HP targets emerging markets

SOMA will help small retailers manage their businesses

HP Labs India, the Bangalore, India-based operation of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Laboratories in Palo Alto, California, is developing a hardware-software combination package called Shop Owners' Management Assistant (SOMA) that will help small retailers manage their businesses, according to a lab executive. 

The development effort is just one example of how the company is creating applications for different world markets by using India as a test bed.

The SOMA package will include a point-of-sale device as well as application software. There is no time frame for the product's release, which will be aimed at India and China.

"We studied the retail sector both in India and in China, and it looks very different from the US retail sector," said Gita Gopal, associate director of HP Labs India. In India, for example, only 2% of the retail sector is organised into large retail store chains, and there are about five million small retail outlets in the unorganised sector, according to Gopal.

The large retail chains and small retail outlets share similar business issues, such as managing inventory, meeting customer needs, personalising the service and increasing profits, Gopal said. "But you cannot take a point-of-sale device that is designed for the US and put it in India," she added, as Indian shop owners are not usually familiar with English, and the small store's operation system greatly differs from the US model.

While small stores may have many assistants, the final sale and cash collection are controlled by the shop owner, according to Gopal.

The challenge in developing SOMA is not limited to getting the right device with the appropriate language interface to the retailers, but also requires an understanding how the retailer does business, and developing an application that solves the business' problems, Gopal said.

Equally important is determining how the retailers' systems can connect to the systems of the vendors who distribute their goods through these retailers, according to Gopal, who added that some large multinational and local vendors of retail products may be willing to subsidise the cost of the technology to the small retailers.

As HP looks beyond traditional computing markets, their Indian lab will focus on contextual innovation, requiring the lab to design products appropriate to local context and conditions, said Srinivasan Ramani, director of HP Labs India.

John Ribeiro writes for IDG News Service


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