SME Spotlight

From nightclub to tech club

CoreBPM's Mr Arden Peddell, with the firm's own tech solution for businesses, at the office in Tai Seng. He and Ms Heather Seow created the solution, which includes point-of-sales and inventory systems.
CoreBPM's Mr Arden Peddell, with the firm's own tech solution for businesses, at the office in Tai Seng. He and Ms Heather Seow created the solution, which includes point-of-sales and inventory systems.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Nightlife veterans Heather Seow and Ardan Peddell have moved from cocktails to technology. The change was sparked by the work they did with The Emerald Hill Group, which runs establishments such as No. 5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar and Coastes Singapore. The success of creating the group's own point-of-sales (POS) system and technology used at its bars led Mr Peddell, 56, and Ms Seow, 61, also directors of The Emerald Hill Group, to set up CoreBPM in 2010. The CoreBPM co-founders tell Rachael Boon how this came about.

Q How did The Emerald Hill Group start to have its own POS system?

A Unfortunately, software costs for POS, accounting and HR were very expensive in the 1990s. Don't forget we opened No. 5 in 1991 when one could use only Micros (high-end) or Sanyo (low technology), with nothing much in between. None of these were suitable for us so we opted for HRS (a new company then) but it was a half-baked and frustrating solution.

We started to write our own POS software in 2002. We found we could not get good reports and that inventory systems did not capture the granular nature of food and beverage (F&B) recipes and what we could find were pretty basic.

Others in the industry just did not bother to keep good records. We know of companies which regularly lost stock from theft or closed their eyes to staff misdeeds so long as they were able to keep the business afloat with a small profit.

It all started with open-source software. We were introduced to this German mechanical engineer who was very much into Linux, which I was becoming interested in. He helped us convert all our systems, not just the POS but everything in the company, to Linux, and we did it on a Friday night.

We initially emulated what the old software did, and eventually it got to a point where we completely rewrote it into our own software.

Q Describe the process to creating new software.

A When we came out to start CoreBPM with $100,000 in 2010, we took the software with us, and only then did we start to actively develop for outside use. It took us a couple of years to reach a stage where we thought we could sell it.

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PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATION

The amount of data we collect is probably a lot more than most POS systems, so we can give operators more feedback, not just about the cash side, but also their stocks, or they can forensically track where something has gone wrong. You can't always prove something but you can look at trends, see if something funny is happening here and stop it in its tracks before it gets too far.

COREBPM CO-FOUNDERS HEATHER SEOW AND ARDAN PEDDELL, on how CoreBPM's technology differs from others.

Probably 70 per cent to 80 per cent of POS terminals are running illegal operating systems. We used to buy equipment from China and, the minute we got them, we would wipe them out and put our own operating system in it, which is the Linux open-source system.

Our system is fully configured to repair itself; we put our own drivers on it for as far as printers and credit-card terminals go. If the network goes down, it will automatically switch to Wi-Fi .

Q Since CoreBPM was set up in 2010, how has the acceptance of it grown?

A For one of our first customers, we ended up giving them back their money and taking back the equipment and software, as everyone's expectations didn't match up at that time. They were using Micros then, and everything they said it couldn't do, we provided with our system. But the problem was the learning curve and the mindset.

With modern technology, there is a big jump in people understanding how systems like this have to be operated to get the end product out. We've had to learn, starting from the different aspect of selling, as we're not in the market to just sell a POS system.

We need to understand your operation, what your goals are, what's missing in your operation, and we try to match those up. Based on a lot of our experiences as well, we can suggest alternative ways of operating.

We have about 20 clients that are big and small outlets, with a few unrelated to the F&B industry. Revenue figures for POS and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and hardware have grown to about $500,000 annually, and we employ about 14 people.

Q How does CoreBPM's technology differ from others?

A It all comes down to data. The amount of data we collect is probably a lot more than most POS systems, so we can give operators more feedback, not just about the cash side, but also their stocks, or they can forensically track where something has gone wrong.

You can't always prove something but you can look at trends, see if something funny is happening here and stop it in its tracks before it gets too far.

One example - we caught someone stealing cigarettes in one of the bars. How we noticed it was the person was putting a bill in the POS system for two drinks. He'd print out the receipt for the customer, and there was a time gap before he came back to the system.

We assumed he'd gone to the customer to get the cash before he logged in again and deleted one of the drinks, and added a pack of cigarettes for the same price. It's unlikely a customer would cancel a drink for that. We confronted him, he admitted it, and we fired him.

The latest version of our software now covers real-time inventory. Anything that is used on the system or sold will be automatically taken from stock.

The traditional way that most bars still do at the end of the night - the barman will try to add it all up, measuring liquor bottles in a jug and things like that. Now you just print out a list that tells you if your (cocktail) recipes are correct, this is what you should have behind the bar, in the fridge or in that bottle.

For our own operations, it cut out an hour every night. One of our bigger customers would spend a couple of hours every night and again a couple of hours every morning manually reconciling stock, but with the new system, they will save 75 to 80 per cent of staff time.

And when that's linked to the ERP system, it means all the usage is converted into cost of sales, and automatically entered into the accounting system.

A lot of other popular POS systems have to integrate with online accounting software. However, our software is all integrated and secure on our own servers. There's no communicating across the Internet.

Our system is meant for companies with multiple outlets. We developed it as an enterprise system for our bars; that's always been an integral part of the structure of the system.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2017, with the headline 'From nightclub to tech club'. Print Edition | Subscribe