How big data analytics helps drive performance in the service sector

When many people think about big data, they may imagine multinational financial services firms analysing reams of stock market information, or utilities providers using Internet of Things technology to optimise their networks.

However, there is much more to the technology than this, with big data analytics solutions being able to help companies in every industry. One example that was highlighted recently by Forbes is US restaurant chain Dickeys Barbeque Pit, which has turned to the innovation to help improve its understanding of customers and boost sales.

The system – known as Smoke Stack – ingests data from a wide variety of sources, including point of sale machines, marketing promotions, loyalty programmes, customer surveys and inventory systems, to provide near real-time feedback on sales and other key performance indicators.

All of this data is examined every 20 minutes in order to facilitate fast decision-making on a restaurant level, as well as being discussed at a daily briefing at corporate headquarters, where wider strategic decisions are made.

Because of the highly-competitive nature of the restaurant industry, speed is of the essence, so the ability to make quick decisions affecting individual locations is highly valuable.

Chief information officer at the chain Laura Rey Dickey explained: "For example, if we've seen lower than expected sales one lunchtime, and know we have an amount of ribs there, we can put out a text invitation to people in the local area for a ribs special – to both equalise the inventory and catch up on sales."

She added that in the past, correcting course at locations that were recording above or below a certain KPI would involve looking at data that was only available at the end of a working week – or in some cases, information that was months old.

"To stay profitable, it is just not reasonable to do business that way anymore," Ms Dickey said. She noted that with the new platform, the same decisions can be reached within 12 to 24 hours.

Of course, the rollout has not been without its challenges, with one issue being how the company could get users from different parts of the company on board with the system. This has been solved with the use of a dashboard that makes it very easy for all employees – including those with little technical knowledge – to view and act on the data.