We caught up with Amanda Connolly, NoteMachine’s CTO, to find out about how her role has evolved and the growth she has seen within the company.
Hi Amanda, great to talk to you. I understand you’ve been with NoteMachine for some time. Where did it all begin?
That’s right. NoteMachine acquired Scott Todd in 2006 and TRM in 2007. I came from the TRM arm and, when I joined NoteMachine in 2007 as Customer Services Manager, I relocated to Wales, NoteMachine’s HQ. So I’ve been with the company for nearly 16 years and have seen real growth.
Obviously, a lot has changed in that time, and your role has evolved hugely too. What was one of the first big changes you were involved in?
NoteMachine won a contract to manage Santander’s remote estate in 2012. When Santander divested of their remote estate, I became Technical Services Manager, moving away from front end customer support to a more technical role of project managing the back end systems. That encompassed things like organising engineers, setting up fault codes and seeing how the ATMs interact with the systems.
As part of that role, I also set up a comms solution for NoteMachine, implementing two different comms networks to sustain the new ATMs we were onboarding. NoteMachine acquired 1,600 ATMs at that time, which took the ATM count up to 7,800. It currently stands at 11,000 ATMs, and is still growing.
We deployed an MPLS cloud network, essentially a private comms network which we brought in-house for cost savings, ease of deployment and control. It means that NoteMachine can purchase ‘wires only’ solutions, ordering the telephone lines from the supplier, then we configure our own routers on the network.
NoteMachine continued to grow organically and through acquisition, as we took on other financial institutions’ ATM estates, such as HSBC and Nationwide.
How did NoteMachine grow between 2013 and 2015?
In 2013/2014, we took on our first managed service customer, which was Metro Bank, then Virgin Money, so in that time, there was a lot of growth and development of teams.
Then in 2015, NoteMachine embarked on ‘Project Frontier’, which was the final frontier of vertical integration in the company. Our ethos has always been to ‘do it ourselves’ when we can: we have our own call centre, our own engineers and we set up our own comms networks.
So the last phase of the process was to bring the transaction processing platform in-house, driven by a cost saving but also for more control. Transaction processing is the lifeline of our business and we can’t afford to have downtime. We went through the migration process, which took a year, moving all the ATMs from one platform to another. It was a huge project, and a big learning curve for us.
What is the transaction processing platform?
It’s essentially a payments platform that is a switch, and we use it to drive the ATMs. It allows us to be more agile for our customers: changing screens, download options and enhancing what the machines can do.
It was a big transformation for the business in terms of a cost-saving perspective, but also that leap of knowledge. NoteMachine embedded these end-to-end processes into the team whilst upskilling them at the same time, bringing them on our journey of transformation.
NoteMachine finally had end-to-end control of the ATMs we managed and the transaction processing platform went live in 2017.
What did that mean for NoteMachine’s managed services offering?
NoteMachine could now offer all sorts of additional support to financial institutions from a managed services perspective. For example, the model used by Metro Bank in 2013 meant they owned their ATMs and filled the machines with cash themselves, but NoteMachine provided first and second line engineering, processing settlement services, dispute management and the account management wrap. I am currently deploying the same model for the Bank of Ireland in Europe; it’s an end-to-end solution as a managed service, yet they will still own the ATMs.
I believe a few challenging years ensued. Tell me more about that.
That’s right. My boss retired at the end of 2019 and I was offered the role of CTO, leaving me with some very big shoes to fill! Then there was a major flood in the office in February 2020, courtesy of Storm Dennis. And the following month, Covid hit.
During this time, I was busily developing and constantly testing a deposit function on the platform with my team. Charlie Evans, NoteMachine’s Sales Director, and I both shared the opinion that the deposit function had to be built for the customers to come. It was a fundamental requirement for financial institutions. If NoteMachine was to operate in that space, we needed to be able to provide that transaction set. As an independent, it was absolutely critical to have this function on the platform to offer it as a service.
So you built the deposit function, but how did you make it accessible for customers?
A deposit transaction on the platform is quite straightforward, and it took a year to build. The challenge was how we were going to service the customers and how we could make it easy for them to use NoteMachine’s managed services.
We use Vocalink as a gateway, which is the hub used by every financial institution in the UK, with a Point of Presence (PoP) in Vocalink’s data centres. NoteMachine already had the routing set up, so it was essentially just a case of making firewall changes, agreeing the terms and setting up the links. NoteMachine now has a deposit PoP in Vocalink data centres, which makes it easier for any FI to link up with NoteMachine. There is a standard protocol of how they message each other, and they’re already there, so it takes a project in the middle to join up those services and making sure that the end-to-end process works. Vocalink is essentially the glue in the middle, facilitating the points to enable the processing.
How have you found getting the deposit solution to market?
We had many conversations with Cash Access Group (CAG) about the future road map for financial institutions and we began pitching our proposition to customers in late 2020. Due to the pandemic, all of pitches and presentations took place virtually, which was ironically advantageous. Speaking to people in this way during such a surreal time really humanised the business world. It no longer felt stuffy and technical; we were able to delve deeper into what customers were looking for in terms of the future of cash.
NoteMachine now has the ability to offer not just cash withdrawals, but also deposit services.
NoteMachine’s technical development has seen you successfully break into a new market. Do you have any involvement with the even newer proposition, AXIS?
As NoteMachine’s CTO, my ops and technical teams also support AXIS hubs when they go live. I am responsible for the project management of customer services for AXIS hubs and I have a Technical Service Manager supporting me, responsible for the second line team. The Head Office IT department also reports in to me. At NoteMachine, we’re all about keeping things in-house when we can, creating bespoke systems with a team of software developers.
When an AXIS hub is ordered, we manage the process and get the systems in place. NoteMachine is very good at ‘problem management’, which comes back to our original ethos: we do it ourselves and try to outsource as little as possible. Not only does this give us more control, but also means we are more agile and can more easily respond to customers’ needs.
You seem to be the driving force behind so much of this technology. What’s your secret to success?
I am lucky to have amazing teams of people behind me. It’s all about teamwork, collaboration and building relationships – both internally, and with our customers.
When The Brinks’ Company acquired NoteMachine in October 2022, the transaction processing machine was business as usual. If that’s not working, no money is made. Everything leads back to the processing platform, and it’s my key responsibility to ensure that it doesn’t go down. I have built in huge amounts of contingency and resilience, enabling us to handle the peaks and always maintain BAU.
As a company that doesn’t like to stand still, we are also in the process of building a European processing platform, and constantly working on server developments to enable our customers to benefit from our fully managed services.
Thank you for your time, Amanda. It sounds like there is never a dull moment at NoteMachine and they’re lucky to have you at the technical helm. Good luck with all your future endeavours.