Frank Thomas Makes Financial Transaction Security, Speed His Business
Preventing downtime and promising availability on financial systems that people use daily means managing change with precision.
Frank Thomas always saw technology as a way to touch people’s daily lives from a distance, adding convenience and peace of mind to common practices, such as making a credit card purchase.
Thomas is Director of Authorization Technical Support at Total System Services, known as TSYS, in Columbus, GA, and manages a team called the Business Support Group. “Authorization processing occurs on an HP NonStop, similar to a mainframe. It’s used for approving, declining or referring a card swipe, whether you’re at the POS just swiping a card or making a telephone purchase,” he explains. “The NonStop is a platform where you’re affecting people all over the world with authorizations and making sure that the machine is up and running. We have a slogan back in the office: availability matters.”
In the Q&A below, Thomas shares more on all the ways technology impacts people that many don’t even realize and why the people aspect of his job is what keeps him motivated every day.
Modern Software Factory Hub: Not everyone would make the connection between back-office transactional systems and customers. What about your work keeps the customer front and center?
Frank Thomas: The digital era means—for me and what we call the FI, that’s the financial institution—cellphones. Everything has to be on your mobile phone… The mobile has really changed how customers interact. And it has really changed the customer experience. Right now and as of 2014, the cellphone is used more than desktops. And when it comes to banking, our banking experience is three times more done on a cellphone versus on our desktop at home. And that even surpasses 10 times more than the traditional going into the branches. And now we have loyalty programs that also have a lot to do with the cellphone. It’s about knowing your customer type behavior. You get the opportunity to say, “Hey, how can I communicate to you? Would you rather have a text or email or just regular mail?” That innovation all boils down to your customer.
MSF Hub: What is the biggest challenge delivering on customer expectations?
FT: Because of that technology and that innovation—the ease of use and the always available—you have the customers, they’re using that innovation more frequently now, and our machines have to keep up. Now your increase in your authorizations per second and your transaction per seconds means that you have to have and continue to have faster machines to be able to process these authorizations. The average time at TSYS that we used to process an authorization through is tenths of a second. Our peak time can easily extend more than 3,180 transactions per second.
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MSF Hub: How does your team ensure the system accommodates that volume of transactions?
We have to make sure the files are size-appropriate. It's like a 32-ounce cup. If you have 32-ounce volume in that cup, you can only hold 32 ounces of water. We do have alerts in place that we call a threshold report. We would like to keep it at 33%, even at peak time, when we know that you’re going to pour as much water in that cup. We don't want you to exceed 33%.
If something happened where we got more than 65% full, we have alerts that would go off and say, like, “This file right here is over 65%,” and an alert will notify the onsite recovery personnel who would then increase the size by increasing the extents on the file. The worst thing that can happen on that platform is that you allow that cylinder or that file to overflow. If it’s credit, we can get that back. But also, we’re in a business with prepaid and debit cards. Especially with a prepaid card—that’s what people call “walking out the store money”, which can’t be tied back to a particular person account.
MSF Hub: While this is happening, what is important for the customer to be experiencing?
FT: With a lot of technology in the digital era, you’re able now to do things faster and you’re able to maintain your comfort level with security. If there is any suspicion, you will get a text from your financial institution, which is basically asking, “Is this you?” And when it comes to the customers, no matter what technology we are using, we want to keep the ease of use, the savviness and the security in place.
MSF Hub: What excites you about all the technology you touch in your role?
FT: We drive towards reducing downtime by changes; we do a lot of changes on the system. When you’re able to impact people all over the world who you’ve never met, when they’re making plans as far as a dinner, hotel reservations or checking out of their hotel, putting gas in their vehicle. Yes, any life events, we’re impacting and affecting customers and allowing them to have access to the money on their credit cards. And sometimes, I can look at a person in front of me and think, “That person that I do not know, and I guarantee that he or she would have no idea that I am one of the directors managing a group of people that put together the database that is right now allowing them to use that card right now.” That’s motivation for me.