It used to be that when management wanted to improve operational efficiency, they’d just open their eyes and ears. Combining observation with industry best practices – and a healthy dose of intuition – would ideally lead to improvement.
Today there’s no room or need for such guess work. Simple cash registers and notepads have given way to POS systems and mobile devices. Networked smart devices – the Internet of Things (IoT) – can collect huge amounts of data on nearly any process. Together, Big Data and the IoT will forever transform the way we work, the way we observe and the way we improve our operations.
According to Gartner, the IoT is “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” It sounds complicated, but in fact, the IoT will affect almost every business in a big way.
Just how will IoT and Big Data transform operations for a service-oriented business?
Information devices in the macro world
Service operators work with technology every day – in restaurants, hospitals, auto service centers, etc. These operators all use computers, POS systems, customer relationship management (CRM), invoicing and payment applications – and many more.
These are the most visible business tools and devices that employees and customers interact with. But, these tools can now also produce and share data to track sales, inventory, staffing, cash flow and more.
For example, POS systems track the item quantity and price in a customer’s purchase – whether it’s food, clothing or auto repairs. On the back end, the POS feeds customer profile data, such as address, loyalty status and item preferences, into systems to be used in future sales and marketing campaigns. On the front end, it allows the customers to initiate payment, accumulate rewards, or even take a quick digital survey.
This macro data can tell us a lot about the customers we serve. But perhaps one of the most important elements that it provides visibility into operational workings and efficiencies/inefficiencies.
On a smaller – but bigger – scale
While macro information systems collect customer, transaction and product data, service businesses have adopted specialized tools to improve operational efficiencies.
Take a busy restaurant, for example. When a diner arrives, the hostess places them on a wait list and hands them a small guest pager to notify them when their table is ready. The hostess then enters a few guest details on an iPad, which tracks the status of each table in the restaurant. When the guest is seated, or seats themselves, a table tracking device tells the kitchen where they are. When a table is empty and clean, bussers press a button to make it available on the hostess’ tablet. And so on.
Similar scenarios exist in other service industries. Clinics, garages and even amusement parks all have queues of people awaiting a service, and limited facilities with which to serve them. While smaller in size than the macro devices, these networked devices allow operators to streamline processes and ultimately serve customers more efficiently.
Devices are getting smarter
Now imagine that such devices can do more than just notify a customer that their service is complete. Not only can they send information such as availability status to each other, but can also send data and metrics to a central hub for storage and analysis. Such data may include:
- When a customer arrives at or leaves the business
- When a customer’s disposition changes (seated, entered exam, completed repair)
- Where the customer is waiting (table, lobby, showroom, bar)
Businesses are also employing smart sensors to accomplish the following:
- Measure temperature and control thermostats
- Monitor warming trays and walk-in freezers
- Sense and adjust ambient lighting
These devices interact, communicate and cooperate with each other, and at the same time collect and store useful data.
What they can tell us
All these devices, large and small, are networked together, making them all a part of the Internet of Things. Each device sends data to a central hub, an Operational Management System (OMS) that connects, controls and monitors them all.
The OMS analyzes the collected data, both in real time and post hoc, to identify bottlenecks, staff issues and other patterns we never knew existed. It can also create reports for operators, compare shifts, sales, locations and customer satisfaction. It might even initiate changes on its own – like re-prioritizing food orders in the queue.
The Internet of Things and Big Data have got a lot to tell us. Examining underlying operational data – in any industry – can give us a bold, unbiased look at performance. After all, observation and intuition can only tell us so much.
Stay tuned for more about how LRS can make the IoT and Big Data work for you.
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