Brands and manufacturers in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market typically spend large amounts of money on a variety of assets that are placed in trade. This includes refrigerators and coolers, display units, point of sale merchandise and promotional products.

By Andrew Dawson, commercial director at MACmobile

Keeping track of these assets, managing and maintaining them and ensuring that retailers adhere to service level agreements (SLAs) can be a significant task.

In Africa this is made even more challenging as its main market is dominated by numerous informal traders and outlets in rural locations. An intelligent mobile application is a key tool to help brands manage their assets more effectively in this complex market space.

Managing and verifying assets

In order to manage assets, field services representatives are typically deployed to each outlet to conduct inspections on the assets in question. They need to verify that the assets in place are the ones that should be, that they have not been tampered with, that all assets are present on site, that the branding is accurate and that the stock is being displayed correctly.

It is also important to ensure that brand assets are not stocked with competitors’ products. In certain industries such as frozen goods and beverages it is important that fridges and freezers are maintained at a certain temperature.

This practice has typically been dominated by paper-based manual processes, which is prone to errors, inaccuracies and inconsistency. When assets need repair or maintenance, the agent must spend time placing a call with a service agent to schedule this, and in areas where signal is poor this can prove difficult.

When assets have been stolen, correct protocols and procedures need to be observed. The entire process can become quite complex and difficult to manage, and there is also no way of enforcing that all areas must be completed so the completeness of information cannot be guaranteed.

Solving challenges with intelligent technology

Mobile technology can be deployed to not only improve accuracy and therefore insights but also simplify tasks for field service agents.

A mobile app can provide all of the information an agent needs for every site at their fingertips, including a comprehensive asset register and applicable SLAs. It can also enforce that all areas of a custom designed form be completed and prevent the user from continuing until all required information has been captured.

This ensures that data and asset verification is accurate and complete.

Intelligent tools can also be incorporated to make tasks quicker and more efficient, such as the ability to scan an asset barcode, upload a photograph of the asset and perform geographic verification. In the back end these photographs can be fed into an image recognition system to verify that they are the correct asset and that they are in acceptable condition.

GPS tagging confirms that the asset scanned is in the correct location and outlet accordingly. In addition, should assets require maintenance this can be scheduled directly in the app.

To cater for the African market where many outlets are in rural areas without data connectivity, apps can be designed to operate without a connection. As long as the agent has data access before setting out, so that the day’s schedule and asset register can be downloaded, and at the end of the day to upload information, then the app will be fully functional.

All uploads are stamped according to the time the data was captured for accurate tracking of data and analysis of agent efficiency.

Value beyond asset management

Moving beyond simply asset verification, tools such as Bluetooth beacons can be incorporated to ‘talk’ to mobile apps automatically. This can automate verification and also can be used for promotional activities to push information to users who have a customer-facing app open on their device.

As RFID becomes less costly and data connectivity more prevalent, asset verification can also move into the Internet of Things (IoT).

The key to more effective and efficient asset management is mobility, particularly in the African main market. Apps empower agents on the ground to validate assets in real time and capture a host of information quickly and easily for accurate data and enhanced insight.