Vaughan Rowsell, Founder and CEO, Vend
There is a big disruption coming to APAC’s small-to-medium-sized businesses in the next few years in the form of mobile technology. You might think this is old news - we’ve been finding ways to engage with customers using mobile for quite some time. But now it’s much more than that. Cloud-based technologies are breaking down traditional barriers and are changing the way we actually run and manage our businesses. Separate and siloed systems for different areas - such as accounting, operations, telecommunications and ecommerce - are no longer adequate. The future is all about connectivity.
For example, in the retail sector we’ve seen a tidal wave of new developments recently, with the growth of online shopping, click and collect, and customers demanding instant and easy access to products. Customers no longer see a difference between a brand’s online presence and their physical store or product. They expect the same level of service, the same brand feel, and the same shopping experience across every channel. So it’s important that all touchpoints, from sales to inventory tracking, loyalty programs and promotions, are completely in sync. The siloed approach simply isn’t the best way to run a business anymore.
The growing app ecosystem
The trend towards connectivity is picking up pace, thanks to the rise of new cloud-based business applications. Just like the consumer apps we use, such as for personal banking or (let’s be honest here) Angry Birds, these business apps can be easily downloaded onto an iPad or mobile device. In this way, SMBs can essentially build their own bespoke enterprise systems: from business management, to loyalty, finance, payments and analytics. They can pick and choose from an ecosystem of affordable, world-class business apps that integrate seamlessly with each other.
Mobile is becoming such an important part of the business landscape that Apple is ramping up its work in this space - announcing that it’s working closely with select business app developers (like Vend) to fully integrate business tools on the iPad. Soon, we can expect to see more and more companies running entirely on apps.
Local businesses tapping into apps
Independent operators, retailers, and even pop-up shops and seasonal businesses, which aren’t held back by large legacy systems, are already using apps to better manage their business. For example GYMM BOXX, a premium gym chain based in Singapore, have recently moved to cloud-based technology, using a point-of-sale software app integrated with their other systems.
They’re now able to manage memberships and sell merchandise, consolidate sales reports across all their branches, monitor sales performance, and track inventory for faster stock reordering, all as part of one cohesive system.
Because it’s an app, General manager Umar Faruq can also monitor real-time sales performance from his smartphone, which means he can manage the business no matter where he is: “It allows you to seamlessly manage your business as a whole, from one central system,” he says.
Personalising the customer experience
With these new technologies, businesses will spend less time on tasks that would have been done manually in the past, such as balancing the books at the end of each week or organising staff rosters. But one of the biggest benefits of mobile is that it enables a more personalised and seamless customer experience from anywhere.
For example, linking a POS app with a specialist loyalty app means you can collate customer information, and send targeted offers to them via their smartphone when they’re in the vicinity of your store - encouraging them to stop in. Or, integrating a customer support system with your sales data means you can bring up important customer information in real-time and provide far more informed and accurate customer service - even when you’re out at an event or conference dealing with customers face to face.
To business, and beyond
The speed at which cloud-based systems can be implemented means they will be transformative for many industries. Setting up a new IT system is traditionally very time-consuming, and expensive - at least a few days for an expert to fully implement (not to mention the weeks of consultation beforehand). Now, with a few clicks of a button it can literally take around 10 minutes to set-up a business app and start selling to customers. Cloud-based systems are also, by their nature, scaleable. They can grow with a business, without the need for costly hardware upgrades.
As these groups of connected, cloud-based systems are rapidly implemented by businesses across the APAC region, we will see a wave of revitalised IT systems across many industries - from manufacturing, to transport, to finance. Faster, better, more transparent and personal services will become the norm in all parts of our lives. There’s never been a more exciting time to be business, and the best is yet to come.