By Bob Stein
Professional, reliable and easy to use Business Intelligence (BI) is essential to maintaining an edge and meeting financial performance objectives in the increasingly competitive convenience store retailing industry. The amount of change in the economy today, which can affect consumer confidence and behavior on an immediate basis, requires agile responses based on insights provided from valuable business data. Volatility in fuel prices, the stock market, retailer sales results and rising unemployment all make it necessary to be knowledgeable and dynamic in making decisions and changes in the business. To do so requires good data that is well organized and provides actionable insights: this is what Business Intelligence tools can do for retailers.
Characteristics of robust BI tools include the ability to efficiently compile data and report key performance indicators in an easy-to-understand visual/graphic “dashboard” that provides visual context of a company’s performance. For small and large retailers alike, BI offers an array of benefits that can improve a business owner’s decision making and increase profitability.
The “dashboard” interface of today’s BI solutions start with a daily snapshot of a convenience store operator’s business, placing data at its fingertips and allowing it to drill down from the dashboard to retrieve more details. Users can instantly compare today’s information against either budget or performance from previous months, quarters or years. Thus, the system gives store operators the tools needed to efficiently react to changing market conditions and make quick, competitive business decisions.
Users no longer have to spend countless hours sifting through multiple reports and data, because the BI software pulls all the available data as needed and consolidates information from various sources in different places, to immediately provide details about the business. BI quickly delivers information that in the past may have taken hours or even days to track down and compile.
The best business intelligence solutions identify both problems and opportunities for a convenience store business. BI can help retailers decide where to devote their resources and what operational trends they can exploit. The information helps users quickly respond to problem areas and improve store performance. Most importantly, the BI solution empowers convenience store operators to make decisions that can help affect their business in the most positive way, and ultimately gives them the data needed to gain a competitive advantage. The advent of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions means that even the smallest companies can obtain complete BI functionality and benefits.
Fortunately, even for small chains and single-store operators, access to quality BI is not out of reach. Traditionally, organizations had to either build or buy expensive systems to obtain BI power and knowledge. Today, Business Intelligence is no longer about massive, complex databases that require large staffs and larger IT budgets to maintain. Many tools can operate on small servers and interface with existing data warehouses to create decision support tools. This is inexpensive and fast.
With the SaaS model, the BI software and corresponding data are hosted by a technology vendor. Users, from independent retailers to large chains, pay a monthly subscription fee to access the power of BI — essentially renting the software and only paying for what they use.
Because users share the technology, vendor’s software and staff, this reduces upfront investments on servers and infrastructure, and eliminates the need for an IT staff to maintain and update the database. This does not mean, however, that a company’s information can be easily accessed and compromised. Advanced security features ensure complete confidentiality with this hosted model. The result is a BI solution — available today — that is faster, simpler, visually appealing, intuitive and best of all, more affordable than traditional solutions.
Hosted SaaS models not only benefit small retailers who lack the IT staff and resources to build, buy and support intricate BI software systems, but large organizations can also benefit by morphing their very complicated and involved systems into a much more simplified solution. The SaaS solutions available today make integrating BI into an organization very easy, regardless of size or budget.
With business more volatile and competitive than ever, BI is no longer a “nice to have,” it is now a necessary tool that enables retailers to stay at the forefront of their business by giving them access to the business data they need to make timely decisions and remain competitive. BI is a trend that is rapidly growing, and businesses today that don’t make use of it will be at an extreme disadvantage in a very short time.
The innovative, affordable BI tools available today are becoming more ubiquitous throughout the convenience store industry. These solutions are helping retailers of all sizes better understand their business and make optimal decisions that will ensure business success in the future and keep the convenience store industry healthy and prosperous.