With the goal of better understanding financial services use cases for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as Amazon Echo, PSCU and the University of South Florida Practice Center partnered on a 12-week educational program.

“The purpose of this engagement was for PSCU to collaborate with USF students to create a demonstrable proof of concept that connects IoT devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home to simulations of PSCU’s systems and data,” explained Priya Dozier, PSCU’s VP of digital solutions and innovation.

According to PSCU’s white paper, “The Credit Union Guide to Opportunities in IoT, Biometrics and E-commerce,” by 2020 there will be more than 50 billion connected smart devices worldwide, or approximately 6.6 devices per person.

“Many of these Internet of Things devices will lead to connected payments, which creates opportunities to explore the technology to understand implications on member experience, authentication and commerce,” said Dozier. “PSCU’s innovation team was interested in understanding how some of these devices work technologically in order to discover opportunities for innovative solutions from a payments perspective.”

Campus connection

Kaushik Dutta, associate professor and program director for the Muma College of Business Analytics at the University of South Florida
Kaushik Dutta, associate professor and program director for the Muma College of Business Analytics at the University of South Florida

Kaushik Dutta, associate professor and program director for the Muma College of Business Analytics at USF, explained that the impetus for the partnership with PSCU resulted from Dozier attending various events at the university.

“That generated Priya’s interest in creating a partnership between PSCU and USF for mutual learning,” said Dutta. “After talking with Priya, I saw the learning opportunity for students in the project and showed my interest in engaging with a PSCU-funded project. The critical decision-making factor for me was how much experiential learning students would have in this project.”

More than 100 students from the USF Business Analytics program applied to participate, despite just two seats available in the program. Dutta said he shortlisted 10 students based on “their prior experiences, classes they have taken and their current interest.” Next, a joint interview with PSCU was conducted to select the final two students, he said.

Chandni Sajnani, 25, and Nagrohan Mysore, 29, were selected for the inaugural 12-week program during the summer of 2017. Both students were in their final year of graduate school at the time, and graduated in Dec. 2017.

“I have a passion for new emerging technologies and a drive to solve business problems with them,” said Sajnani. “The coursework was tailored to my interests and goals, and I was fascinated to take up the challenge and achieve productive results within the given time frame.”

Nagrohan Mysore, a recent University of South Florida graduate who took part in an Internet of Things study coordinated by USF and PSCU
Nagrohan Mysore, a recent University of South Florida graduate who took part in an Internet of Things study coordinated by USF and PSCU. Mysore is also a member of USF Federal Credit Union.

An admitted “technophile,” Mysore said he has always been enthusiastic about using the latest technologies to solve problems and improve the life of a person.

“The coursework offered by USF is unlike any other and there is much to learn from the highly qualified faculty,” said Mysore, who has been a USF Federal Credit Union member for more than a year.

Program particulars

The program did not have a fixed curriculum, nor were the students graded. The goal, Dutta said, was straightforward: Exploring the use of IoT devices for human interactions with a credit union system. The objective, he added, was twofold: To give the students an experiential learning on this “vital skill” and to develop a prototype PSCU could use for further investigating application of IoT technology.

“The details of the project objectives were decided between myself and Priya. That set the foundation for this summer project,” said Dutta. “In today’s world, working with new technology and identifying business use case is an essential skill that techno-business students need to learn.”

Dozier added that the USF Practice Center program allows students to work independently on projects on the USF campus in a hands-on, project-oriented environment versus a traditional online or classroom setting.

“The students met regularly with Professor Dutta, their assigned faculty member and a member of PSCU’s Innovation team who managed the project,” she said.

During the program, students used Amazon Echo and Google Home to connect to a database environment they built to communicate with the devices, explained Dozier.

“PSCU proof-of-concept data was added to a sandbox environment, and referenced to identify and develop use cases,” said Dozier. “The initial set of use cases were designed based on a goal to demonstrate how IoT devices could interact with structured data from a data warehouse-like environment to deliver relevant information in a non-user interface interaction.”

IoT applications

Over the course of the summer, lessons were learned. Sajnani, for example, said that when dealing with financial use cases, she found that it was “more user friendly to build skills on Amazon Alexa rather than Google Home.” And while a user can choose not to share GPS or location data with Google “to ensure that the device does not keep a record or track of the user’s location,” denial of GPS services, she added, does not prove that the location is not being shared.

“The device is smart enough to make use of the IP address linked to view the location details,” said Sajnani.

Mysore added that he and Sajnani also investigated multiple financial services use cases for a credit union inquiring details of its members.

“The algorithm was designed to give out details of account types [and] transactions, as well as the number of employees, list of credit union members, number of billings, and prepaid and debit accounts were also explored,” he said.

Over time, the use cases “evolved based on availability of data for use in the environment configuration available through the devices,” said Dozier.

“The students also pivoted use cases towards a preferred device as they learned of nuances for developing in both,” she said. “In the end, services for Google and skills for Alexa were developed to deliver corporate-level insights about PSCU’s executive team, active accounts and history.”

IoT challenges will be addressed

One of the challenges with establishing voice commands for IoT devices, Dutta explained, is creating an “appropriate list” of commands the devices can understand and execute. To that end, he said, the customization of voice commands is necessary and needs to be based on “local and personal characteristics of the IoT device user,” such as region, language, accent and gender.

“Enabling IoT device-based services will require incorporating cloud in the PSCU IT infrastructure. Without cloud, enabling IoT services will be challenging,” said Dutta. “For example, Amazon Echo can work seamlessly if it is interacting with IT systems that are running on Amazon’s AWS cloud services.”

Chandni Sajnani, a recent University of South Florida graduate who took part in an Internet of Things study coordinated by USF and PSCU
Chandni Sajnani, a recent University of South Florida graduate who took part in an Internet of Things study coordinated by USF and PSCU

For Sajnani, studying IoT wasn’t a passing curiosity. Having graduated, she now plans to pursue a career in this field of study.

“I am looking forward to opportunities revolving around Alexa and Google Home and the technologies supporting their functioning,” she said. “This project has acted as a springboard to my career aspirations in this particular domain and I wish to continue and improve my expertise.”

Mysore also planned to seek similar employment as a data scientist and/or data analyst. He feels IoT will become commonplace in the financial services industry.

“The technology will enable daily banking services – such as telling the balance in a members account, sending money to another person’s account, withdrawing cash from the account –through just basic voice commands,” said Mysore. “Artificial intelligence in the form of facial, voice recognition, natural language processing and bio-metrics has progressed to an extent where these devices can be securely implemented in the field to deliver the requested services.”