My laptop, my MBA! Commercial Mobile Innovation for SME’s

by Dina on August 31, 2009 · 1 comment

in innovation,Market Insights,Mobile

This is the last post in the series on Mobile Innovations based on a learning journey that I was a part of. Here’s the full series:

  1. Mobile Innovations – Introduction
  2. Nokia Life Tools – Agriculture Service – “The Internet for the next million” – mobile innovations in rural India
  3. Nokia Life Tools – Education Service – “Raju go get bakery” – mobile innovations in rural India
  4. The old, the not-so-old, and many facets of the new
  5. “My laptop, my MBA” –  Commercial Mobile Innovation for SME’s

Nokia Tej is a mobile order and supply chain management solution for companies working in a communication intensive and networked business environment. Check out more details and this video which demonstrates how it actually works on the ground.

We visited with an Agent and a Manufacturer using the service, to understand what changes these mobile innovations are bringing into their lives. One of the persons we met – the Agent, Nikhil K. Gadhia who is using the service calls it his laptop and his “MBA” – Mobile Business Administrator – all rolled in one!

How it works:

Chand Malu, Head of Product Management, New Business Program at Nokia (in the pic below) tells us that Nokia Tej is an attempt to improve efficiency – speed of booking/placing orders, mobility, accuracy of information provided in the orders, ability to track, less paperwork required and a smaller margin of error.

Tej runs only in English, as most written communication was done in ledgers and booking sheets that were printed in English. It’s still in beta – the first prototype was piloted in 2007. Pricing  is yet to be decided, and will be announced with the commercial launch later this year.  Chand also told us another user in the beta program called Tej his “CRM – customer relationship on the mobile”.

The Agent plays a large role in the entire Textile Industry sourcing –> manufacturing –> retailing chain. I’ve tried to capture this in the diagram below, which represents my perhaps simplistic understanding of the flow, based on our chats with manufacturers and agents and dealers during our immersions:

Benefits to Agents:

There are tremendous benefits for the Agent. Nikhil Gadhia, the Agent we met shared some of these with us :

  • normally Agents need to make 3 copies of order forms, one for himself, one for his supplier, and one for the dealer.
  • the orders are complex because you’re dealing with many grades, shades, varieties of cloth and fabric.
  • mobility and automation allows him to take on greater volumes of work.
  • it’s a tremendous image boost to be seen to be using hi-tech
  • he would normally take an order/place an order on the telephone while on-the-move and then get back to office late evening and send a confirmation fax or email via a cybercafe or send the confirmation by courier. This was exhausting for him and his work was duplicated manifold. With Tej, he said, he could do all this instantly, and from anywhere.

Here are some of his expressions of benefits he is getting:

“I have mental peace now. Now there is no need to work when you get home.  My wife earlier called my cell phone my first wife, now she has reclaimed that position!”

“Now I can do much greater volumes of business as the paperwork takes less than a minute. Also, if an Agent forgets to place an order, the customer alerts us, as he is informed what order is placed on his behalf. Recently, a dealer ordered for a particular piece and I forgot about that and ordered the wrong piece – I got an instant alert from the dealer as he saw what order I had placed via SMS”.

Nikhil still retained one physical copy however, as he says, “it’s our Indian mentality not to completely trust technology”!

“People appreciate us when they see us using hi-tech. I’m called the hi-tech Agent, and my status goes up. The customer too feels he is getting better service and is updated with the latest information on his order. There is a change in mindset – younger suppliers and businessmen are getting more professional and want to be competitive. This helps them”

What was missing in the service he felt was completion of the chain. He really wanted Tej to deliver on payments too so the cycle would be complete. Possibly an opportunity for micro payments for Nokia?

Benefits to Suppliers/Manufacturers:

The benefits don’t end with the Agent. The Supplier or Manufacturer uses the service on the internet to track movement of orders, production and stock flows and payment cycles. Each manufacturer/supplier can customize the software they use to suit their needs – eg. order forms, and the service is hosted on the Nokia servers. Benefits according to Mr. Marda, the manufacturer we met:

  • they can anticipate their inventory, manage their stock flows and balance sheets much more efficiently and get warnings of orders early
  • often there would be a time lag of 8-10 days before the Agent placed the order he had procured because he was busy on the field. with this system orders were instant.
  • with this system, he would not need one person dedicated to communicating on the telephone with Agents (as he currently had), as the process would be automated.
  • often there were discrepancies as these transactions were manual or made over the telephone – now there is little margin for error on the part of the Agents.
  • this took up a lot of time, and with Tej he felt communication could now focus on business building and marketing rather than on logistics and admin functions.
  • finally, repetitions came in really quickly, as there were templates for Agent’s orders that they could develop!

Marda said that his sales have increased roughly 20 percent to 25 percent because of  the faster ordering process that Tej encourages. Marda’s views on loopholes and problems in Tej:

  • Tej needs to tie up with the transporters, as they still required manual printed copies of inventory and invoicing, as they did not accept the details from the Tej system.
  • while it would work on simple fabrics (60% of his business), buyers, dealers, retailers needed to touch and feel complex fabrics which were difficult to ‘templatize’.
  • there’s a learning curve for the Agent who had to work on the mobile interface and feed all data into it
  • GPRS connections that Agents used were often expensive and unreliable
  • doesn’t work on CDMA phones, which are used a lot by Agents

Benefits to Dealers/Retailers:

At the other end of the chain is the Dealer or Retailer – they are alerted via SMS on confirmation of order, and on despatch of the consignment.  They can also check up on accuracy of order placed through these updates.

My thoughts:

The Suppliers are getting more professional and using technology in their processes already, so adoption among them may not be such a large issue. Large ERP systems may be unwarranted or out of their reach. Dealers and retailers at the other end, are getting simple SMS alerts. It’s the Agents that are crucial for the success of this program – however compliance can be driven by the manufacturers and suppliers. I feel a lot will hinge upon how simple it is for the Agents to use the mobile input system, and how it will be charged to them!

While we looked at the textile industry on this learning journey, the same principles can apply to many many businesses, and not necessarily only in the emerging markets. Here’s a neat checklist from Anurag at FutureChat on how she’d like to see mobile innovations work for craftsmen and artisans!!

One of the things I like about how Nokia is going about running this program is they are really involving actual customers/users in the innovation process. Nikhil and the Marda’s of Arvind Mills almost felt like they were a part of the Nokia team. It’s also a smart move running the pilot in such a complex industry – lots of lessons for future iterations of Tej!!

[Disclosure: I was invited by Nokia to share in these experiences, and was paid travel expenses only, and not a fee.]

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