Dynamic Data

Holiday Quality Foods' visual data mining tool turns on a dime — and delivers dollars. By Joseph Tarnowski

A business' data is only as good as the company's ability to analyze it, and for Holiday Quality Foods (HQF), a 19-store employee-owned independent based in Cottonwood, Calif., data analysis was its sticking point.

"We have a very good data item management system that allowed us to manage items such as costs and sales, but [it] didn't have a good viewing system,"says Richie Morgan, president of HQF. "We had all of this information, but it wasn't that easy to view. We tried different reporting systems like Crystal reports, but they were often very cumbersome and weren't very good — you almost had to have someone write the report for you. So, while the data was all there, it was not very easy to get at."

This was a problem, particularly for a grocer like HQF, which keeps a perpetual inventory, and needs to have movement, cost and inventory information on hand when needed. Morgan also wanted employees throughout his organization to be able to access the data they need to enhance their part of the business, including store managers, buyers and other key executives.

Fortunately, Softechnics, the Akron, Ohio-based vendor that handles HQF's data, including its receiving, and management of its perpetual inventory, pricing system and item management data, connected Morgan with Horseheads, N.Y.-based Salient Management Co., which develops visual data mining solutions for companies with dynamic data reporting needs like HQF.

Salient's system is used in different ways throughout Holiday Quality Foods' organization, from the president to buyers to store management. "Salient's system is more than a BI tool,,"explains Paul Osinski, SVP of sales for Salient. "It takes a consultative approach to understand what the specific needs are in areas where the retailer can improve upon in their business, and then build a tool around those needs. So, we take an integrated approach to understand the potential ways of looking at integrating data, whether it's traditional costs, whether it's other financial inputs — from off-invoice to billbacks to ad dollars — and give them the ability to integrate various systems to deeply analyze existing information."

And this can be done quickly, with many queries drilling down to actionable information within 30 seconds, says Osinski. He cites store labor as an example: "What keeps many grocery executives up at night — and what is a very controllable factor, for example — is labor,"he notes."One of the top issues is overtime. So, you can run a report that shows your overtime this week. Then you take a historical look and see that Store No. 17 is having a tremendous amount of overtime history. Next, you run the names of those employees who often request overtime. Then you can check these employee overtime requests historically and look for patterns. Using our system, getting to this level is extremely fast. As quick as I can think, I can get to the next question, and then the next answer."

Slice and Dice

For Morgan, Salient became a tool that allowed him and his team to slice and dice data in a way that was highly efficient and fast — as well as easy to use and understand.

"Our two biggest issues with querying data were speed and the 0211_PG-094-097 Tech Shop+Future 1/31/11 9:59 PM I think you know what you want, but then you get the results,and usually what happens is it leads to another question, or when you get the answer, you realize you asked the wrong question, and so the results are not the results that you needed. Or maybe I need to ask the question in a different way. Using the Salient tools, it's very easy to shift gears in this way — to ask the next question or to change your query takes just seconds. You can change the date, change the focus of what you are looking at, change the store group you are looking at; you can change anything on the fly. It's very dynamic — almost too good to be true. We've tried different data mining and reporting systems, and they weren't even in the same realm."

While Morgan uses the term "dynamic" to describe Salient's querying capabilities, it also applies to the solution's adaptability in handing the data analysis needs of every part of the business. Virtually everyone in HQF's management uses it, including corporate, store managers, all of the buyers, and accounting. "They all use it for specific purposes,"says Morgan. "For example, a store manager typically cares about his own store, whereas a buyer buys for all stores. So, a store manager will use the report possibly to get information for merchandising at store level, and a buyer may be gathering information to make a future buy, or to adjust pricing based on a previous buy, or to determine where the inventory is, where it has sold, where it hasn't sold. They are both doing similar queries, but for different reasons."

What's more, the system is easy to learn for most of the grocer's needs."lt depends on what you really want to use it for,"Morgan says. "It can be as sophisticated as you want to get. But to learn the basics of the system, if you use it occasionally, say 45 minutes every other day, you'd be proficient within a month."

On top of this, he points out that users are continually discovering new ways to use the system to get more out of it, and then sharing that information with their peers to everyone's benefit.

What this means for Morgan's business is a greater depth of insight in almost real time. "It gives us the ability to have much more insight in our purchasing and buying, as we have real-time numbers," he says."Because of this, we can better manage our perpetual inventory with greater visibility, and therefore to better track our shrink, and to see where it's been historically. And even more important than tracking all this information, it helps us to better understand what to do with that information."

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