In the past, when a business wanted to upgrade or improve its technology there weren’t many options. One was to buy a system that could do everything – or at least as much as possible – which often came with limitations. Or, purchase separate software products and endure the tricky process of trying to get them working together. Thankfully there’s been some big changes in the last few years. Mobile and cloud-based technologies have broken down the door. Connectivity is king.
And customers are demanding it too. They now expect the same level of service, the same brand feel, and the same experience with a company no matter whether they’re communicating with staff, the website, receiving promotional emails, or paying an invoice. So it’s important that every touchpoint, from sales to inventory tracking, ecommerce, loyalty programs and payment options are completely in sync. Siloed systems for different areas of a business just don’t cut it anymore.
The growth of new cloud-based business applications means true connectivity is now achievable, and affordable. Just like the consumer apps we all use, such as personal banking (or more likely, Pokémon Go), these business apps can be easily downloaded from an app store onto an iPad or mobile device. They can then easily link with other industry-leading apps that provide complementary services – such as Vend’s retail management software that integrates with Xero for accounting, Deputy for staff scheduling, iZettle for payments, Collect for loyalty, and more.
In this way, businesses can essentially build their own bespoke enterprise systems. They can pick and choose from a community of world-class apps that integrate seamlessly with each other. And there’s no more time-consuming and expensive set up. Cloud-based systems are by their nature affordable and scaleable. It can literally take around 10 minutes to set up a business app and start selling, and they can grow with a business, without the need for costly hardware upgrades.
This is a big deal. Mobile apps are becoming such an important part of the business landscape that Apple is ramping up its work in this space. Specially selected mobile apps such as Vend, Xero, Deputy and others are working closely with Apple, to fully integrate business tools on iPad. A whole global app ecosystem is growing, to provide complementary cloud and mobile software for retailers and SMBs.
Independent retailers and businesses which aren’t held back by legacy systems, are already using this ecosystem to better manage their business. For example, cooking supplies retailer Borough Kitchen have used a cloud-based POS app on iPad from day one, integrated with accounting and e-commerce to run their Southwark, Hampstead and Chiswick stores.
“We use our POS Vend with our accounting software to pull in our received orders, track our payables, and pay our suppliers on time. With the cloud, everything is easily scalable, intuitive and backed with great support. Unlike traditional software, we see frequent updates and constant improvements that make it easier for us to manage our business,” says David Caldana, Co-Founder of Borough Kitchen.
Similarly, accountants are starting to recommend ‘add-on’ products to provide a full strategic and business advisory service, and help clients run their business more efficiently. For example, a business might start with an accounting system such as Xero and then expand their operations by adding on other apps.
“Over the years a number of add-ons have been developed, which enable Xero to be tuned to a business’ unique needs. Clients need us to understand what these add-ons do and to recommend the best of breed to them,” says Nathan Keely, partner at chartered accounting firm Carpenter Box.
“In retail for instance, by using software such as Xero with Vend as an ‘add-on’, all a retailer needs is an iPad, a lockable cash drawer and a bluetooth scanner. There is therefore no capital spend on items such as tills – instead just an easy to use and responsive cloud-based system with stock control and management tools as standard for a manageable monthly fee.”
“The specialist software now available have enabled us to understand more about our clients and recommend suitable solutions, whilst allowing them to operate more efficiently. They see savings in terms of both time and money, so it’s a real win-win situation.”
Connected apps mean that businesses are able to automate every aspect of their workflow, with systems ‘talking’ to each other and automatically syncing or updating. And as they run on mobile devices, business owners are unshackled from their desks – they can check-in on the business from anywhere, see performance in real-time, and make decisions on-the-go.
This means business owners can spend far less time on manual tasks, such as balancing the books, or organising holiday schedules and staff rosters. But one of the biggest benefits of these integrated mobile technologies is the way it enables a more personalised and seamless customer experience.
In a retail store for example, linking a POS app with a specialist loyalty app means retailers can collate shopper information and offer targeted rewards and perks directly to a customer’s smartphone. Or, integrating a store’s sales system with their online shop ensures that all inventory and customer data is synced across both channels. This prevents ‘double-sells’, where the last of a product is accidentally sold to two customers at once, and means all product and customer details can be easily managed from one central location.
Soon, we can expect to see more and more businesses running entirely on apps. As these groups of connected, cloud-based systems are rapidly implemented in areas such as retail, we will see a wave of revitalised IT systems across many other industries – from manufacturing, to transport, to finance. Faster, better, more transparent and personal services will become the norm in all parts of our lives. A new reign is about to begin, and it’s definitely win-win.