Faster Data, Better Decisions

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor | March 01, 2006

Tell a manager the results he got three weeks ago, and he's likely to recollect some of the decisions and ideas that fed into it. Tell that manager the results from yesterday, and he or she will recall a lot more detail. An hour ago? Even better. And if you can predict what will happen when the next shift end, then it is a whole new world.

The ability to positively impact decision-making is a driving force behind dashboards and other real-time alert tools. Hospitality operators report dramatic changes in their organizations when they close the gap between an event and disseminating meaningful information about that event.

Instant impact

The experience of Gordon Biersch, a chain of 26 brewery restaurants, offers a telling example of how real-time reporting can enhance operations. Moving from monthly to next-day reporting, the impact was "immediate,"says Alex Birnbaum, senior director of information technology for Gordon Biersch Restaurants. "We're better able to control the business."

Before the switch, Gordon Biersch IT staff polled stores for sales information and compiled and shared the spreadsheet data through e-mail and fax. Seeking to improve on that, they spent a year and a half trying to get a generic reporting solution to work in their environment, which included three separate POS systems. The vendor "was helpful, but they couldn't quite get the restaurant side of the business down,"says Birnbaum.

Gordon Biersch also needed its solution to be Web-based, configurable according to job function, and allow for easy polling. They abandoned the generic solution and chose Ctuit's (ctuit.com) decision support and business intelligence tools, rolling out two to three stores at a time after a month of integration work.

Ctuit serves as the application service provider, conducting daily polling and routing data to managers. Operations, not IT, is now in charge of ensuring daily polling is accurate and successful, freeing IT's time for other priorities.

Today, regional managers and executives use dashboards tailored to their function and security level, and can drill down through the data to the transaction level. Each executive can also configure alerts, such as overtime exceeding four hours. Birnbaum is hoping the solution will be extended to handhelds for executive use.

"We can analyze on a daily basis, for example, labor, and look at punch-ins and punch-outs, average check levels, table turns, and if you see too much labor for Monday or Tuesday, change next week's schedule,"says Birnbaum.

"There is more information available through Ctuit than most people had access to before. There is no question we're much better able to manage labor numbers."

Access anywhere, anytime

Managers also use the tool to share their forecasts, and use of rankings and incentives help boost performance. As a growing number of users now insist, real-time data can help dramatically improve labor and other key forecasts.

Anywhere-access to data--even via handhelds, is also making a big difference at Bertucci's, which operates more than 90 casual dining restaurants. Data polled daily from the company's Micros (micros.com) POS systems are filtered and pulled into its Epicor enterprise back office (epicor.com).

Executives access the application via the company's intranet to gain timely access to key information on individual restaurants' sales, discounts, labor, menu mix and other essential metrics. Operational, financial and exception reporting is then available company-wide.

The need for up-to-the minute data also drove Manchu Wok's decision to implement the Micros mymicros.net web-based solution. "Manchu Wok manages over 250,000 transactions a week,"explains Paul LeBlanc, CFO of Manchu Wok. "The mymicros.net portal will allow us to view these transactions and our business in a totally different way."

Instead of reacting to old data, LeBlanc insists Manchu Wok needs fresh, real-time data, which, "we can view anywhere in the world. This immediacy of information permits us to make better decisions faster and gives us and our franchisees real tools for success."

Removing constraints

Days or weeks of waiting for key data were also constraining operations at Strand Development Company, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which operates 26 hotels under the Hilton and other banners. "We recognized that to be competitive in the hospitality industry we needed to have our information very quickly,"says John Johnson, corporate controller at Strand Development Company.

"For example, in our Charlotte market, there is more opportunity to increase rates than in the past,"Johnson adds. "We often would not have known that until 30 days after the fact"under the old process, which provided daily data but no basis for comparison.

Strand has deployed Aptech Computer Systems' Webvue app (aptech-inc.com), which is integrated with its general ledger system. As a result of phase one of the project, properties automatically submit data such as revenue and occupancy via the Webvue tool through exports from the various property management systems (PMS), eliminating an administrative position at each property.

Regional and general managers access the data from offices or on the road, with views customized by position. A second Web-based tool, Execuvue, is used for daily reports and drill-downs by Strand Development's corporate executives. Users can set up alerts, which they tend to apply to weekly data.

"In some markets it goes up and down daily,"such as those with strong weekend business. Weekly alerts are a better indicator of a real trend, Johnson notes. "Once everyone was comfortable [with the system], they saw the ability to be better revenue managers,"says Johnson. "That made the change worth the investment."

Phase two, now underway, involves integrating payroll into the system, enabling managers to see key benchmarks.

"We want to make sure we're not seeing any trends go negative,"Johnson says. Labor data is also a part of that phase. "We'll be able to track daily where we stand. Now we're doing that every two weeks when we pay. If we see a trend such as high occupancy, we'll be able to adjust labor."Strand will also start to use the solution's trend reporting module later in 2006.

The impact on Strand has already been dramatic. "We saw a substantial increase in the average daily rate, more so than our markets and competitive sales would indicate,"Johnson says. "In 2005 we saw an increase in revenue in every market we manage in excess of that market increase, because we can go in and look at data daily and adjust our sales and marketing."

Once phase two is complete, most likely in the second quarter, "our true gross profit will increase,"he asserts. The system paid for itself in 18 months, twice as fast as anticipated, he says.


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