How to be master of your data universe
20 February, 2013
Overwhelmed by a tsunami of data? Only connect, says James England, and you can cut costs, speed up your operation and make yourself much more powerful
The new-fangled role of “data scientist” is the sexiest job in the 21st century, according to the Harvard Business Review.
That is probably because the Harvard Business Review coined the term itself, as big organisations seek recruits to make sense of the unprecedented flow of information pumping through the arteries of 21st century businesses. Most significantly, these individuals are tasked with finding new insights in this ever-growing flow of “big data”.
Today’s ability to capture everything means that companies are bloated with information. But for most firms outside of the rarefied world of the Harvard Business Review and global consulting, the concept
of employing highly-paid data scientists is alien. Far more pressing is the need to identify and implement processes that enable colleagues to focus on the day job, and the customer, without being engulfed with data-driven obligations and processes (email traffic being just one good example).
A solution to streamlining data processes that is starting to gain traction is “master data”, a short-hand term for a concept whereby data flows automatically from one system to another. In the same way that devices are becoming hyper- connected (talking to each other), the same is true of different data and software systems that reside in different departments of companies.
To illustrate the concept, consider all the opportunities for data entry at a mature multiple-site restaurant or bar group, when an employee has to sit at a keyboard and punch in figures. There are:
* Suppliers spread-sheet/systems
* Accounts systems
* Purchasing systems
* Stock-taking systems
* Wastage management system transfer sheets
* EPOS pricing data
* Recipe system/spread-sheets
* Brand manuals
* Brand/group websites
* Reservation/CRM systems
* Kitchen management systems
* Digital menu boards
* Smartphone applications (apps)
* Social media accounts, updates and posts
* Self-service kiosks or machines
That’s 15 and counting. How can restaurant and bar companies reduce these onerous multiple data-entry points?
An example of how a simple change requires multiple data entries is supply chain pricing, which in the hospitality chain game can be subject to frequent alteration. Instead of a product price change necessitating updates to multiple systems, master data means one change on one system triggers automated updates across the various other software systems in a business. It means that the drop in the price of cheese or a beef patty will see GPs on the P&L in the accounts department automatically re-based, or perhaps the menu price for a cheeseburger updated. The concept makes possible a scenario whereby if the purchase price of cheese and patties falls to a point, a “cheeseburger special” offer is triggered, and pumped out automatically via Twitter feeds.
Master data clearly requires the ability for miscellaneous systems to “plug in” or talk to each other. It is a development to which many groups are investing significant time and budget. A solid and sophisticated central master data system structure (for multiple site operators) also allows many of these miscellaneous plug- in applications or systems to be “thinner” and simpler (and cheaper) in their architecture.
We are seeing the influence of the master data concept in hospitality, in invoicing for example. Systems, including those operated by Fourth, mean that a PDF invoice can be “read” by scanning software which captures all relevant data from quantity ordered through price to creditor’s payment details. This information is forwarded to other payment systems in the supply chain, with exception-based reporting throwing up any data conflicts. This dramatically reduces physical paper. More importantly, it reduces the amount of time spent reconciling various bits of paper. It also hastens the payment process, with invoices automatically logged, reconciled and approved for payment in seconds, rather than days, or weeks.
The concept addresses the technological lament for today’s operator: disparate software systems, all producing different, unconnected reports. Master data brings closer the reality of a single, dashboard-style report, derived from the different systems at play in a complex hospitality business.
The end game will see hospitality organisations entering a piece of data just once, and not 15 times or more, with all systems updating automatically. This is not just a productivity game. There are huge efficiencies from eradicating the opportunity for mistakes and human error. One of the big prizes of master data is the ability to create and manage “one version of the truth”.
Knowledge used to be power. But for many organisations, power is now data, or rather, the smart use of it.
James England is a director at Fourth, the hospitality systems and software specialist