Back Office Peace of Mind

By Reid A. Paul, Managing Editor | April 01, 2004

Not long ago, the back office was the place where managers disappeared only to re-appear hours (or days) later. Fortunately, those days are long gone, Increasingly, it is a different world for hotel and restaurant general managers, not to mention IT staff and corporate managers.

Much of this change has come directly out of the development of a growing array of robust hospitality-specific ASPs that handle labor management, scheduling, inventory, accounting, financials, and enterprise management. At many hotels and restaurants, web-based solutions are helping to simplify the implementation of back-office systems enterprise wide, ease the burden for on-site personnel, and improve the ability of corporate managers to control costs and boost operating efficiency.

Remote management

For Skip McHardy, general manager of Chef Gerald's restaurants, peace of mind comes from working near home. With one restaurant in northern Florida, two more in northwestern Arkansas and more planned for other parts of Florida, McHardy spent much of his time traveling back and forth to the restaurants. Moreover, implementing ASP-based HeadOffice from PixelPoint (pixelpointpos.com) has not only meant less travel, but also greater control of the fine-dining restaurants.

"We were so excited about the back-office system, it lets us monitor and control everything at the other two restaurants remotely in Florida," he insists. "Controlling the back office from here allows the key people to focus on their duties. The beautiful thing about it is the quality of the reports - anybody can understand pie charts."

At Ben and Jerry's use of the Micros (micros.com) mymicros.net portal means greater speed "Instead of reacting to old data, we receive fresh, real-time data, which we can collect and view anywhere in the world," Will Patten, director of retail operations notes. "This immediacy of information permits us to make better decisions faster and gives our valued franchisees real tools for success."

Frustrated by disparate back-office systems throughout its international portfolio, Elegant Hotels moved its properties to e by Epicor (e.epicor.com) in 2001 and 2002. The web-based system integrates the hotel's accounts payable information from property management system and into Epicor's accounts payable module. "We can print checks right from the Epicor system," says Betty Clarke, Elegant's regional finance director.

Thinning out the back office

For high-growth fast casual restaurants Chipotle and Noodles & Company, keeping back offices "thin" was an important factor in their selections of ASP-based back-office solutions. Chipotle is using Aloha Enterprise.com (radiantsystems.com) as well as Oracle (oracle.com) for ERP.

"We believe not only in a thin client for the back office, but in a thin client in the IT department," notes Ben Novak, Director of IT for Chipotle. "We are able to handle 500 restaurants and keep our staff levels at a minimum. As long as we select good partners in the ASP world, it works out quite well."

The ability to remotely manage in-store back-office solutions was important at Noodles & Company, which is finishing up a pilot of EatecNetX (eatec.com) "Installation at the stores is a burden," explains Jeff Malm, enterprise manager, "this enables the IT team to seamlessly administer and deployment only takes a couple of minutes."

For Tia Bahr, distribution programs manager at TravelCenters of America, which operates 115 truck-stop restaurants, online access to Tibersoft's (tibersoft.com) procurement solution has expanded her control. Manager get e-mail alerts and reports that are sent as simple URLs. "I have become quite dangerous with Tibersoft," she admits. "I find a new use for it everyday."

With access to back-office reports anytime, anywhere, ASPs are quickly re-making the back office. Whether in the back office, eating a Big Mac or on vacation, the information is always accessible - how's that for peace of mind.

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