In today's world, businesses are far more likely to succeed when they have access to robust data and effective analytics. But sometimes it can be difficult to acquire good data. That's where near-field communication (NFC) technology comes in.
NFC tags are small, stamp-like devices that enable wireless communication between an electronic device and any item with a tag placed on it. As the name suggests, near-field communication occurs only when enabled devices (or tags) come within just a few centimeters of one another. It's already playing an important business role in areas like logistics, manufacturing and human resources, enabling companies to obtain more and better data about a variety of their operations. On the consumer side, NFC can be used for obtaining deals and receiving personalized advertisements; it's also an essential component of payment services such as Apple Pay.
As artificial intelligence improves and the internet of things (IoT) becomes more ubiquitous, NFC will become a staple of networks everywhere. To find out more about how this technology is evolving, Business News Daily spoke with the experts about what to expect.
NFC for businesses
NFC technology is all about expanding the reach of the digital experience, pulling in more data and creating more opportunities for interactivity with the physical environment. In many ways, NFC is seen as bridge between the digital and the analog.
"To me, it's about connecting the unconnected," said Bianca Lopes, VP of strategic marketing and global alliances at biometrics company BioConnect. "When you look at things like changing the in-store experience or putting NFC on something of zero intelligence to gather data from that monitoring device, the future is sort of endless."
Companies are already applying NFC technology across the board in creative ways, from public transportation to helping people quickly ordering in a restaurant.
"There's wide use of NFC tech for payments, like Apple Pay, all the way to logistics … shipping packages and tracking them from end point to end point," said Abinash Tripathy, founder and CEO of support platform Helpshift. "The third major case is tracking packages and identifying people inside of an enterprise."
For NFC to work over long ranges, it must communicate with a sensor. Tripathy said he anticipates that these sensor networks will grow as NFC becomes even more commonplace, fastened onto warehouse doors, trucks, storefronts and virtually anywhere else an NFC chip might travel through. Periodically gathering the data and sending it back to the source is a key aspect of harnessing NFC tech, Tripathy said.
Once a company has NFC-enabled devices and items feeding data back into its system, artificial intelligence or machine-learning software is able to analyze that information, structure it, and return with logical solutions or new efficiencies.
"If you have [NFC] as that pillar of communication, you can build cool machine learning and AI on top of it," Lopes said. "But AI and machine learning are only useful if you continuously have updated data coming in. It's truly disruptive in the way it communicates and the way it allows you to gather data."
And when it comes to the IoT, both at home and in business, NFC has the potential to streamline the addition of new devices to a central network. For the "smart home" or "smart office" to work well, every device needs to be able to communicate and react to changes in the physical environment. NFC can facilitate that communication, said Paula Hunter, director of the NFC Forum. [See Related Story: How IoT Will Make Your Business Better at Customer Service]
"As a standard and secure technology, NFC allows users to easily introduce or onboard new devices to a smart-home network," Hunter said. "IoT promises to eventually turn our homes, cars, offices and cities into smart, interactive environments. NFC is uniquely positioned to enable and simplify the IoT experience for the consumer."
Privacy and security
Privacy and security are natural concerns when considering NFC's ability to share data. Certainly, there is risk, as there is with any technology, but Tripathy said NFC is built with several layers of security in mind.
"NFC is a fairly secure technology," he said. "It supports a lot of encryption, and the effective distance is just 4 centimeters. The close proximity means hackers cannot easily go and intercept the signal."
However, Tripathy noted that NFC technology does mean the consumer gives up a modicum of privacy in exchange for convenience. As with all data, consumers are trusting the company in possession of that information to secure and protect it. Of course, that does not always happen.
"One of the things that bothers me a bit is privacy," Tripathy said. "Deploying [NFC] in widespread fashion means humans give up some more privacy. As a consumer, that's worrisome to me. It really depends on companies that have a conscious."
Lopes said the privacy concern extends well beyond NFC, adding that the digital revolution has forced society to reconsider the meaning of privacy altogether. For companies, she said, it's important to build considerations about NFC privacy into a larger cybersecurity plan.
"If you're not thinking about cybersecurity, NFC becomes just another hole in your infrastructure," Lopes said. "You have to think about what you need to protect against and account for. Could there be third-party interception of data? How sensitive is that data? Information moving through an NFC channel must be encrypted properly.
"Cybercrime is only getting smarter, and we have to be just as smart as" the criminals, she added.