I came across a rather interesting question that was posed on Linkedin yesterday which prompted this post. The question was “Which thesis about IT within emerging franchise networks most appeals to you?” The author, Heath Waldorf, is putting together a thesis paper and was looking for some insight. I obliged….
Information Technology within franchise systems would appear to be a scarcity judging by the lack of conversation on the topic. A few quick searches about franchising and technology will pull up a handful of dated articles on intranets (which are rapidly becoming a thing of the past), there are two LinkedIn groups dedicated to technology in franchising – one has 23 members and the other has 3. There are virtually no conversations taking place about franchise and IT in the cloud… that’s Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. The technology playing field is being leveled by the emergence of cloud-computing, whereby organizations can utilize and develop sophisticated business apps without a significant investment into hardware or software infrastructure, and access them via any web browser. Inquiring minds are wondering why there is a lack of discussion in the franchising world about this?
Let’s take a look at what we believe to be 5 of the most important aspects of IT for franchisors.
1. Integration with Social Media- Interactions with existing and prospective customers no longer takes place solely via the phone or email or even through corporate websites. Gartner predicts that Facebook membership could hit 600 million by year-end 2010 and it will be the No. 1 social networking site in all but 25 countries. Opportunities to drive new business development and provide customer service will increasingly take place within social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. If your CRM system does not easily integrate with these social networking sites then your opportunities will be limited. Integrating your use of social networking sites into your CRM system also allows you to develop analytics and set measurable KPI’s.
2. Integration with Mobile Devices- With the rapid expansion of mobile devices and virtually everyone in business having either an iPhone or blackberry these days, we have the ability to access information anywhere and at anytime. Having access to all of your new leads for the day, or being able to pull up a complete view of one of your franchisees while on the road, or being able to solve a customer’s problem via Twitter from your iPhone, are all possibilities. And not only are these things possibilities, but they will become necessity and expected in the near future. Having a technology platform that integrates seamlessly with your mobile devices will have great implications for businesses.
3. 360° Views- Building out a 360° view of your franchise system is possible and is necessary to long-term success. Having a single-source, easy-to-access, view of every interaction with your franchisees from lead through the awards process to pre-opening to training to operational information is vital to creating and improving your systems. Knowing where all your touch points are with your franchisees allows you to create analytics and develop KPI’s and measurable benchmarks for improvement. Making decisions based on anecdotal evidence won’t cut it anymore. Read What is a 360° View, Anyway for more information on this topic.
4. Customization- Have you ever needed to further customize your existing platform? Maybe you needed to add a field or change a workflow process or tweak some part of your CRM system so that it fit your business. How long did it take? How much did it cost? Did your technology vendor understand what you were wanting to accomplish? It’s a poor expectation to believe that an off-the-shelf solution will fit your every need without needing some level of customization. This is where many technology vendors make the majority of their revenue because they understand that you’ll need customizations done. But at that point you’re held hostage because it’s a closed platform that only your vendor can modify. You’re stuck with expensive customizations and upgrade fees.
It will be increasingly important for franchisors to use platforms that: 1) give them the ability to customize themselves, 2) allow business users to customize without the need for a computer programmer, and 3) if advanced customization is needed there should be an eco-system of vendors who can perform this customization thereby creating competition and giving the franchisor an opportunity to pick the vendor who provides the most value. Salesforce.com is one example of a company who fits all three of these criteria.
5. Scalability- What I mean by scalability is that the cost structure is set up to pay for what you use. The advantage of cloud-computing platforms is that there is no hardware or software infrastructure to invest in upfront. A per-user fee is paid in a subscription format. If you want more users, you pay more. If you remove users, you pay less. If you sign a 1-year contract and at the end of that year decide that you don’t want to continue then you don’t renew. A strong ROI is much easier to achieve and risk is minimal when compared with platforms that require an upfront investment into hardware and software, whereby scrapping that plan after 1 year would mean a significant loss of investment.
As always, I look forward to any feedback and discussion surrounding this topic.
What do you see in the future of Information Technology for franchisors?