Finding the best tech for franchising

Franchise owners and franchisees are as keen to use new technologies as any other business owners. But which key areas should they be investing in?

Finding the best tech for franchising

We’ve all seen laughable Tomorrow’s World type predictions of flying cars and robot employees. But the pace of change today means that no one dares to make predictions 50 years into the future any more. However, government departments are now willing to put resources and policies into”areas where they believe breakthroughs are imminent. When in government, David Willetts, the former minister for science and universities, outlined what he thought were the ‘eight great technologies’ of the future. He believed that the sectors of big data, space, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advance materials and energy were the big ones to watch. However, he also said he thought the impact of developments in these fields was likely to create winners and losers. “These new technologies are often deeply destabilising,” said Willetts. “They are a challenge to traditional businesses, which find themselves having to adjust to the arrival of new technologies that disrupt what they do. The ones that survive have to move way beyond their traditional technologies and sectors.”

According to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a high-tech business is one which invests more than 4% of turnover in R&D. However, even those that do not are”affected by those that do. The rampant pace of technological change means we are all embroiled in a constant game of catch-up. In all likelihood, a business operating in the same way as it was five years ago”is probably not at the top of its game. Franchise businesses need to overhaul and update their operations on a regular basis to ensure they aren’t overcome by the opposition. Many of these businesses are already making strides in this direction, both by conducting their own and by harnessing the best the market has to offer.

Bespoke software

The franchise sector has been massively impacted by rapid developments in ICT,”as have all businesses. Ever-increasing”computer processing power is enabling data-rich software packages to operate, and placing untold power into the hands of businesses. Some of the simplest and most traditional businesses can radically alter”their methods of working by using these.”

Ben Brookes is the franchise manager at Agency Express, which provides estate agency board services. Even the simple act of placing”a board in a house seller’s front garden has”been altered by software. Agency Express’ “van-based franchisees” all use the company’s bespoke £1.5m Signmaster system to increase the number of jobs they can complete each”day. “In its purest form, Signmaster initially enabled our clients to order all their signage requests online, while enabling our franchisees to access their daily work in a user-friendly format,” says Brookes. “An immediate effect was noted: there was a dramatic increase in”the number of visits an operator was able to conduct each day, coupled with a faster turnaround and higher number of life cycles”for each board owned by the estate agent.”

The system also uses the ‘big data’ of traffic reports and updates to improve efficiency, reduce emissions and boost profits. “The most notable change has been the introduction of ‘route optimiser’, a complex, algorithm-based route planner, which calculates the most fuel-efficient route for a franchisee to take each day,” says Brookes. “The system now takes into account traffic, road closures, events and more to ensure we are as swift as possible, while ensuring the lowest carbon footprint possible.””

Home-based businesses

Increasing numbers of people are working from home and running their own enterprises. The government says it wants to protect ‘kitchen table’ entrepreneurs and is bringing in new laws to ensure tenants are able to work from rented premises. This development is of considerable importance to the franchise industry, as many franchisees set up from home initially.

There’s also little doubt that the rising number of self-employed people, all 4.5 million of them are being enabled by cloud-based technology and software. In fact, whereas once technology started in the workplace and then seeped into the home, now the reverse is true. It’s a common complaint of many employees that their office computer is not as good as the one they use at home. Technologies that enable people to work from home or on the move, and to log in from anywhere, are therefore of major importance to franchise businesses.

Little says that cloud-based software and social media continue to boost his business, although he does warn franchisors that some franchisees are more enthusiastic than others. “We have always sought to embrace technology and use Salesforce, Pardot, Chatter, LinkedIn,” he says. “You have to stay on top of these things and adopt the technology early to get the most out of it. The biggest challenge this attitude brings us is that some of our network is less than excited about tweets and blogs than the rest. Techno fear is alive and well; it can sometimes create a barrier when a franchisee can’t learn fast enough or doesn’t want to.””

Jon Card
Jon Card