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Kiwi Startup Spotlight: 9 Spokes leveraging IBM Watson to give SMBs in-depth business overviews

25 Aug 17

Large enterprises typically use an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution to manage their assets, physical or otherwise.

9 Spokes is a solution that wants to give the power of an ERP system to small to medium businesses (SMBs) by providing them with one place where they can monitor their mission-critical data feeds from all the apps they use.

At the recent IBM Watson Summit in Auckland, we sat down with co-founder Adrian Grant to find out more.

Tell us how 9 Spokes started.

We established the company about three years ago. Last June, we listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, and have raised around AU$50million so far. We're now working in six countries – we’re live in the UK and Australia, working in Canada, US, Singapore, and New Zealand. We're not live here yet, but are on track to be in the first quarter next year.

We wanted to get traction in a large market like the UK which would get us into the US, and then come back to NZ. It's really hard to build a business here, with an economic footprint, then go to Australia, and the US and the UK. So we wanted to go to those harder markets first and prove ourselves and then come back here.

Where is your business based?

We’re based in Auckland. We’ve got about 115 staff worldwide - 100-odd here, 12 in London, and we’re going to open in Singapore and the US this year. Last year, we grew the company from 20 people to 100 people. 

What does 9 Spokes do for SMBs?

How do you get data or insights that are not just financials? We want to give businesses a single pane of glass view to know what's happening in their company.

So if the example was asking for the weather forecast for tomorrow and I'm a sandwich bar and the answer was, it's going to rain between noon and 2pm in the Eastern Suburbs, you can then ask the question, “What's that going to do to my sales?”

We'll predict it for you based on the past, the answer might be, your sales are going to be 30% reduced. So if you're a small business, you can see the applications - do I need to shift staff around? What's going to happen to my break even position for the day? This is data you need to get from a range of apps.

It also lets SMBs know how they’re doing relative to their peers in the industry, whatever the metrics might be. 

How does 9 Spokes provide this data?

Our job is to get the companies buying apps and then consuming data within our ecosystem because as that occurs, we get a richness and a depth of data. The more data that we get, the better insights that we can give.

It's really important for us to maintain the anonymity of the SMBs because we’re democratising data and giving it back to everybody for their benefit.

Do you use artificial intelligence in 9 Spokes?

IBM Watson is on track to be fully integrated in the first quarter of next year. Then businesses can start asking those cognitive questions and getting those deeper insights.

So at the minute, it's a very traditional ‘here's the answer’ as opposed to, 'go and query some unstructured data and give me the answer that's a bespoke question as opposed to a key metric that I run my business on’, so that's kind of the next stage of the platform. 

How have you leveraged your partnership with IBM?

They were one of the first calls we made from a compute perspective, and we've just been deepening the relationship to the extent that we're now in their product catalogue and they’re helping us sell our product to banks globally. Bank of Canada is one of their largest clients and they took us into that bank, so the sales cycle is massively short-circuited by having IBM walking ahead of us.

It also works out for them because the more we sell it, the more software layers they get, and the more we sell it, the more data we get. IBM Watson is a tool that needs to consume data to learn, so it's a mutual relationship. 

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