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Opinion: ‘Democratizing’ Data Helps Fleets Improve Competitiveness

Sam Liberto |

Many laundry companies with private fleets don’t have enough people on staff to ensure that the best technological platforms and business processes are being utilized to accomplish their objectives.
Because determining the best computer system and how to maximize data usage are not part of a laundry company’s core business, and do not always yield short-term financial gains, those critical tasks are often neglected. The result is a lack of necessary business intelligence that can undermine a company’s ability to remain competitive.
It’s useful to think of a commercial laundry company’s relationship to data as an engine is to a speedometer. The engine must operate continually and reliably as the speedometer translates raw data to information that the driver can act upon (e.g., slow down). Likewise, if information systems work together while accomplishing different purposes, management can derive actionable insights to all areas of the business.
Unfortunately, too many companies are beholden to transaction-focused computer technology platforms and business processes. These functionally disjointed systems create unintended barriers between departments (e.g., finance, sales, distribution/delivery, route management, operations) and fail to provide the necessary intelligence for becoming and remaining competitive in today’s business climate.
Like many commodity businesses, commercial laundering has been a technology laggard. Many mainframe and other data-generating systems still in use today were introduced in the 1980s. Such software tools are reliable for recording transactions, but woefully inadequate for purposes of analysis.
With laundries’ operational complexities and high transaction volumes, they should be using computer technologies that are easy to use and can be implemented painlessly.CLINGING TO LEGACY SYSTEM CAN BE COSTLY
Traditionally, a small group of information technology (IT) or management information systems (MIS) professionals, or computer department employees, have controlled laundries’ computer systems. Moreover, these capabilities tend to reside only at the corporate office, so others (e.g., individual customer locations) have limited access to data and information.
At best, they are submitting questions to the corporate gatekeepers who run reports and send them to the individuals requesting the information, creating little opportunity for collaboration among departments. At worst, these “outside” locations make uniformed decisions based on “gut feel” rather than data.
With instant communication as much a part of our daily routine as brushing our teeth, it’s necessary for everyone who needs information pertaining to any aspect of the business to have access to reports, statistics and other content that helps to strengthen relationships between laundries and their customers.
The price for clinging to legacy systems that no longer meet requirements is losing customers to competitors who have made the investments in people and technology.CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
The new reality for commercial laundries is that, to be successful, data must be readily available and understood thoroughly by all users who need it to carry out their job responsibilities. Only by having such access to information can managers and staff gain the insights they need to make decisions that will determine the actions the company must take to run the business profitably and efficiently.
Data that are accessible across technology systems and departments, such as finance, distribution/delivery, route management, operations, customer service, and even safety, can be analyzed and applied to business opportunities.
By providing organization-wide access to all data, management and staff can obtain a common, 360-degree view of any analysis scenario and make certain that business intelligence, rather than a seat-of-the-pants approach, is the basis for every strategic and tactical decision.
The solutions include “data democracies” that consist of information being separated into multidimensional views, or “cubes,” that users can manipulate to help the company fulfill specific strategic objectives. These cubes are, in effect, a shoulder to lean on and are industry-oriented to help the company better manage that aspect of its operations.
These systems must be intuitive and provide users with exactly what they need — quickly and easily. For example, the president, CEO or CFO can have access to accounting details (e.g., revenue, profit, volume) while the vice president of operations is able to see real-time information related to distribution/delivery and route management.FINDING EFFICIENCY
Data democracy also gives management insights to using resources effectively. If 80% of a company’s revenue comes from 20% of its customers, a commercial laundry business will know how to best allocate staff and capital. Data segmentation is a necessity in today’s business environment. Any laundry company that owns a fleet of trucks but fails to use this business management tool jeopardizes its ability to remain successful.
Information cubes can consider many variables, such as routes, sales revenue and profitability, and translate them into quantifiable data that commercial launderers can use to help ensure their operations and customer service are as efficient as possible.
These high-impact, low-risk systems are often web-hosted and contain an intuitive, familiar interface. A typical system requires an investment of $50,000-$150,000 as well as ongoing subscription fees. A return on investment in 12 months is typical and respectable.
Those numbers may appear big, and beyond the means of some commercial laundry companies, but when a business offers widespread access to data, fewer staff resources are required to manage the system.DIFFICULT, BUT WORTHWHILE
Transitioning to a data democracy can be difficult because it will likely result in job-function changes and staff reductions, as well as require one-time data-cleanup costs.
Although becoming a data democracy can create some hardships in the short term, there are many long-term advantages: better use of staff time, higher quality of information generated and used throughout the organization, and improved ability to serve customers and grow the business.
Little more than a decade ago, commercial launderers were wondering how, or if, they were going to use the Internet for any aspect of their businesses. Today, the Internet has become indispensable.
Democratization of data is projected to experience a similar rise to prominence in commercial laundry companies that remain or become successful as new economic realities reshape the industry.
 

About the author

Sam Liberto

ThoughtDrivers

Chief Executive

Sam Liberto is chief executive of ThoughtDrivers, a Pittsburgh-based company that specializes in business performance tools for the trucking industry.

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