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December 27, 2018

Couchbase Mobile Field Service Solution for a CPG Enterprise

CPG & Retail industries are the most disruptive and amongst an early adopter of technology due to the nature of the industry - they are consumer focused and highly competitive. As a part of the supply chain life cycle - the handshake between the CPG and Retail firms is extremely critical. The sale of products by the CPG firms to the Retail firms is through the on field sales representatives. My experience was around developing a mobile strategy for a CPG giant in Midwest.

The field sales agents typically work on collecting orders from the retail stores / warehouses which are deemed as their consumers. In the digital world, these orders are collected on their handheld devices (mobiles/ tablets). Each sales agent would service multiple customers in a specific geography and the products that they are entitled to sell in the geography. Product pricing (base price and any custom) and promotions are also essential for them to conduct the sale.

Figure 1. Data Entities for Order Collection

The enterprises have some basic requirements for the hand held applications. The mobile applications don't just integrate real time with the enterprises for data but they also need an ability to operate offline (with no internet connectivity). There is probably a notion that with the connectivity penetration across the geographies - why is this so important a feature. But for a field service sales agent  its very important to maintain the order collection experience and brand value. In order to operate offline - the data has to be available on the device.

Figure 2. Required Sync Features

This presents a need for a data synchronization from the enterprise data center to the handheld devices and vice versa. The retail enterprises look for basic requirements from the data sync and the handheld applications and these are illustrated in Figure 2. There is a functional need is to support one way (Most Customer, Products and Pricing data) and two way sync (Order and Order Status), full refresh (initial setup) and incremental sync, support for structured (product, customer and pricing data) and unstructured data (product images). Also each sales representative would need selective data (for example the customers they service in a geography) - this mandates the sync framework to support the selective routing of data based on routing rules.


Figure 3. Reference Architecture

A typical technical architecture for the data sync between and enterprise and devices is depicted in Figure 3. Instead of realizing this complex solution grounds up, enterprises should explore an out of the box solution and I am going to discuss one such solution - Couchbase Mobile field service solution.

Couchbase Mobile extends the robust Couchbase Data Platform to the edge, securely storing and synching data from any cloud to edge devices or directly between edge devices. I am not going to talk about the merits of Couchbase data platform and features it provides in this blog - but will focus on the mobile data sync solution and how it delivers features that any enterprise expects from a mobile data sync solution.


Figure 4. Couchbase Mobile - Components

The Couchbase mobile solution has the 3 components - the Couchbase server on the enterprise data platform, which is the highly scalable & available document based database server, the Sync Gateway which is a secure web gateway which provides synchronization capabilities between the server and handheld device and Couchbase lite embedded database which is a wrapper around the SQL-Lite database on the device.

The Sync GW provides a way to define the data routing rules for selective data sync, also exposes a set of APIs for data access off the data server. The Couchbase GW supports SSL for secure data transfer over the network. Couchbase server and Couchbase lite support encryption of data at Rest and the platform integrates with Enterprise LDAP for Authentication - fine grained data access control through Authorization controlled by Couchbase Sync server rules.

The Couchbase lite is a light weight database and the platform does provide programming support for IOS/ Android application development with compatible SDK's for C#/Java/NodeJS development. The SDK provides a way to support a continuous replication or one time replication. The sync is managed by hand held device and is managed over the web socket connection established with the Sync GW and very much bandwidth efficient!

There is a need for multiple applications sharing the same embedded mobile database, since the same customers & products are required by the multiple applications on the device (each serving a different purpose) for the sales representative and the data platform supports this requirement - but mandates that the sync be managed by one mobile application at a time.

All in all, the Couchbase mobile field service solution is an excellent solution option which provides for all the needed components, fully pre-engineered for deployment and operations which supports all the basic requirements of a CPG /retail field service mobile application, out of the box, thus improving the time to market and improving the overall customer experience. 


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