Signs of Intelligent Life

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor | June 01, 2005

Business intelligence email, faxes and Excel spreadsheets have been essential tools to help hospitality executives gather and analyze data. But advances in technology and increased competitiveness are driving the need to go one better, with faster, more sophisticated solutions.

Many are turning to business intelligence tools to gain visibility and insights. According to an IT industry survey by Forrester Research, user demand for business intelligence is expected to rise by 9 percent in 2005.

At Innkeepers Hospitality, the hotel management arm of Innkeepers USA Trust, the struggle just to get data from its brands' proprietary property management systems via email, and then key-punched into accounting systems became unbearable. Ambitiously, the firm decided to rollout an Aptech (aptech-inc.com) business-intelligence tool in the midst of a 90-day implementation of JDEdwards (peoplesoft.com) accounting software, in order to meet SEC requirements.

Intercepting email
Thankfully, both went smoothly. Now Visual Basic scripts intercept 1,000 to 1,200 daily incoming e-mails with varying types of data and insert it directly into the Aptech database. It's then used to create reports for executives and export data to the accounting system. Just six of its more than 70 properties can send data directly into the system.

As a result, Innkeepers executives receive reports by 10 am rather than 3 pm. "Having access to that data so fast means managers can now react a lot quicker to trends," says Marc Dober, business applications manager. "They can go in via a dashboard, click on a report, and it pulls the latest data," which is more accurate. Revenue management uses it to compare internal data to STAR competitive market reports. Comparison data is particularly helpful during budget season, he adds, and Innkeepers plans to increase use of the tool for forecasting, planning and budgeting.
"We learned that our business is very cyclical and trend oriented," says Dober. "We knew that to a point, but now we know even better and can really plan for spikes in business," such as better allocating labor.

Multidimensional thinking
Budgeting was also on the minds of White Lodging Services when the 90-hotel operator chose to deploy a tool from Clarity (claritysystems.com). "We were getting too complex to send Excel worksheets back and forth, and we would lose track of changes," says Carolyn Cochran, VP, accounting and IS. The hotelier also wanted to fully leverage its Hyperion (hyperion.com) Essbase multidimensional database.

"We tried to make the templates as close as we could to our existing budgeting solution, therefore it was an easy rollout to end users," says Cochran. "Once we were familiar with that I was able to easily build a whole reporting portfolio."

White Lodging uses the Clarity tool for daily reporting, forecasting, STAR data comparisons, and to centralize purchasing. Other uses include loading daily labor data into Essbase for analysis, and flow-through, flexible budgeting. Plans include adding the ability to drill down into transactional data.
The solution has enabled hotels to access their own data, and made decision-making more proactive. "We're able to quickly see stats such as supplies [spending] versus budget and see trends quicker by region," Cochran adds, making employees more efficient and better allocating resources.

Hotels are not the only hospitality organizations tapping business intelligence. Brixx Wood-Fired Pizza, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Macayo's Mexican Kitchen of Phoenix, needed better tools to collect data from their restaurants.

Brixx uses a solution from Posera (maitredpos.com) to pull data from the Maitre'D POS system at its six restaurants, including sales, labor, payroll, product mix and inventory. "We use it for comparison sales, sales reporting, managing invoices, to see trends and to help with ordering," by checking alcohol usage, for example, says Eric Horsley, owner. Managers spend less time working with data and more on the floor, and can better run sales contests, contain labor costs and manage invoices, says Sandy Lash, general manager of Brixx's Birkdale Village unit. "We've gotten a lot of insights now that we didn't have before," says Lash.

The day-and-a-half it took accounting to process payroll is reduced to 30 minutes, and the data provides insights into food costing. "We use it for new menus, to see what's really moving and not moving, as well as an idea of where food costs should be and what's the variance from that," Horsley notes.

Macayo's needed a solution not only to pull in data to replace manual spreadsheet entry, but to issue invoices to units for use of its commissary. Using Compeat (compeat.com), the 17-unit chain now pulls in Radiant Systems (radiantsystems.com) Aloha POS data daily for reporting or sales, cost of sales and soon, labor, as well as to collect invoices entered by restaurant managers.

Fast, easy access to data "enhances our ability to manage stores better," says Bob Myers, CFO. "They can see labor and food costs the next day."
Increased efficiency and accuracy has helped reduce accounting staff, and Macayo's has improved inventory control, says Kathy Biernot, accounting supervisor. "We can increase sales because we've not run out of something, it deters theft, and aids in reordering." Alerts point out variances between expected and actual data.

Macayo's also plans to add flash reports and food costing. "Mexican food is very hard for food costing -- we have lots of combo plates and substitutions," Myers explains.

The application has had such an impact that even a year after deploying, "we can't even picture what we used to do," says Biernot. "The longer we're on the system, the more proficient store managers become."

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