The perception many people have of modern challengers to older business models can be very skewed towards lavishly funded, venture capital backed digital gambles, rather than well thought through offerings that customers actually need.
The reality of digital evolution is very different, not least because VC's fund less than one percent of businesses in north America. The far bigger shift that is going on is how and why currently successful businesses are reframing and refocusing their aims, objectives and goals to take in the new three hundred and sixty degree realities of our increasingly digital world. By 360º I mean the fact that all aspects of business, whether internal, customer facing or the prospect's view are now overwhelmingly digital...or aspire to be.
The way businesses attempt to leverage technology advances to become faster, more flexible and adaptable are currently often focused on 'asa service' tools plugged into a foundational and more permanent platform approach. The ability to replace component tools when something better comes along, data portability, single sign on and manageable security are all very attractive aspects of this approach.The concept of 'full stack' or vertical industry cloud companies, where the business control all aspects of their offerings via this type of foundational technology is currently very popular, and the cost of creating a software driven business has never been lower.
An obvious historical example at vast scale is Apple, who have controlled their ecosphere very closely at all points to great success. Uber and Nest are two extremely well publicized examples, with beautifully integrated software, hardware, design and services running on mobile & cloud technologies, with Uber viewing the 'last mile' inconvenience of their casual independent drivers as a temporary inconvenience until that process can be automated too with driverless vehicles.
A lot of what is going on in business (away from all the attention seeking start ups, vendor hype about disruption and 'the future is our way' posturing) is the common sense clear up of inefficient, silo'd old technologies that are from a previous age and are a hugely limiting factor to their owners.
I had lunch last week with Anthony Lye, formerly a senior Oracle executive by way of Siebel and currently CEO of HotSchedules, who are very well established in the restaurant scheduling & inventory business. I'm not currently working with any restaurant business and have no commercial involvement other than a strong interest in HotSchedules' approach to their market solutions and what business problems their approach solves for their customers.Founded in the 90's, HotSchedules are typical of the type of technology offering that companies need in order to move with the times and remain competitive - or better outpace their competitors. Historically the restaurant business has been a patchwork of on site silo'd applications. Worse case, imagine a single greasy XP machine and CRT monitor in the kitchens as the digital epicenter of the business, a by no means uncommon scenario today. The manager has to break off using it so employees can clock in and out and if the hard drive fails everyone freaks out.
Moving on from that dismal scenario it's not hard to understand the value of the manager or owner walking around the tables with a mobile tablet with lots of business and logistical data at their fingertips via cloud software as a service, freeing up the last century aspects of doing business through old technology. HotSchedules are consolidating siloed processes into a single cloud platform, so if you own multiple franchise restaurants you can scale and manage a lot more easily. Their Bodhi platform, which integrates and delivers all data on a single platform, is a well organized and fairly typical PaaS offering, but I really wanted to draw attention to the vertical orientation and the business value of these approaches. Consolidating, simplifying and streamlining all the various digital aspects of the business onto this type of platform frees up technical staff from busy work and sets the business up for next generation technologies, such as Internet ofThings (IoT).
Bodhi is a forward looking platform that acknowledges the multiple inputs and outputs of information the modern world demands . Factoring in macro data that will affect business, such as local weather outlook, traffic patterns and the local impact of sporting events, all of which are major factors in how much food and table service to have available at a given hour, to the micro details of a well run business streaming into a centralized digital format to inform decision making more efficiently. We are at the cusp of an era where all food from wholesale purchase to plate is rfd chipped and logged into systems such as Bodhi, giving instant feedback on costs and profit.As is so often the case with mobile technologies, the smart device each employee carries can eliminate the need for lots of other cumbersome technologies. A simple example is manually clocking into work: instead employee presence is sensed and logged from the restaurant's wifi field. We all know how powerful the smartphone in the customer's pocket is these days, from making payments to using beacons to sense presence of repeat customers and make special offers.
As with all vertical businesses there are too many nuances to go into but the theme is consistent - streamline, simplify and thrive on a platform that enables cost effective growth. The challenges of scaling are where life gets interesting for business owners: Bodhi replaces a lot of old technology and costs a few dollars a month for each location,which is a very attractive proposition both financially and in terms of clearing up legacy problems. The greater challenge for business integration and/or growth is the point at which the core PaaS intersects with the big guns of enterprise technology as the size of the business increases. Financials, HR and all the other costly modules may already be in place in mature businesses, or the time has come to scale up. From the big vendors perspective they are attempting to move fast into these areas: SAP Hana 10 for example emphasizes 'connecting with the edge of the network where remote business transactions and events actually occur'. The challenge is overhead cost and business justification. A tech company like HotSchedules is interesting to me because they have many former big MISO enterprise technology staff crafting their approach to a single, albeit huge international industry and are very aware of the real world pitfalls of the past and needs for the future based on past experiences.
For me the bottom line is this: jettisoning fragmented and cumbersome old technologies to streamline and simplify work processes while shaving off cost is a compelling business proposition regardless of the size of the operation. Add in the rapidly increasing complexity and sophistication of our digital world and you can see why moving to a fundamentally digital approach is very attractive and necessary. As always, the devil is in the details (retail is detail...) and it is thinking through and designing the specific business strategies and needs that really make technologies like HotSchedules transform the balance sheet.