Wising Up to Business Intelligence

By Lisa Terry • Contributing Editor | July 01, 2006

The right data, in the right amount, in the right place, at the right time may well be the new mantra for hospitality organizations using business intelligence (BI) tools to gain insight into their businesses. The key, many operators now understand is to inform rather than overwhelm managers at the restaurant and hotel level. It took about a year of use of its Mirus (mirus.com) BI tools for the folks at 54 unit Tumbleweed Southwest Grills to conclude it was over-supplying data to users. "We put too many things on one dashboard," recalls Steve Brooks, director of mission control for the chain, whose titles reveal its make-it-fun culture. "We also conceptualized too many alerts. Ten is too much--then there are so many things alerted it doesn't seem like an alert anymore."

So Tumbleweed reduced alerts to three to five per user, deliverable to any device, and created topic-specific and user-specific dashboards, such as labor and sales, enabling its 80 users to spend less time looking for data. Views include data such as current sales, prior year sales and average sales for the previous six weeks. "You're better off showing only the most important data to achieve the purpose versus two to three choices," says Brooks. "Before we had twice the number of dashboards at the stores and weren't using any KPIs."

The dashboards helped reduce labor costs, with the biggest drops in overtime; combined with a new labor scheduling system, the application helped reduce overtime by 45 percent in the first year. Tumbleweed is considering a move to hourly data collection, but even the daily update has greatly improved decision-making. "Now an area director can have questions ready to as before they call the store," improving the quality of that conversation, Brooks says. "They're more focused on the missions and goals for the month and ultimately that gives us better results." Insights include comparing average checks of those who did versus did not order a promotional item. The chain will also add labor schedules to its data warehouse, enabling better projections and scheduling, and enhance tracking of new item sales.

Reaping maximum benefit

Providing just the data users really want was also the mandate at Peabody Hotel Group, Memphis, Tennessee, operator of 11 hotel properties under its own and other flags. "Sometimes too much information is no good," says Warren Winslow, corporate controller at Peabody. Asking users what they need and then asking IT vendors to provide it is essential to delivering an effective tool, he says. Peabody has used Aptech Computer Systems' (aptech-inc.com) Execuvue BI tool, based on a Cognos (cognos.com)application, and Webvue tools, since January 2004. Another essential step is cleansing that data so it's meaningful, Winslow adds. "We continue to refine the quality of our data. That involves not just managers at the properties, but the people putting info into the system. The sooner it's clean, the sooner we have accuracies." Peabody's process includes a night audit and an income audit throughout the day to audit and scrub the data.

The third element of success, he adds, is speed. "The most important aspect is timing. The sooner you push out to users the more successful they can be." The tools are used across the enterprise, from rooms to laundry to engineering. A cafeteria manager at a 900-room property, for example, might use the business intelligence tool two weeks into the month to assess the likely end result if the total hotel continues trending ahead of projections, and adjust labor and costs accordingly. Such smart use of the tool has had a dramatic impact, Winslow says. "The immediate benefit was in yield management and on the room side. We saw changes in our ADR in the market versus competitors•We can make decisions earlier." Return on investment comes from that ability to act sooner, he notes.

Getting a gold star

Stein Eriksen Lodge, a luxury resort in Park City, Utah, views business intelligence as the route to earning a final star for the five-diamond, four-star property. They're using Northwind's (maestropms.com) Maestro Analytics to enhance customer service by gaining more insight and knowledge about each customer. Stein Eriksen users spent the winter 2006 season learning the tool; with the start of the summer season, more in-depth use will really kick in, says Ashton.

"We needed a tool to enable us to look past guest history to where they came from, which guests spend the most, who stays the longest, winter versus summer, so we can take our advertising dollars and put them to more effective use," says Christy Ashton, assistant controller. Previously, compiling that data from disparate systems could take Ashton five days. They'd also like to greet customers by acknowledging their past stays and preferences.

While the goals at Wendy's International may be a bit different, the focus on business Intelligence is the same. The QSR chain recently announced it is deploying the Micros Systems (micros.com) mymicros.net system to collect, warehouse, and analyze transactional-level data from all its 1,500 company-owned stores. Mymicros.net will provide near real-time data collection and analysis from various point-of-sale systems. "Wendy's requires a comprehensive solution that transparently collects data from our corporate stores as well as from various existing POS systems in select franchise locations," insists Rob Whittington, Wendy's senior vice president and CIO, "Mymicros.net is able to aggregate and warehouse critical time-sensitive data and provide detailed sales analysis that is compatible with our current enterprise applications. Mymicros.net has already proven to be an extremely valuable tool at Baja Fresh and Cafe Express, and its scalability and flexibility make it a natural fit for Wendy's operations and our existing corporate enterprise solutions." Business intelligence has become the key to unlocking vital information lurking within data, these users say. The next level of use comes from discovering which data users most need to do their jobs effectively.


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