No More Data Roadblocks for Sheetz

A few years ago, Sheetz's point-of-sale data was coming into four different systems and the convenience store chain was supporting many different reporting tools. As a result, marketing and operations executives would show up in meetings reporting the same data differently, and the information technology (IT) department was buried under a backlog of data requests.

"We had a lot of internal challenges with getting data, and realized the need to get everyone on the same data system," said Nanette Pittman, senior analyst at Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. "We knew we wanted one combined data warehouse and business intelligence (BI) solution. We wanted to move everyone to one common reporting system, and we wanted a solution where users could go and get the data themselves and then analyze it the way they wanted."

In January 2009, Sheetz began using Pentaho's BI Enterprise Edition and Teradata's Data Mart Appliance to achieve those goals. Now, almost three years later, the retailer has completely eliminated the data roadblocks it once faced. Sheetz not only achieved its original objectives, but the company continues to expand the ways it is utilizing Pentaho's BI capabilities.

"With any BI intelligence, you're taking a risk with how well the business is going to adopt it," Pittman noted. "Pentaho has given us a lot of knowledge in-house, and it is a great resource tool for users and developers when they're trying to do something new."

Sheetz started out on a small scale, only implementing Pentaho BI's ad-hoc tool. This allowed users to connect with the Teradata warehouse and do basic reports on their own. The original concept, according to Pittman, was to enable users to get product sales by store, by day.

The retailer also recreated some canned reports from its legacy sales reporting systems. A lot of these were product-level trend reports that looked at the last 12 weeks, or this year vs. last year across various product lines; reports pulled weekly by marketing and operations executives.

While Sheetz's original plan was to stop there, the chain implemented Pentaho's Analysis tool within the next year. The goal of this implementation was to empower Sheetz's users to do their analysis before creating reports, thus allowing them to build exactly what they wanted.

"That's been a huge win, as it allows our users to slice and dice their data across any time dimension and across stores by region or district. It takes them all the way down to transaction level," Pittman explained, noting marketing was the first group to use the analysis tool, but it quickly rolled out to other departments including finance, operations, maintenance and petroleum supply.

"It's a very easy interface for users to use, and it's very flexible," she added.

Also under the Analysis tool, Sheetz incorporated some of its speed metrics around the store, both for the back office and at the point-of sale; even the time it takes to build one of the chain's made-to-order sandwiches. "The system takes the data, does the analysis and sends out the metrics," said Pittman. "The metrics are looked at in increments as low as 15 minutes."

Currently, Sheetz maintains more than 80 user IDs, and there are about 30 "regular users" who tap into the Pentaho BI technology daily or at least weekly. Half of those regular users are marketing employees. In fact, as a result of deploying this system, marketing has eliminated roughly seven hours per week that were previously spent creating data reports.

The biggest success, however, has been with Sheetz's in-house maintenance department in monitoring its costs such as store equipment, gas pumps and labor. The department, which was brought into the system two years ago, can look at all of its costs together and identify ways to reduce them.

"They can get down to the product level and see what common issues there are," Pittman said. "They also have technician scorecards where they can look at key metrics by technician."

The maintenance department has its own "data steward" who develops tools within the Pentaho system specifically for its needs. As part of Sheetz's overall BI effort, the retailer created an entire team of about 15 data stewards who meet monthly to discuss use of the system. In addition, a separate Data Governance Council is tasked with handling any data management issues, along with improving data quality and the sharing of data across the business.

With so many positive results to date, Sheetz is in no way done expanding its use of the technology. The chain is very close to getting store-level human resources (HR) data into its Teradata warehouse, which will give the HR department a way to calculate metrics such as turnover and overall employee job function, as well as eventually do timecard analysis.

The next step -- which is already underway -- is to connect all the data points and create a way for users to look at a store's sales data, maintenance costs, HR data and much more in one overall picture. According to Pittman, 75 percent of the key store metrics Sheetz wants are being captured in the system now; the other 25 percent are being set up.

"We expect to get there within six months. Now, users pull this data from various reports that are distributed by the various departments," she said. "We're going to put it into one dashboard. One main 'Store Scorecard' that brings all the metrics together across every department."