Users tout BI benefits

The day after it was learned that a cow infected with mad cow disease had been discovered in Alberta, officials at Cara Business Operations Ltd. watched as sales at its Harvey’s fast food restaurants dropped by eight per cent.

“Two days later it was zero per cent impact, and four days later sales went up,” said Edward Kress, director of new business development at ThinkNet Inc. “Using business intelligence, they were able to watch the reaction and not over-respond to the hype.”

Kress pointed to this as one example of the benefits of business intelligence (BI) software on Wednesday while speaking at the BI/ERP Software Solutions show in Toronto. The day-long event featured several users who explained how they were able to get value from their software investments.

Kress explained how ThinkNet, using SQL Server and Microsoft Analysis products, as well as ThinkNet’s proprietary dashboard interface, helped Harvey’s restaurants better tap into sales data across its 337 restaurants. Previously, each store manager faxed, phoned or e-mailed in Excel spreadsheet data. Managers then pieced together the total data during a weekly meeting. “They only had top-line sales numbers by location and by day, not by individual transaction,” Kress said.

Today, BI links are tied into point-of-sale (POS) activity at every store register, meaning that Harvey’s can now deduce, for example, how much ketchup is used on a particular burger, by who and how often – in real time.

Kress recommended that those new to technology start their projects in small, incremental bites, and to prepare for the unpredictable effects that go hand-in-hand with new data.

All (of Harvey’s) procedures up to then now had to change, because they had information available that they never had before,” he said, adding that such change is often difficult.

Black Photo Corp., which oversees a nation-wide chain of camera retail stores, recently partnered with Montreal-based Intellera to install a Cognos Inc.-based BI package. Today, Roy Short, director of IS and technology at the company, said he’s able to extract data from his AS/400 system on a daily basis.

“We realized a return of investment of 2,000 per cent within six months,” Short said, mainly around the shortened time it took to provide sales information to its partner vendors and suppliers. “The challenge was no one believed (those numbers).”

He warned attendees that the process of “cleaning up” data – eliminating duplication, coding everything in a standard fashion – in preparation for rolling out BI is one of the most challenging aspects. “I can’t stress it enough,” he added.