Step one, understanding your business

Data is not a result in itself. As Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are currently discovering (to the cost of tens of billions in the case of the former...), is that it is what happens with that data once it has been collated and analysed which is the really important part, and it doesn't have to be nefarious in the slightest - we should all take advantage of the data we have in order to start understanding our business better.  In our clients' case this tends to start with assessing the current state of play.  What are you purchasing?  How does it compare to your marketplace?  How are you operating?  Does that comply with legislation?  What are your competitors doing?  And should you respond?  Of course, the questions may change from business to business, but it all starts with a determination to understand where you are and from there to set out where you need to be.

Setting KPIs

What is an effective KPI for quality of fresh produce coming in to your business? And what about meat?  Or flowers?  What level of quality should be expected from suppliers? How flexible should KPIs be? Interestingly, we don't find a single, most usual approach to this, even from companies occupying similar positions within the food industry.  There are, however, some common uses of data in the process of supplier management and quality related KPIs, no matter what the food category being inspected. Establishing a baseline of quality is an essential first step, whether you are measuring quality of food or the food safety performance of hundreds of pubs in an estate. Our clients almost all use the data we generate to set that benchmark, which is then reviewed to determine how and where they would like to foster improvements, and what is genuinely achievable by either suppliers or their own operational teams.

Of course, once KPIs have been established, data continues to be a key ingredient, with an inspection process measuring ongoing performance levels to allow for an impartial assessment of whether those KPIs are being met.

Using data to cherry pick corrective measures can have a disproportionately positive impact on business.

The 80/20 rule

This is an old principle that we love here at FSL, as it can deliver maximum impact from minimum input. When you have strong data, recorded in detail, which tells you where in your food quality or safety is being compromised, it allows you to cherry pick those issues which are causing a disproportionate level of impact. This requires data to be presented in ways which move beyond simply reporting failures on a day to day basis. It is necessary to remove opinion from the data collection process, to treat every inspection impartially, and then to allow time for trends to develop. At this stage, it is not unusual for the findings that emerge to be surprising to all parties.  The great thing about data is that it can quickly override opinions which have been considered to be true for a long time.

Our clients do find that by picking those most common issues as the first to deal with, implementing corrective measures can have a disproportionately positive impact on their business. Particularly if the fix can be applied to products or locations which we've not yet seen or visited. The result is a double benefit from the data, which can be applied to all common systems within their operation.

Internal Communications

From Senior Management to Buying, from Operations to Quality, from Head Office to Regional Teams, having solid data regarding a crucial side of any food business is a great communication tool.  No matter where you go in a food business, or who you speak to, that person will always have an opinion about the quality of the food they have seen.  It may often be based on no more than a perception, or a glance, or a particularly bad delivery, or even something they heard from a colleague, but those opinions matter. Our clients have often told us how powerful the data and associated reporting can be to communicate accurate information around their business, both towards senior management and towards an often geographically dispersed operational team.  What is especially interesting is that the data itself might tell a good or a bad tale, quality might not be everything that they hoped for at that stage, but accurate communication is powerful regardless.


The issue with 'Big Data' sometimes, is making it small enough to be useful!

kernelfood on a mac

Making Big Data Small

The problem with big data, is that sometimes it's, well, just too big.  One of our day to day challenges is to reduce the volume of noise that a large scale inspection project can generate, and present it in ways which are immediately digestible to clients with multiple demands on their time.  It might be presenting that key 20% as the first to deal with, or it might be devising a powerful dashboard of information which covers a wide range of locations.  This boils down to working with clients to understand which trends are important.  Which pieces of data are likely to add up to business-changing or business-improving results, and presenting that information as succinctly as possible.  Of course, in larger organisations, it is also possible that there will be different answers to those questions from different parts of the business, so there may sometimes be multiple ways in which data is presented.

Results = Money

Ultimately the power of data in your business is all about improvement. If the impact of the Facebook data on both the US elections and Brexit was as powerful as is being reported, it is only because at some stage in the proceedings, somebody believed that the methodology would work.  Data, no matter what it's purpose, has to achieve some results for you and your business, otherwise it will simply sit on a server somewhere until it is out of date.  We like to think that improving quality of food is an end in itself, and totally justifiable for it's own sake.  What is more likely is that our clients see the process, and the data it produces, as a way to either save money through yields, or to make more money by differentiating themselves from the competition, and that is also fine by us.  However, no matter what data you have in your business, please make sure you use it as a force for good.  It may not change the world, or make the news, but it can probably make a positive difference to your business when used correctly.