Look to the Cloud for Improved BI
By now, the term “cloud computing” is not a novel phrase. However, for large organizations in the hospitality industry, it still can be a daunting concept.
In an industry where business depends on consistent and efficient operations, touching the sleeping bear of aging technology can be a formidable task. The POS, for example, is vital to daily store operations. If that goes down, the store is essentially inoperable. Naturally, thinking about tinkering with the POS or the technology connected to it can cause hesitation; one wrong slip could mean a significant loss in revenue.
We talked with Jeffery Kent, CIO of the Flynn Group, about his perception of the role of cloud computing for multi-unit operators and how it has changed his business. Flynn Group manages over 1,200 restaurants across 23 states under the Brands Applebee’s, Arby’s, Taco Bell, and Panera.
How are you using cloud computing at the enterprise level today?
Kent: “The core of our enterprise system is the ERP environment. While the company has invested heavily in implementing the ERP system, the expected returns have not materialized. As I came in, I did a quick assessment and decided what we want to do is shrink the ERP footprint and make it part of an ecosystem with a platform that lets us more easily leverage our data. We decided to move the ERP from a hosted infrastructure provider to into the cloud. It is actually going to cost us about half as much to host it in the cloud.
Meanwhile we began developing reports in a BI tool that was provided as a cloud service. In 90 days, we developed and deployed a comprehensive set of new reports that we had previously spent 18 months and significant effort attempting to get the same reports directly from the ERP system.”
Diving a little more into reports, what types of information are you aggregating?
Kent: “There is a comprehensive set of financial reports that include food cost, labor cost and other controllable costs. If you have responsibilities for multiple restaurants, such as a regional vice president. you see all your stores rolled up. You can then see each individual market, and, if desired, drill down to restaurant level. You can select any group of restaurants do side-by-side comparisons. The ability to identify problems in restaurants or markets is pretty amazing.
Our attempts to produce this capability directly from ERP produced a 3,000-page PDF file that had every report that could be generated. This was done to avoid prohibitive licensing fees in the ERP environment. To find a report, you went to the PDF table of contents and then scrolled to the page for the report.”
What were some of the challenges in migrating systems and how did you overcome them?
Kent: “The first thing you realize is all the problems that exist with your directory services. You also find out how many of your apps don't use directory services, and instead are hard-coded. The next thing is the network speed from your existing data center to the cloud provider. You may find that to transfer all the data in your current data to the cloud at your current network speeds could take years! You have to temporarily beef-up bandwidth.
Getting the existing firewall to talk to the could provider’s firewall is also important. In the course of opening up our data center and the cloud, we inadvertently left a service unprotected. We were hit with a minor security incident which was pretty easily mitigated. However, it did distract the infrastructure team from the task at hand.
You will also discover that your environment is probably not as well documented as it should be. It will take some time to review how your systems are currently configured and how to replicate them to the cloud.”
What would you recommend to organizations looking to centralize their enterprise data in the cloud?
Kent: “I think you have to be clear about your strategic intent for moving to the cloud for. Are you going to host all your applications there? Are you looking for application services or just infrastructure services? In our case we wanted more than just infrastructure; we wanted a set of services to build a mesh for our ecosystem, that is APIs, workflow and analytics.
It takes a lot of organizational energy to operate a data center, even a co-lo. By moving to the cloud, you can redirect that energy into services that are more directly value-added to the business. Ultimately, I am not here to run a data center. I'm here to help our people operate their restaurants. The more direct inertia I can put behind driving that support creates more value for our business. With the platform we selected, we also get a much richer stack of features and functions and, as a result, we are able to integrate systems, deliver workflow and analytics at much greater velocity.”
About the Author:
Jack Scott is with Intelligent Transactions.