Business Intelligence Is Not An Oxymoron - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
7/18/2008
10:47 AM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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Business Intelligence Is Not An Oxymoron

Certainly not for this pizza CIO. BI tools let local managers stop e-mailing spreadsheets and concentrate on what they should be doing -- serving guests.

Certainly not for this pizza CIO. BI tools let local managers stop e-mailing spreadsheets and concentrate on what they should be doing -- serving guests.Papa Gino's Pizzeria is a chain of 370 restaurants, mostly in the New England area, with corporate headquarters in Dedham, Mass. Paul Valle started there as CIO in October 2006. Valle says business intelligence was an obvious need right from the start.

"We had a feeling a BI system was required, but I wanted to make sure," Valle says. So he took a poll among the managers and corporate executives about what technology projects they'd most like to see implemented. BI "bubbled to the top," he says.

That's because the district managers, who typically run eight to 12 restaurants, were spending as much as two hours every morning going through e-mails, voice mails, spreadsheets, etc. "They'd spend a significant amount of time getting that [data] together," Valle says, "and then another half hour doing something with it."

Not only that, the tool of choice for data collection was the simple Excel spreadsheet. "Everybody had their own spreadsheets, then were passing spreadsheets to other people," Valle says. It not only made coordinating that data flow difficult, it was burden on network bandwidth.

Papa Gino's, which includes a chain called D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches, collects a lot of data. Its point-of-sale system collects not only sales data but operational data, such as when a pizza is ordered, when a delivery person goes out, when he or she returns, even how many rings before the phone is answered.

"We have a two-tier data repository set-up, more like a data mart," Valle says. It's a combination of a relational database -- Microsoft's SQL Server -- and a multidimensional database from software vendor Cognos. The data, which is polled nightly from the servers in the restaurants, is accumulated in the relational database, then a "cube environment" is built for online analytical processing. "We have a hybrid OLAP system," Valle says.

The data reporting is done by key metrics. Managers "pick the 10 or 15 things that are most important" and that's the data reports that get sent to them in the morning, Valle says. He points out that it's been difficult, culturally, for managers to adjust from getting a complete data download every morning to receiving just what they need. "We're transforming the way we look at data," he says. The next phase: management by exception, where managers get reports based on key metrics, but those reports are mainly concerned with data points "outside of what we've deemed as acceptable."

Papa Gino's uses not only the Cognos BI tools and multidimensional database but also its enterprise planning, forecasting, and budgeting modules, and its financial reporting system. Valle says he's looking to integrate more operational data into the BI system, to be able to track operations more closely. Also, Papa Gino's employs an outside firm that takes customer-satisfaction surveys on a regular basis, and he would like to integrate that data into the BI system as well.

Valle says the weakening economy isn't affecting his IT plans. For one thing, while the restaurant business overall might take a hit, his end of the street, which he describes as "fast casual," probably won't feel it that much. Another thing: his executive management really believes in the business value of IT. "It was part of why they brought me in," he says.

Valle has the go-ahead to spend on technology. For example, the company's point-of-sale system is due for an upgrade. The POS is essentially homegrown -- the company inherited the code when the vendor went out of business several years ago and has been customizing it ever since. Valle says he's kicking the tires on a new POS right now. "We have an intended vendor," he says.

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