Technology Is Leaving A Data Analysis Vacuum

April 27, 2017

I have already written about the fast pace of change in the industry. More vending operators are adding technology that captures sales data from vending machines and micro markets, and doing it more quickly than previous generations. However, this rapid charge to collect data has left a bit of a vacuum in the vending management team. Who is analyzing it? The different vending management system providers do a great job of offering common analysis tools. I have seen versions that show profits per location or the top sellers in a micro market. These reports are great first step, but each vending operation is different. Each owner or general manager has a slightly different way of operating their business, many equally successful. And new ideas don’t come from looking at the same old reports, but thinking outside the norm.  

I’ve talked to technology providers about the analysis tools they offer. I have heard again and again how they get many different requests for many different types of reports. Many even offer to create them, but the problem lies in easily offering them to the customer. I heard one person say that the developers could create a report for each request, but then the user would have to sift through hundreds of possible report options. That would negate the effectiveness of having the report in the first place. And I could see his point.  

Analyzing data is the new skill set 

So what is happening instead? There has been a movement towards using a spreadsheet program, like Microsoft Excel, and taking it further with pivot tables. This allows a greater level of filtering and comparison of data. Operators can choose certain categories of data and combine endless combinations to find just the information wanted. The drawback is that they can be hard to use. Not only do you have to have a good grasp of the spreadsheet tools, but also the terminology within the program such as what “value area” is and what exactly does “count” show. It is learnable, with tutorials and classes, but also time consuming. Some companies are trying to make it easier, such as 365 Retail Markets who is launching their own, user-friendly version of the pivot table online that customers can pay to use. 

Whether pivot tables are something you are using now or have heard of from your accounting team, I believe the ability to use them is the new must-have skill. I was talking to my sister-in-law who works on cancer research. She is two years post-doctorate and she told me her skills are no longer marketable in getting a new job. I was stunned. When she explained, it wasn’t her research skills that were out of date, but her data analysis skills. Today’s researcher has to be able to analyze their own data and spot trends in order to adjust and move forward. Fields as far apart as cancer research and vending, and they were both searching for people who could take the immense data we are amassing and sort through it, meaningfully.  

I will be the first to tell you that small businesses need technology and software, from the vending success stories I hear to my own experience with a family business. The time savings and control over the business it gives owners and operators is important. But it also means operators will have to educate themselves on what the numbers can tell them. Or, start adding employees dedicated to data analysis who can maintain reports that offer the insights they need.