Traditionally, enterprise-class business tools have only been accessible to relatively large companies. 9 Spokes International Ltd. saw an opportunity to close the gap by offering more economical solutions in the cloud.
9 Spokes chose to work with IBM Cloud bare metal servers to host its dashboard for business apps. Provided to SMBs via their own banks, the solution gives both parties deep insights that enhance decision-making.
Speeds growth for SMBsand unlocks new opportunities for banks
Delights customerswith seamless user experiences, enabling exceptional business performance
Supports global expansionthrough scalability and geographic distribution of IBM Cloud resources
Business challenge story
Filling a gap in the market
9 Spokes, an innovative New Zealand-based cloud services provider, recognized an irresistible opportunity and an unserved need: the delivery of enterprise-class business tools to SMBs. Millions of SMBs form the backbone of economies across the world, and yet the technology that can level the playing field with bigger players is often out of reach due to lack of scale and access.
The founders of 9 Spokes wanted to upset the status quo by providing the same IT firepower to smaller companies that larger corporations enjoy. In one simple, curated marketplace, users can find all the applications they need to run their businesses, including accounting, marketing, sales, stock management, human resources and more.
9 Spokes extracts data from the applications using APIs and presents key metrics to companies via an intuitive dashboard, providing clients unprecedented insight into their business performance. At the same time, 9 Spokes gains visibility into users’ businesses—a valuable source of data that forms a key part of the 9 Spokes business model. This gives the company opportunities to provide industry benchmarking utilizing anonymized data from across a large footprint of businesses globally.
To deliver this innovative solution to SMBs, 9 Spokes required a secure and robust technology platform that could scale rapidly.
Mark Estall, Co-Founder, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer at 9 Spokes, explains how the company discovered a business opportunity: “We knew that we’d spotted a gap in the market with enormous potential. There are many companies doing some elements of what we do—providing reporting dashboards, for example—but none matched the full sweep of our plans. The challenge was bringing our offering to market in the most effective way possible, so that we could establish first-mover advantage.”
Tapping into an existing customer base
Working with IBM, 9 Spokes identified the banking sector as the ideal initial route to market. By white-labeling its solution so that banks can deliver it directly to their own customers, 9 Spokes reaches a large ready-made SMB client set. For banks, the deep visibility into their customers’ businesses offered by the 9 Spokes platform can help improve engagement and identify lower-risk opportunities to sell additional services and service their customers.
“The go-to-market model proposed by IBM created a win-win situation for us, banks and SMBs,” says Estall. “Our research showed us that most enterprises believe that banks already have this level of insight into their operations. So, as long as we could demonstrate that we took steps to ensure their data was secure, they’d be comfortable sharing it with their banks through our platform. For banks, we provide the transparency that moves conversations from what’s happening to their clients now to what they might need in the future, enabling stronger relationships that yield more value.”
Getting the wheels turning
To give banks the confidence to invest in the 9 Spokes solution, the company opted to host its solutions on highly secure, robust IBM Cloud bare metal servers. The fully virtualized solution runs on infrastructure in IBM Cloud data centers in London and Amsterdam. The company’s default stack is 12 virtual machines per bare metal server and one server per bank, running microservices-based applications for flexibility and short time-to-market.
“When we went to market we chose IBM Cloud because it is well-respected in the financial services world,” says Estall. “IBM has thousands of banks on its books. Within ten minutes of sitting down with a new client they ask about our technology platform—and it’s a real advantage to be able to say: ‘we use the same technology provider that you do!’—particularly because we’re new to the industry.”
Utilizing IBM Watson® technology on the IBM Cloud, 9 Spokes can help banks explore and enrich clients’ data sets to enable value-added services, providing new AI-powered capabilities for its smart dashboard. For example, 9 Spokes is creating a forecasting tool to give users insight into current cash flow, with 30-, 60- and 90-day outlooks, as well as longer-term views. The company plans to augment this feature using Watson solutions to incorporate insight into seasonality and related buying patterns.
Through a planned deployment of IBM Watson Campaign Automation software, 9 Spokes would also gain the ability to analyze the journey of individual SMB customers beginning with their first steps on the solution’s dashboard. With the resulting insights the company would have the ability to create and deliver highly personalized marketing content automatically, and to ensure that customers get the most benefit from the 9 Spokes dashboard solution. 9 Spokes is designing a Marketing as a Service (MaaS) offering, to complement its business insights platform, based on Watson™ Campaign Automation software. The intention is to give banks the same capabilities in personalized marketing.
“It’s really important that we help banks deliver exceptional customer experiences through our platform,” says Julian Sharplin, Chief Marketing Officer at 9 Spokes. “And we see Watson Campaign Automation being able to deliver a critical part of that effort.”
Building a next-generation ecosystem
9 Spokes offers SMBs clarity around current and predicted business performance and how they compare to competitors, giving them the information that they need to make decisions that increase sales and profitability. Banks can monetize their new visibility into clients’ businesses by gaining the intelligence to offer the right services at appropriate times, while mitigating their exposure to risk.
“Our solution enables bank client relationship managers to move on from simple conversations about credit cards and loan facilities to ongoing discussions about stock levels and sales pipelines that introduce trust and value to the relationship,” says Estall.
By encouraging habitual use of the platform by operators of SMBs, 9 Spokes boosts the returns for its app providers and banking partners. “As business owners get comfortable with 9 Spokes, they can add more features and functionalities from our catalog of third-party apps,” explains Sharplin. “This gives the banks extra information, so they can provide even better services to the SMB—the benefits just keep mounting.”
9 Spokes counts leading banks as clients, including Barclays Bank in the UK. The security and global reach of the IBM Cloud data center network, designed for high availability, plays a key role in securing these significant banking relationships. “The IBM Cloud infrastructure has been rock-solid since day one,” says Mourad Kessas, Head of Engineering at 9 Spokes. “The latency is extremely low, allowing us to provide short response times. We can provision resources for our developers very quickly, helping us retain a fast rate of innovation. Also, with IBM Cloud data centers in so many countries, we can easily meet our clients’ data sovereignty requirements, helping us enter markets across the world.”
As 9 Spokes continues to augment its platform, the company recognizes the potential for substantial additional revenue streams, including a new MaaS offering. Going forward, the company plans to incorporate weather data and predictive analytics into its solutions through new Software as a Service (SaaS) capabilities. 9 Spokes also intends to draw on the strengths of IBM in AI and blockchain to provide value-added services to clients in areas such as compliance with anti-money laundering policies.
“IBM supports the full 9 Spokes sales cycle,” says Estall. “Next on the agenda we plan to extend our use of containerization to increase automation and accelerate our development cycles. It’s great to know that IBM will come with us on the journey to bring more value to SMBs and the banking sector, unlocking significant new revenue streams.”
About 9 Spokes International Ltd.
9 Spokes provides enterprise-class technology and insights to SMBs via the power of the cloud. Founded in 2011, the company is headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand.