by Yogesh Gupta

How Smollan India Transformed into an Indigenous Mobile App Company

Jun 15, 2015

A field marketing company in 2009, Smollan India has transformed the group into a full blown retail solution organization, powered by a mobile technology product.

Eighty-year-old, South Africa headquartered, Smollan, which used to specialize in field marketing, is now a retail solutions company operating globally.

Smollan commenced India operations in 2008 through a JV with Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). “The major pain point at that time for majority of retail/FMCG companies’  was getting the last mile information of what, when, where and how the on field execution of  people is happening in the company across geographies on a real time basis,” recalls Vijay Varshney, GM –IT, NAMESA, Smollan India.

Smollan India’s JV with India’s biggest FMCG in 2008, helped HUL embark upon a transformational journey of moving away from traditional pen/paper approach of data collation to digital data capture in thousands of stores across India.

This BTL activity including information related to point of purchases are communicated and captured in real time for actionable solutions, he says.

Smollan inherently had a browser-based mobile solution till 2009. The solution tailored for South African market needed architectural changes to adapt the Indian market. Smollan team in India had to report the field data with certain gaps. Other challenges such as different time zones and remote application support made Vijay Varshney in charge of NAMESA (North Africa Middle East South Asia) region for Smollan India take the decision of developing a brand new application.

The design philosophy was simple and it was all about having an offline capability in the application to address the impending network-related issues of poor connectivity and also carry out design changes to the application on the fly at run time, the need of the hour, says Varshney.

Indigenous Approach

In February 2009, Smollan India team began developing– a hybrid mobile application (online and off line application) – for HUL. With 12 years of experience with HUL and then moving into Smollan through JV, Varshney relied on the in-house team for this mobile application. The team started developing Smollan’s mobile, analytic and reporting tool (SMART). “HUL’s extreme focus on compliances meant the information to be geo tagged, answered by proper person, statuary requirements within the time, etcetera. The photos collected back demanded a back end audit too,” Varshney says.

The big complexity was managing the veracity and volume of data (photos, business logic, and product assortments etcetera) as HUL has 1000+ SKUs in different brands from thousands of POS. “I gave my insights for this application that gave HUL a first mover advantage,” Varshney says. Today, the solution is highly integrated with HUL backend and is very dynamic to accommodate the KPIs of HUL (which change) every year.

Deploying the solution on the mobile devices of many users and making them aware of this application was a big challenge.  “People using the mobile application were not very technical and hence we had a very simple design philosophy which focused on, ease of use and straightforward features,” as per him.

With different languages in India, the success of rollout on the first time was of paramount importance. Hence the application development envisaged all practical difficulties faced by the field which were converted as application delivery components and the design had proper use of color codes for statuses, simple menus and an engaging UI.

Smollan team initially started with windows-based technology i.e Dot Net in 2009. But Android was becoming popular and windows phones getting depleted. In 2010, the application development was moved to android platform. “Deploying different versions of android and managing different handsets was another challenge. But within a week, we deployed the application across 2000 handsets on a pan India basis with limited team. Our field team did critical deployment as we did not hire outside people,” he says. All training manuals was in-built into the application for people to use instantly.

HUL benefitted from Smollan Mobile in multiple ways. “Knowing the universe of the outlet coverage meant optimizing the resources and the route to the market. Around 1500 people earlier covered 30000 outlets. With 2000 people using the solution, the number reached one lakh outlets and hence the efficiency increased three fold,” he says.

The application helped the last person doing the actual work in the field get the credit for the work and the incentives. Earlier it was more judgmental but now decisions are made on facts based (visits to shops, data collection, reporting the data etcetera), he says. HUL’s BTL POS material / Merchandising material was mostly lying unused as it was not KRA of sales team. The Smollan Mobile application helped increase brand visibility and displays were put at outlets with geo code etcetera. Not just visibility and people but also material being used in new innovative ways, he says.

Once HUL applications settled in and the exclusivity for HUL was over, Smollan Services in India was opened by Smollan to service other clients. “It was not only collecting the information but reporting requirements, real time dashboards, analysis the gaps and the call for action were the typical requirements for any industry—whether consumer durables, FMCG or others. Hence the application made perfect sense for them also,” he says.

Local to Global

Smollan started with few pilots in 2010 and then full blown projects from 2011 for other clients. Vijay Varshney was ably supported by Manish Nunes & Vijay Sivaraman who had worked with HUL and SAP in crafting the global strategy for development and support for the Smollan Mobile application.  The application today has 26 modules catering to different needs and dynamics of the market. With the agile programming built in the APP, the various requirements from each industry helped co-created the application.

The Smollan Mobile application is now capable of addressing specific needs of industry verticals other than FMCG and is multilingual supporting close to 20 languages globally.

With its differentiated offering in the sales force automation space, Smollan offers instant solutions for Field Marketing, Sales data capture, order booking for dealers, Sell-in and Sellout modules, Experiential marketing, Brand activation, New store enrollment, tracking of listing of SKU’s for new players across accounts , KPI tracking and monitoring and Audit. Currently Smollan Mobile caters to the needs of verticals such as FMCG, Retail, and Consumer Durables and is covering the geographies such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Vietnam, Middle East and Gulf, African markets like Ethiopia, & others. Today the client list for Smollan extends services to put chocolate maker, beverage maker, electronic major, e-commerce, and distribution houses.

“Our solution’s expertise and flexibility enables roll out of any application in a weeks’ time for any business logic of organization of any vertical. We can immediately provide all reports, dashboards from day one from the mobile application for real time basis information and live dashboard for salesforce or route-to-market, “he says.

Smollan India is now a technological hub for parent company Smollan with overseas operations. “Those customers use this mobile app developed by India team. More importantly, it is becoming a profit center for us,” says Varshney. Smollan has added a new solution for van sales and this application is gaining good traction in Middle East, African and South Asian markets.

The in-house project in 2009 has metamorphosed into a full-fledged business unit for Smollan India.  

More than 12000 mobility users pan India across different companies and different verticals – both in house and outside the premises – use Smollan Mobile application. Varshney says, “The application can be used across all the government enterprises such as midday meal programs, rural health benefit programs, government aided training etc where the effectiveness and efficiency of the program needs to be measured. We are very open to government opportunities and are exploring quite a few options internally.”

With a clear technology road map to lead the market by 2020 through potential innovations like augmented reality, mobile analytics, GIS systems etc, Smollan is the only organization with people, operational excellence and technology–blended together for Retail Solutions market as per him.

Smollan’s mobile app is a perfect ‘Make in India’ instance on consumerization of mobility and cloud into enterprise.  And 100 percent indigenously developed Smollan Mobile is a great moment of pride, Varshney says.


Yogesh Gupta is Executive Editor, IDG Media. You can write him at or follow @yogsyogi1