Turning Data Straw into Wisdom Gold By: Donald Snyder, President Whiskey Systems Online

By: Donald Snyder, Donald@TimeAndTasks.com

June/July 2018 Issue – Beverage Master Magazine

stack of golds glitching

In the story “Rumpelstiltskin,” the miller’s daughter has a seemingly impossible task; turn a room full of straw into gold. With the help of a little magic, the abundant straw, which has little or no value on its own, is turned into gold, a much more valuable commodity. For most craft distillers, they are surrounded by the copious amount of data that they would like to spin into business intelligence gold.

  From raw material reordering strategies, to cost per case, to sales trends, there is ample data available. Without an easy to use data dashboard, many decisions are made on the fly. By tracking the right data and filtering it into appropriate metrics, a distiller can make smart, data-based decisions to bring their distillery to the next level.

  The idea behind business intelligence and data dashboarding is simple: measure and track appropriate data points. Distillers can then use technology to filter and sort that data into metrics, charts, and summary dashboards; visual controls to identify when trends are out of acceptable ranges, and summary data to make smart decisions that drive the business in the right direction. For example, a list of all a distiller’s current raw materials on-hand isn’t the best way to re-order raw materials.

  However, combine current raw material inventories with vendor lead times, volume price discounts, average daily usage, and safety stock levels, and a distiller can be armed with a visual go/no-go strategy to order materials and ensure minimal out of stocks. Better yet, after setting up the dashboard, raw material reordering can be safely delegated to employees, meaning one less thing on the head distiller’s or manager’s to-do list. 

  Collecting data is not always easy or free. Every time an employee writes down data or enters data into a spreadsheet or system that is time away from doing other tasks. Identifying the right data to track, as well as monitoring and recording TTB required production and batch data is critically important. However, for employees who are writing or logging non-compliance related data points, a challenge if the data collected is value-added and is part of a mission-critical metric. As an alternative to manually recording data, invest in technology to simplify data collection and archiving.

Common Metrics to Track

  Not every business or distillery will be tracking the same metrics or key performance indicators (KPI). For example, a distillery who sources finished spirits is not as concerned with fermentation conversion efficiency as they are about tracking their bottling and filtering loss. The best metrics and KPI’s to help drive business to the next level involve data that is easy to collect and accessible; can be visually tracked daily or weekly; and where owners can make data-based changes to the process that will have a meaningful impact. A fantastic KPI is fermentation grain conversion efficiency (proof gallons yielded per bushel of grain used). The data is easy to track, it’s easy to plot the data points and see trends, and owners can make meaningful impacts to the process for positive change. In the end, an improvement to mashing efficiency means more output from the same investment of grain, which will benefit the bottom line.

  The most popular metric that distilleries track is the cost per case, as it gives owners a clear visual indicator of the profitability of their brand. The challenge with this metric is collecting the input data, including tracking all the costs from grain, packaging materials, labor, and even taxes. Using a distillery management system or cost accounting system can simplify the data collection. Once the cost data is summarized, the metric is easy to plot, trend, and compare against a standard. If a brand’s cost per case exceeds the standard, an owner can make process improvements to make positive changes. Every dollar of cost removed from a case means another dollar in profit for the company.

  Sales trends is another metric that distillers use to track company performance. Raw sales by customer data are usually available, but can often be overwhelming to digest. How is a specific brand performing month over month? Are any brands decreasing in sales? If sales are seasonal, compare brand shipments year-to-year to get a better picture of growth this season versus the same season last year. Are any customers trending down on orders? Looking at every combination of brand and consumer sales trends month-to-month or year-to-year could be hundreds of charts. To save time and resources, leverage a data dashboard or technology that can send an alert when specific parameters have been breached. If a brand or customer is trending unexpectedly downward, stakeholders can take action to help steer the ship back on track.

  The most overlooked metrics are ones that impact a distiller’s supply chain and logistics. With so many suppliers providing goods and services to the craft beverage industry, distillers have the benefit of holding their vendors accountable for poor performance. How often are deliveries made late or received after the agreed upon due date? How often does a late material shipment impact the production schedule? What is the supplier’s defect ratio? On a pallet of glass, how many bottles are broken or cracked? Supplier reliability can be crucial to an efficient distillery. If anything, tracking this metric can open conversations with suppliers on mutual expectations.

  Tracking and monitoring adjustments to inventory is an excellent metric to determine losses to your bottom line. How often is a physical inventory taken that doesn’t match the expected inventory? Track adjustments made to raw materials, tanks, barrels, and even finished cased goods. Is inventory missing often? Are employees using more of raw material than expected? Did the supplier ship an order short? Are products being broken but not reported? Are operations being done but not logged? Is there an employee theft issue? Tracking how often adjustments are made to inventory doesn’t always answer the cause of the problem, but it opens the opportunity to investigate and make meaningful decisions to minimize losses. 

One Bite at a Time

  Once a distillery has decided that it would like to start collecting and tracking data, the task can seem overwhelming. But just like eating an elephant, take one bite at a time. Identify one pain point or in-efficiency in the distillery and identify data that can help solve the problem. For those distillers with a math background, consider taking a green belt Six Sigma class to learn how to collect data from a process, identify outliers, and make meaningful changes to improve performance. Also, consider the investment in technology, such as business intelligence platforms, that will help collect and aggregate data into useful dashboards.

  A distiller will have thousands of potential points of data to collect, but tracking everything is not possible. Surrounded by data straw, distillers should look for a way to turn it into gold. Once a distiller or business owner has identified metrics and KPI’s relevant to the business and set up automated dashboards, they can use the data to make smart, data-based decisions. No one has a magic straw-spinning wheel, but every dollar saved by making intelligent choices means potential gold for the bottom line.

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