IT and franchise development

Tony Urwin gives us an insight into how he makes logistic solutions a key element of every FDS North Franchise Development Programme

Originally a military term, 'logistics' has become a vital business concept. This is not surprising, as it is concerned with the management of the flow of resources (goods, information and people) from their origin to the point where they are used.

An elegant and well-implemented logistical system is frequently the difference between a market leader and an also-ran in most industries, including our own. This is why I make logistic solutions a key element of every FDS North Franchise Development Programme.

IT is the key. Franchising boasts many advantages, but operational simplicity is not one of them. Knowledge, information, resources and materials flow between the franchisor and its franchise owners, between franchise owners and consumers, and between suppliers and both the franchisor and franchise owners. Managing these flows can be difficult - optimising them can be even harder. Not so with good logistical tools.

I make it a point to integrate at least two logistical tools into most franchises that I develop: a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a centralised customer relationship management (CRM) system. It seems elementary, but you may be surprised at how many franchisors operate without the benefit of these critical logistical tools.

This is a private, internet-based network that is established to securely share strategic information or operations with suppliers, vendors, business partners or even customers. Formerly known as an extranet (when the use of internet protocols was novel), it is essentially a website - or section of a company website - that can only be accessed by authorised parties. The utility of such an arrangement is obvious: a company can use a VPN to distribute documents, share news and updates, collect and publish data, process orders and payments, etc.

A VPN is an essential logistical tool for any franchise. It allows the franchisor to simplify a host of administrative tasks, facilitate knowledge transfer, distribute and track documents, ensure uniformity, keep franchise owners informed and connected and more - cheaply, reliably and effectively.

A Virtual Private Network is an essential component of any franchise developed by FDS North. I provide instruction, guidance and documentation and make available all the resources a new franchisor might require to develop a VPN if they do not already work with a qualified web designer.

This is a software or web-based system used to track and organise contacts with current and prospective customers that is set-up and managed by the franchisor. CRM systems are useful for most business, from consultancies to Chinese takeaways. Franchise owners enter, store and access information about customers and customer interactions into the CRM. The system then becomes a tool for delivering superior, personalised service, launching targeted marketing campaigns, tracking sales performance, and ensuring franchise owners' compliance.

Most businesses will already have a CRM system in one form or another. However, without the proper features, implementation, integration or understanding, it is difficult for a business to take full advantage of this vital logistical tool as a franchisor.

As part of the FDS North Franchise Development Programme we make the smart, efficient use of CRM an essential element of the marketing, sales, and administrative processes of most new franchises. This gives those businesses that can benefit from the technology yet another competitive advantage.

These are just two of the many IT-based logistical solutions that we provide. We also provide instruction on the efficient use of document formats, the implementation of other web-based services and the use of appropriate publishing software. Any franchise consultancy that overlooks the central role of IT in today's market is doing you a great disservice.