CIO INSIGHT: What did you find when you got to Parkway?
BRYER: We were not generating the kind of information that the owners and managers of our facilities could use to help them understand what was really going on. In some cases, the data was there but nobody was taking full advantage of it to manage the business, because they didn't have the ability to analyze it at a speed or on a scale that could make a difference.
What were some of the toughest challenges?
Setting up a data warehouse that works. The term "data warehouse" is misused a lot. People use it to mean just a big reporting repository, so if you have data from your accounting systems, people say that's a data warehouse. But a true data warehouse takes data from numerous, disparate sources and normalizes it so that you can look at, say, a number of locations and compare payroll, claims, budgeting, revenue, traffic dataall types of different information that has historically existed, in islands across the organization. One of the biggest impediments to a successful warehousing project, in my view, is existing technology. Often, when you go to a company that has been using technology for a whileand you tell people you're going to build a data warehouseyou'll get answers like, 'Yeah, that sounds really cool, but we still want to get the same information we're getting right now.' There's a resistance to change, a fear in some cases of the higher accountability that a true data warehouse can force onto an organization. There's also a tendency to hold on to the status quo. In the kind of organization that's large and sophisticated enough to endure the investment that a data warehouse and business intelligence require, there tends to be some territorial and political issues that can block real progress, like if one department defines a term one way and another defines it another, and they use the attempt to build a new technology capability as an excuse to fight rather than to change.
Active involvement and buy-in is needed from everyone, but that only happens if you have very strong leadership from the top that says, 'Hey, we're spending millions of dollars on this thing. It will work, and your performance review next year is going to take into account your department's ability to contribute to it.' I had, pretty much, a clean slate and a boss who knew what he wanted and made sure everyone went along.
What has Parkway learned from BI?
Profitability from location to location. We can spot management problems or new trends in demand. The beauty of this stuff, done well, is that it can help you see things you never saw before, and help you to solve problems far more effectively. As for strategy, it's invaluable. Parkway acquires a lot of real estate. We can now make better decisions on what we want to buy and which new lots we might want to manage because we now know better which types of locations do better for us by region, size, location and other factors. People talk a lot about trying to do this; some say they're doing it. But few actually pull it off. For us, it's already being proven as a business strategy tool, and we're just getting started.