For University of California Davis Stores Associate Director of Finance Tracy Roman, a college store system is incomplete without a superb business intelligence tool. Ms. Roman was among the first to test drive the latest iteration of Dashboard, the real-time analytics tool for college stores that integrates with the MBS system. We sat down to talk to Ms. Roman about how business intelligence is shaping the future of campus bookstores.
How does a business analytics tool like Dashboard help a college store succeed?
For us, our primary mission is to serve students. Dashboard lets us see whether we’re actually doing that. Your numbers are your facts. Everything, in general, every decision at the university is based on facts. If you want to show that you’re relevant, or that you’re meeting your goal of serving students, Dashboard can help you do that. We use Dashboard to show what we save stakeholders with discount plans we set up for our different university partners like the Alumni Students Association and multiple academic departments.
What kind of insights do you draw from MBS Dashboard?
I can open Dashboard, and there are live numbers showing me the peaks from last month. I catch sight of something unusual and explore a little further to find out why we sold so much more that day. If it turns out there was an event, I know right away that we need to anniversary that event. We can build it into next year’s budget. You can also find out whether it is actually a repeatable event. When the Michelle Obama book came out, we sold hundreds of them. But that’s not something you can easily repeat. We typically sell the most trade books around author events when we host readings and signings.
Or, I can check to see if the data supports what my buyers believe is happening. For instance, our buyers always say that we need a greater proportion of small sizes in clothes. Well, I looked at the pie chart on sales by size. They’re partly right. Over 40 percent of the clothes we sell are small or medium. But extra-large is also right up there. Now, I can talk to my buyers about ordering more large sizes for our students. That helps us serve them better.
How do college stores benefit from a system with a business intelligence tool?
Dashboard is just a way to do business better. It frees up your time and energy for other tasks if you have access to all the metrics you need right there with your system. You don’t have to think about it. With the new version of Dashboard, I can open it up and it’s all there – live. You can answer some very basic questions with the tool very fast. And you can get it into Excel, which gives you another way to see it.
When you have live information on-hand like that, you see things you might not have noticed. Say, you see an unexpected dip in one of your graphs. You can dig into that and find out what’s going on. Maybe you realize that there’s been a mistake in one of your vendor’s numbers. Without the at-a-glance metrics, you might never have noticed. You would have just paid the invoice and gone on your way.
How does it help to look at college store data in different formats?
Well, different people have different ways of digesting and remembering things. Sometimes you get a better understanding of an issue from looking at a spreadsheet. Other times, you need something visual. Dashboard gives you bar charts, pie charts, line charts. It lets you choose. It works for a broad audience.
Also, you don’t have to know anything about the MBS POS to understand the reports. We like to share data with our vendors. We have what we call vendor report cards. We use Dashboard for that. We can use the numbers to point out that the merchandise might not be selling as well as predicted.
What would you say to campus stores that have yet to get started with MBS Dashboard?
I would say that it makes life easier for you. It can show you right away whether you’re following trends. You can spot an issue before it becomes a big problem. You definitely save money.
What do you like best about your work with UC Davis Stores?
I enjoy working with students a lot. I enjoy that for UC Davis Stores, we’re always trying to be better. Business intelligence helps us with that. It’s just part of what we do.