Does Real-Time Data Really Matter?

14th September 2012
Real time clocks: Creative Commons photo by Alan Cleaver

Data is everywhere. There are countless sources of data and information we can pull together to better understand trends, gaps, opportunities for improvement and risk. The challenge we face with this onslaught of available data is what to do with it and how?

These questions are getting much more important with the introduction of business analytics solutions, such as LiveAnalytics and other competitive products in the marketplace. The debate has moved from whether I can get enough data about my business to when do I really need access to the data that is available.

Now savvy business owners want to know:

  • Do I need to have business results and data that are in real-time?
  • Is end of day, or end of week data and reporting sufficient?
  • How could I effectively use data that was available real-time?

Industry and operational best practices have proven that yes, real-time data DOES matter! While end of day, weekly and monthly data can be extremely relevant and effective in identifying business and operational trends, highlighting gaps and providing the basis for predictive modeling, there are various scenarios where real-time data makes all the difference. In considering best practices for the use and access of real-time data, the litmus test is to consider where you can affect real-time changes within the business. Two tangible examples would be sales and labor costs.

Consider the following scenario:
If labor and productivity performance are being calculated as an end of day or end of week report or trend, there are two problems that cannot be easily overcome. One, the results are historical, nothing can be done (the moment has passed). Two, and more importantly, the results don’t show how labor is unfolding through day parts. Where do the peaks and valleys occur in relation to sales and labor through each hour of the day? Access to real-time data, means options and opportunities to affect real-time changes in labor costs (more on improving labor costs here).

  • Send someone home if sales do not support the current labor mix
  • Re-assign labor to non-customer facing tasks
  • Move labor to respond to real-time sales activity, such as couponing on the street
  • Positively affect labor and/or productivity results by responding to the situation as it is being measured.

In another example, providing real-time data to employees can affect behavior changes. Assume there is a new, Limited Time Offer (LTO) you have high expectations for. You set a target and ask the staff to up sell and cross sell the new LTO. But how do they know how the LTO is performing and if they are above or below the sales target?

By giving them access to real-time data on how the LTO is performing (for example with something like LiveScore), relative to daily targets, staff have visibility and a baseline from which to work. If the Store Manager sees the metric for LTO performance is below target, they can rally the team and bring focus to the up sell efforts on the fly. Taking it a step further, what if employees could see how other stores in the same territory are doing relative to the LTO sales? A little friendly competition? This focus on how performance is unfolding relative to the “other guy” drives human behavior change and the result is a store working hard to outperform others and exceed sales goals. The net result, higher sales, by using real-time data instead of waiting for the weekly report from your POS system to tell you what a bust that new LTO turned out to be.

Real-time data forces us to think about the business and how we respond to the ebb and flows that occur. And above all else, real-time data gives us a barometer or benchmark to understand exactly where the ebb and flows are occurring and what immediate actions can be taken to respond. Don’t underestimate the power of real-time data nor the financial returns it can be contribute to.

Former restaurant operator and technology enthusiast who loves data and seeing what's possible. It's truly amazing how measurement, engagement, and awareness changes a business.

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