Filipino couple invents app to manage field employees

A couple who runs the largest ink refilling company in the Philippines has built a mobile application to oversee, manage and empower field employees deployed in the company’s different branches across the country.

Tarkie, the app they developed, has caught the attention of other companies with similar large numbers of employees working outside the office.  A play on the word ‘tracking’, Tarkie now helps 20 companies improve productivity of more than 1,000 employees and in the process boost sales.

“Tarkie is our productivity solution for our field employees,” says Rio Palabrica-Ilao, president of Mobile Optima Inc., the Pasig City-based company behind the pioneering mobile app.

Mobile Optima Inc. president Rio Palabrica-Ilao
Rio and her husband Jerry Ilao are the owners of SimpleLife Technologies Inc., the company that operates Ink All-You-Can Systems, which started supplying ink in 2005 and now has 20 branches and 100 employees nationwide.

Rio and Jerry, both Ateneo graduates, first met in 2006 at Procter & Gamble where she used to work as a finance executive in Singapore and he as an accountant in Makati. Jerry, who launched the ink supply business in 2005, decided to go full time in the business a year later just before they got married.

“We had a long-distance relationship in 2006.  When we were about to get married, he decided to resign and go full time in business.  It was a big decision and a big risk, because he would have no fixed-income. The salary at P&G, being a multinational company, was okay. So he had to forego that big salary in exchange for the uncertainty of the business,” Rio says in an interview in Makati City.

Jerry’s bold decision paid off, as Ink All-You-Can turned profitable.  “We have expanded and we now have 20 branches located at SM Supermalls,” says Rio, who obtained a degree in Management Engineering from Ateneo de Manila University in 2001.

Rio decided to join the family business in 2009. Three years later, the couple launched another business. “In 2012, we decided to set up our tech company, Mobile Optima Inc., the company behind Tarkie,” she says.

Rio, a 34-year-old mother of three, heads Mobile Optima while Jerry is in charge of Ink All-You-Can.  Mobile Optima, a digital marketing and software company with 20 employees, has already developed technology solutions such as Perxclub, a mobile loyalty app; Peetow, an advanced sales and inventory system; and Timsie, a timekeeping solution.

Rio is most optimistic about the company’s fourth product—Tarkie, which now generates large revenues for the company, just 18 months after it was introduced in the market. She says Tarkie is especially designed to monitor the itinerary and expenses of field employees to ensure they are doing the right job at the right place and at the right time.

The mobile app uses GPS and the internet for location-tagging and audit trails which record employee locations and routes.  It also serves as productivity tool because it manages the schedule of the field workers.

Rio says with Trackie, managers can easily monitor field employees’ activities on a web dashboard while employees can prepare reports with just a press of a button on the mobile app.

Aside from Ink All-You-Can, other companies taking advantage of Tarkie’s monitoring capability now include Bounty Fresh Chicken, the company behind the popular roasted chicken chain Chooks-to-Go; DGPI, operator of The Generics Pharmacy and a large healthcare company.

Rio says the development of Tarkie stemmed from an actual need in the workplace.  “There were no solutions available at that time.  We have many branches of Ink All-You-Can, and we needed a solution to manage our field workers,” she says.

“Aside from my full-time job, I am also a mother.  The challenge was how to manage the people in the office even without seeing them personally.  With that need, we tried to have several solutions, and Tarkie is our final productivity solution for field employees,” says Rio.

She said Ink All-You-Can now uses Tarkie to manage the movement of its field employees, including branch coordinators, auditors, delivery team members and technicians.  This has boosted productivity, as it removed the need for the head office to constantly call or text the field employees.

“With Tarkie, managers don’t have to call and interrupt the work of their field employees. They just check Tarkie and they know what their employees are doing.  They don’t have to disrupt them,” she says.  Tarkie works on Android phone, while a version for IoS is currently in the works.

“We had a prototype for Tarkie in 2013 and we started operating the business last quarter of 2014.  In the Philippines, as far as we know, we are the first to offer this solution,” she says.

Rio says Tarkie was also designed to work offline.  “It has separate signals for internet and GPS.  So it still works offline,” says Rio.

“So far, we are at the revenue stage.  There are over 1,000 employees from 20 companies using Tarkie nationwide,” she says.  

Rio says these companies chose to tap Tarkie to help them manage their field employees.  “One thing we have shown is that Tarkie has really helped improve productivity and performance in general.  One of our clients saw a 50-percent improvement in terms of audited stores. Another client saw sales increase 25 percent,” says Rio.

Rio says employees also benefit from the solution.  “Field employees used to spend half a day to prepare weekly reports. With Tarkie, they can now generate a complete report with just a press of the mobile app. One employee says from half a day, report generation is now as fast as five minutes. This also removes human error in preparation of time sheet, and Tarkie is integrated in the payroll system.”

Rio says Tarkie also serves as a personal assistant or secretary of employees, as it reminds them of their schedule.  “Honest employees really like Tarkie, as it makes their jobs easier.  We want to build a culture of integrity and honesty among employees.”

The target, she says, is to have 40 companies using Tarkie by end of 2016.  “We have 20 companies so far, but this year, we hope to at least double that.  So far, we are on track,” she says. “Next year, our target is to reach at least 100.  From 40 to 100 companies. We will adjust from there.”

Tarkie is a subscription-based service.  Rio says the first three major clients who have used the solution for 12 months ended up renewing their contracts.  “Pricing is per field employee,” she says.

Rio expects Tarkie to register a profit as early as this year, but she says joining an incubation program such as the one offered by IdeaSpace Foundation Inc. can still help the company in terms of expanding nationwide and even overseas.

Tarkie is one of the ten Filipino startups that won the support of IdeaSpace, the country’s largest business incubator and accelerator.  The ten groups, selected from nearly 600 applicants from all over the country, will receive P500,000 in equity-free funding, on top of non-cash benefits such as training and mentoring.

“We have no background in investor pitch.  That’s one area where we learned from IdeaSpace.  Although I am the head of the company, I still appreciate the need for training support from IdeaSpace.  Now I am forced to report to them, prepare presentations and think.  I actually like that. It is a different level of mentorship.  I feel that I will learn a lot from other wiser people,” says Rio.

Rio says participating in IdeaSpace program will also help instil discipline in terms of planning for growth.  “How do we plan for growth in a bigger scale?  How do we make this accessible to companies nationwide?  Right now, we are just in Metro Manila. We are now focused on growing Tarkie,” she says.

Topics: Mobile app , Tarkie , ink refilling company , Rio Palabrica-Ilao , Mobile Optima Inc. , SimpleLife Technologies Inc.
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