Putting Data to Work

By Ed Rubinstein, Contributing Editor | July 01, 2005

Increasingly, hotel and restaurant operators are making their data work for them. As pulling information from the point of sale and other strategic systems and pushing data to managers becomes easier, operators are finding more innovative ways to offer both "canned" and customized reports. More reliable and timely information is also leading to better control enterprise wide.

Historically, financial applications and so-called enterprise-resource planning ERP platforms were considered too rigid and difficult to adapt to the nuances of hospitality operators. Hence, they required lots of customization and oftentimes resulted in IT projects that were delayed and mired in cost overruns.

On the other side of the data integration nirvana spectrum are solutions made specifically for either foodservice or hotel operators. They sport many of the functions and features that operators crave, but have had difficulties in adapting to the various segments of hotels, restaurants, cruise lines, spas, golf clubs and other hospitality concerns. The good news is that operators have reported success from both paths. Frequently, the road taken could very well depend on the IT resources and unit counts of the operator.

The casual approach
Casual brick oven and Tuscan-inspired operator Bertucci's, has taken a unique approach to financial reporting through Epicor (epicor.com), which has allowed the operator to develop rich decision-support reporting, data mining capabilities that James Lux, vice president information technology says has adapted to the day-to-day business processes of the 92-unit restaurant company.

The flexibility of Epicor allows Bertucci's to, for example, extract data to generate separate income statements, balance sheets for each location and perform inter-company consolidation on its wide-area network.

"We've done some different things from a data migration standpoint and have gotten a lot of mileage with Epicor. They have a rich architecture and their database is standard Microsoft SQL Server (microsoft.com) with a simple database schema," he says.

Lux also lauded Epicor's import manager, which he says is used extensively to bring sales data from its Micros (micros.com) point-of-sale and payroll from the Ultimate Software UltiPro HRIS (ultimatesoftware.com) into its data warehouse.

The integration of financial and business-intelligence applications has always been a source of angst for hotel operators, especially for those with limited IT budgets and staffs. Take Highpointe Hotel Corporation of Gulf Breeze, Florida, a 13-unit management and development company whose Hilton and Marriott flags include Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Homewood and SpringHill Suites.

When Y2K was an issue, Highpointe management sought to upgrade many DOS-based systems, including its accounting and back-office applications. Mark Pate, Highpointe's assistant controller and IT director recalls those days when P&L and other critical report roll-ups occurred twice a month. "It was basically one-way data transport via modems and managers were limited in how they could utilize any data," he says.

Tracking revenue
To combine its back-office and reporting on one platform, Highpointe turned to Aptech (aptech-inc.com), the purveyors of the ProfitVue and the ExecuVue business-intelligence solutions that utilize Cognos Powerplay (cognos.com) as the front-end viewer.

Pate touts the open database connectivity (ODBC), whereby ProfitVue integrates data from payroll and time and attendance. Every night, the company's general ledger is posted and automatically ported into ExecuVue, providing timely access to mission critical reports to about 25 users.
"Management can not only see room revenue but also know where its business is coming from, whether it's tourists, business travelers, etc.," Pate adds. Now the properties submit their expenses weekly, which has helped Highpointe develop budgets (planned and actual) along with variances to generate more timely P&Ls. This allows Pate and other managers to track revenue and expenses and take corrective measures on the fly rather than 15 days after the fact.

Operators also report encouraging data integration results from financial solutions that are designed with hospitality operators in mind. About two years ago, the eight-unit Culpepper's casual-dining chain sought to get a better handle on inventory, as described by company partner Chris Olson.
"We were managing on a location by location basis with tons of spreadsheets and Peachtree [accounting software]," Olson recalls. "But when we went from four stores to eight in a very short time, we knew we had outgrown those processes. Plus we wanted to automatically generate levels, but not by having our managers sitting in their offices five hours a day."

It was then Culpepper's turned to Compeat (compeat.com), which provided the chain with a client-server-based and centralized view of inventory and purchasing. "We now create electronic purchase orders that are converted to invoices right away and have significantly reduced errors and improved workflow. Plus, the detail is specific to restaurants and you can tailor inventories by fluid ounce, weight, count, and other metrics specific to our operations," Olson says. He even boasts that the inventory piece alone has reduced his clerical salary expenses by as much as $50,000 per year.

Culpepper's has since added Compeat's accounting, sales and product forecasting modules that according to Olson, provide an end-to-end solution that is connected to the chain's Micros 3700 point of sale. Olson also makes extensive use of Compeat's eXcellent Financial Functions, which link his spreadsheets to the Compeat GL to generate customized reports.

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