In June 2005,CKS published a report as a part of Nokia’s Mobile Enterprise Application Programme (MOBIEA). The aim of the project was to explore the communication patterns and technology consumption among the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector so as to create scenarios of use and develop potential design solutions.
The study was directed towards analyzing the communication networks among micro and medium level enterprises using ethnographic research. Based on whether the enterprises were stationary or mobile, the research case studies ranged from one person establishments like vegetable and fruit vendors to larger clusters like beauty salons, construction contractors and local couriers. The selection of enterprises used in the study, was based on various factors; take for example the beauty salon which was chosen for research on the basis of its network, structure and gender representation.
As seen in the network diagram, the communication network for this case revolved around the owner who acts as an important link between customers on the one end and the employee on the other. The analysis reflects limited interaction within the parlor space due to clearly delegated work for all employees. The parlor network relies upon high levels of trust and efficiency to maintain consistent delivery. The other case studies also make similar analysis.
Excerpts from the final report outline some of the key insights of the research:
- Mobile adoption in SME-s in India has proceeded because: (i) the company distributes and mandates the use of technology or (ii) an individual owns the device for personal communications, but begins to use it for business
- Even though the SME’s have similar clusters, there have been significant differences in the way they function, which is further reflected in the nature of their interactions. Our study reflects that all information systems became increasingly complex as did interventions with technology.
- There has been a need for appropriate systems and technologies for each SME.
- The business solution should address different hierarchical levels, education, and different language and literacy skills.
- There is a lack of framework that could respond to a variety of needs
Post the field work, CKS developed various user-centered designs, such as the Mobile pass book, The Non textual annotation, Mobile server-ware for PC, Mobile office in a box and Secure office memo system, which could positively impact the enterprises by appealing to immediate need areas like lack of uniform levels of literacy, different levels of hierarchy, limited monetary funds and so on. Take for example the Non Textual Annotation (NTA), a new kind of interface which could allow non-literate street entrepreneurs to store, organize and retrieve business related information in multiple media, bypassing text altogether. By using such a technology, a non-literate entrepreneur could make aural memos for himself using NTA . Unfortunately, these designs were never implemented by Nokia.
The study suggested, scope for developing mobile technology to aid SMEs, since mobile technologies had not yet met all of their possible applications, including data sharing, printing, remote server access, PC-to-mobile communications, local area transmissions and so forth. Even seven years post the study, there is still the need for customised service designs which could make the SME segment more efficient. Last year we were exploring the possibilities of designing new banking services for SMEs in sectors such as travel, jewellery, logistics and realty. What are the other service sectors apart from banking and communication that can have a significant impact on the seven million SME’s, that are integral to the Indian economy?