Over the past decade, our industry has done a tremendous job building data collection systems to efficiently operate and manage thousands of vending machines. I applaud the hard work and dedication of everyone who has advanced our industry from the era of paper tickets to modern-day telemetry and vending management software. Companies have employed armies of installers, managers, drivers and office staff to move technology forward. In return for their efforts, operators have received virtual mountains of data. Billions of transactions populate databases around the country. However, has this push toward automation resulted in relevant returns? Does the collection of all this data really make for better service, happier customers and a healthier bottom line? What benefits can operators expect to receive for embracing our computer driven society?
I, for one, am a firm believer in the data driven organization. I think companies who use data for continuous self-improvement have a tremendous advantage over companies that don’t. The old adage, “That which we measure, we improve” is greatly assisted by computer collected data. However — the sheer amount of data streaming into vending companies can become daunting, confusing and even counterproductive to customer service and efficiency efforts. Building better operational systems through the analysis of data requires teamwork, common goals and an enthusiasm for success. I think a company willing to systematically mine its data will find not only profitability, but improved working conditions as well. I see improvement emerging from four “mineshafts” of efficiency: cash accountability, sold out management, spoilage reduction and vend visit efficiency.
Before we begin dragging nuggets of profitability out of our database, we must first confirm our data integrity. Any computer science grad will agree that there is a primary rule for working with data: Garbage In — Garbage Out. Once we know our input data is trustworthy — let the data mining begin!
Data integrity begins with staff
Tackling data integrity involves the entire operating team. Drivers as well as warehouse and office staff all have important roles to play in the development of quality data. Each department must do their part to help their fellow employees succeed. Drivers, for example, are primarily responsible for accurate ending inventories. Each vend visit is an opportunity to make sure the physical quantities on hand match the theoretical amounts in the handheld. Drivers who verify inventories each and every vend visit make their workdays significantly easier than drivers who ignore the importance of quality data collection. Accurate inventories create accurate pre-kits. Accurate pre-kits make filling machines quicker and easier. Quicker and easier vend visits make for quicker and easier days on the road. Just 45 seconds spent verifying an inventory can save hours of extra work for a route driver every single week.
Drivers, of course, are not the only employees who should be concerned with accurate information. Warehouse staffs are also well served when they understand how accurate pre-kit orders affect the entire company. Accurate pre-kit orders result in a higher percentage of completely filled machines. Vend visits with accurate pre-kit orders lead to lower amounts of returned product. Lower returns boost morale throughout the warehouse, and quality pre-kits lead to more accurate warehouse ordering. Properly stocked warehouses send out fresher product which entices consumers to purchase more. The benefits of quality data are seemingly endless!
Office personnel responsible for data management responsibilities also have their own important role to play. Dispatchers and/or database administrators should be the primary guardians against excessive sold-outs and spoilage. Correct par levels make a big difference! Proper schedule management drives route efficiency and can increase the overall level of customer service. Low spoils and low sold-outs create machines that consumers look forward to using. I believe what’s written on every box of M&M/Mars products, “Rotate Product — Freshness Sells!”