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Author's profile photo Pushkar Ranjan

Can a small business be run end to end with a mobile device?

mobile cash register.jpg

In this scenario I am looking at the operations of typical small business being enabled with the leverage of solution(s) on a mobile device and powered by an application cloud at the backend.

I divide the operations into a few stages:
1. Inbound material logistics
2. Sales
3. Billing
4. Payment processing
5. Analytics to understand customers and promote further sales
6. Loyalty and coupon handling
7. Accounting and taxes

Inbound Material Logistics
Inbound materials have a certain seasonality associated with them and hence follow a broad general pattern until some disruptive event happens. Neighborhoods tend to have a certain profile associated with them and the businesses that serve these neighborhoods tend to fall in line and make the most of the opportunity to sell their goods and services accordingly. The device primarily provides an update to quickly check off goods received so that the back end system can update the numbers available for a certain good that is being sold / raw material to be consumed in the case of a restaurant.

Sales via a mobile device is becoming a rapid reality in the restaurant industry and once the price of mobile hardware comes in line with the pricing of a cash machine based infrastructure, my feeling is that small business and mom and pop shop retail will also follow. Bar code based scan shopping is a convenience that is being increasingly offered by many retail merchants. Billing is an activity that dependent on preferences of the end shopper can be made electronic or paper based and will need the use of either a printer attached to the mobile device itself or a standalone printer stashed away on the network in a convenient corner of the premises. The other premise is near field RFID based standards, but I do not have the commercial information to understand the cost vs. benefit impact along with technology challenges in achieving it.

This is a follow on from the capture of information around goods and services being bought and once the transaction is complete, a feed to the back end ERP infrastructure to update the transactional records for accounting purposes needs to be undertaken. Supply chain processes can be programmed on top of stock and inventory levels so that auto notifications based on rules can be triggered to suppliers. The analytics module also works on top of this transactional data to provide insight into various aspects of how the business is doing and can help answer some questions on the state of the business to determine feasibility and viability of continued operation

*Square seems to have some of these aspects covered off in terms of the offering of “Business in a Box”.

Payment Processing
This is a pretty hot topic in the mobile space because essentially what you are holding in your hand is a computer with a connection to the cloud providing for pretty rich functionality set that can be leveraged to easily achieve credit and debit payment over the network for goods and services sold to customers eliminating the needs for different infrastructure to process credit card payment. Think Square etc. another thing to consider for the cloud provider doing the ERP services for the small business in this post.

This is an activity for the off hours for a business to get a more meaningful understanding of how the business is functioning as an ongoing concern. Analytics allow for the monitoring of vital signs that keep the business flourishing. The effectiveness of analytics is based upon the type and volume of data collected and correlated with. Here is where infrastructure provisioning by a big vendor like SAP can come in handy where due to economies of scale there will be disproportionate benefit to a small business.

Loyalty and Coupons
This is an emergent topic in the consumer space in terms of digital equivalent for the paper based mechanisms of yesterday. With the prevalence of location aware mobile devices in the hands of end consumers a lot of couponing and loyalty scenarios can be provisioned to pin point the situation of a customer and offer up an appropriate coupon to trigger a buy leveraging predictive capabilities. The small business can tie up with a vendor like SAP and offer up coupons to loyal and potential customers to get them to engage with the business and buy the product or service on offer.

Accounting and Taxes
This part of the offering takes care of collecting all the information up into a tax filing friendly format and providing added convenience in the face of the annual ritual. In case of available tie ups with government agencies and systems, this procedure could be further automated.

All of the above available at $X / month service price from the solution vendor.

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