and just as important is having a good understanding of how your own organization will navigate the transition to EMV.

What to know about your organization
While a technology partner can help you answer the questions below, addressing them on your own first will give you a better understanding of the project when discussing it with your partner. 

What's the scope?
EMV has become somewhat of a buzzword. Do you really understand what it will require of your organization? What are your objectives? Are they prioritized and are the decision-makers clearly identified? In our experience, most retailers will also have to address changes or needs of other systems during an EMV project, so there may be many precursor components.

What's the risk?
Everyone knew EMV was coming, but almost everyone waited for someone else to implement it first. Because of the slow progress, banks have started enforcing chargebacks to retailers that don't have EMV in place. Perhaps you don't care about the charges and want to take EMV slowly, or maybe you want to get rid of the extra fees as fast as possible. As an organization, know and communicate these risks to your partner. This helps determine how quickly you need to move, which will inform the best path and solutions forward.

Can you support EMV?
How much knowledge do you have in-house or whom do you need to hire? This is a huge part of your operations, so the role shouldn't be outsourced for the long term. Find an owner for it – perhaps someone who already owns IT, security or finance – to oversee the huge amount of coordination that will need to happen. Without a champion, you risk confusion and inefficiencies that could lead to missed deadlines and added costs.

What to know about your technology partner
There are several things to consider when looking for the right technology partner that can closely work with your team to coordinate and manage all of the EMV project pieces.

When you evaluate a partner, how do they engage with you? Are they nodding their heads to whatever you ask for, or pushing back with questions? The right partner shouldn't hesitate to have tough conversations or to ask other parties for input. If the targets or requirements shift, an engaged partner will be ready to solve problems no matter where they originate.

Proven record
One of the most important pieces of a great technology partner is a proven record. Consider how many projects they've done, the challenges and successes, and the types of players that were involved in each. How many EMV implementations have they done? Were they completed on time and within budget and if not, why not?

Business and technical expertise
The partner should have business-focused individuals as well as technical expertise. They need to understand all of the different parties and how to coordinate them through the chain of the project. Lots of partner organizations have deep expertise in their slice of the EMV pie, but can't connect the dots.

Playing without a playbook
There's no recipe for EMV yet; no fool-proof playbook to follow. An experienced technology partner will bring together all of the different players and pieces, so you can be confident that no matter what may shift or change, you can maintain some level of control and your long-term success in mind.

Tom Schoen is president of BTM Global.