You've probably noticed that the American public has not been shy about asking our leaders tough questions about the state of "The American Dream." I'm sure you heard the question asked at the CNBC Town Hall Event with President Obama: "Mr. President, frankly I'm exhausted... my husband and I joked that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives. And quite frankly, it's starting to knock on our door and ring through that that might be where we're headed. And quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer honestly, is this my new reality?" Many of us are worried that our next generation will not attain our level of prosperity and that we may not be able to sustain it during our lifetimes.

Despite the trials and tribulations of the past couple of years, I haven't lost faith in our ability to sustain our quality of life. After all, no other country can match America in ingenuity and innovation. Did any of us in the billing and payment business think that microfiche would be obsoleted by the Internet? Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in the 1980s and even the early 1990s to ensure that microfiche would endure through the worst disasters. A friend of mine, a leading expert in microfiche, used to speak on the circuit about the longevity of microfiche and preached that it would be here and readable far after we were gone. Well, I'm sure Robert was right, but in 2010, how many of you even know what microfiche is?

Innovation begets more innovation. Products continue to get smaller, faster and more functional. I can honestly say that when I got my first Palm Pilot in 1999, I suspected that mobile devices would become more important in our lives, but I didn't dream back then that we would be conducting our daily business via a smartphone or that so many of our personal and business transactions would become instantaneous and paperless.

I think that hearing the public speak out clearly and pointedly gives innovators an opportunity to pay attention and respond with products and services that people want and need, perhaps in form factors or utilizing technologies that most people have yet to imagine. Are you leveraging your greatest asset and really hearing that consumers want to simplify and want to be valued?

Billers and service providers should plan to build up their communication and business intelligence. Find effective ways to gather the voice of your customer. Plan to invest in technology and intellectual property: Yes, it should be a budget item for 2011. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask your customers what they want and what they need. I feel very confident that they will tell you!

Keep your "I" on the ball, and continue to innovate!!

TRACY DALTON [] is an expert in electronic payment and presentment solutions, specializing in the innovation and execution of the bill-to-cash life cycle. She has 18 years of product innovation experience in document printing and payment processing outsourcing solutions and she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the electronic delivery market.


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