Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc.

Business Intelligence

Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc.


Arby’s is one the largest quick-service chains in the U.S. and is dedicated to serving quality sandwiches with freshly-sliced meat every day.

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If you wanted a speedy meal back in the 1960’s, it was burger or bust. With so many restaurants following the same blueprint, variety was hard to come by. That all changed when Leroy and Forrest Raffel decided to do something different. Their idea? Serve freshly sliced roast beef sandwiches, and serve them up fast. They started with a little sandwich shop in Boardman, Ohio, but their idea soon caught on, prompting them to open the first official Arby’s restaurant in 1964.

Fast forward 50 years, and Arby’s still holds true to their desire to be different, expanding both their menu and their reach. Being different has indeed paid dividends for the Arby’s brand as well as its franchisor, Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. (ARG). What makes them different and successful today extends well beyond their menu and into their core decision-making process – a process that’s becoming increasingly data-driven.

It Started with a Shift

ARG is no stranger to making decisions based on their data. For years, they’ve used traditional Business Intelligence (BI) tools informally to help them glean insights that could help them improve operations and sales. The problem with these traditional tools, however, is that they require extensive data knowledge, greatly limiting the potential for rapid-fire analysis.

This situation certainly wasn’t just an ARG problem; it was an industry problem. It wasn’t until the emergence of user-friendly tools like Tableau Software when the power of data analysis came into the hands of a broader audience. Even so, it took time for the industry to adjust and adopt these new tools, and some businesses are still holding on for dear life to their archaic BI tools.

Being the innovators they are, ARG knew they needed to enable analytical thinking through the use of sophisticated but easy-to-use BI tools. For them, it began when ARG created their BI Team in 2013. At that time, they had no formal enterprise data warehouse. The BI Team put together a new reporting prototype for the Marketing Department. They liked it, but they needed an analysis tool more suited to their needs – something intelligent enough to connect numerous disparate data sources but also capable of creating visually appealing data visualizations. Karl Riddett, ARG’s Manager of Business Intelligence & Analytics, had experience with just such a tool in his previous position and suggested Tableau.

“I saw the power of Tableau very early on before coming to ARG. When we first used it at my previous job, we were seeing our sales analyzed by year, quarter and payment type within 30 seconds. It was an eye-opening experience.”

– Karl Riddett, Manager of Business Intelligence & Analytics

The Decision

Intrigued, ARG leadership tasked the BI team with exploring Tableau as a viable data analysis tool as well as a key connector to their data sources while they constructed an enterprise data warehouse. That’s when InterWorks, specifically Dan Murray, their Director of Strategic Innovation, got involved. The BI team needed someone with knowledge of numerous BI tools and their applications in the enterprise to help them determine if Tableau was indeed the tool for them. Conveniently, both Murray and ARG are based in the same city: Atlanta, Georgia.

Murray quickly assessed ARG’s current environment, the enterprise data warehouse they were building and their overall analysis needs. He then created a detailed write-up comparing several BI tools, including Tableau. After presenting this report to ARG’s leadership and weighing all the pros and cons of each tool, it was decided by both Murray and ARG that Tableau would be the best tool for the job. After receiving a demo of Tableau in early 2014 and seeing firsthand what Tableau was capable of, they knew they had made the right decision.

Growing with Tableau

With their minds made up, ARG went all in on Tableau in June 2014, buying an 8-core Tableau Server license and 30 Tableau Desktop licenses. The very next month, they brought in InterWorks yet again to help them stand up their server as part of a rapid-start implementation.

In October of 2014, the BI team had the opportunity to attend the Tableau Conference shortly after implementing Tableau. As any Tableau user knows, the Tableau Conference is the biggest annual gathering of the Tableau community as well as one of the biggest data visualization events in the world. During his time at the conference, ARG’s CIO John Lukas was very impressed by the culture and ideas generated by the Tableau community.

Lukas chartered the BI team at ARG with the task of using Tableau to tell the business something that they didn’t already know using existing data. Their mantra of self-service BI combined with Tableau’s flexibility and data exploration capabilities resulted in a myriad of dashboards, which in turn led to massive new insights – all using data that’s been there all along. But with virtually no Tableau governance in place, things were initially a bit chaotic.

“You combine the self-serve BI model with Tableau, a very easy-to-use tool, and it’s going to create the Wild West if you don’t put controls in place.”

– Karl Riddett, Manager of Business Intelligence & Analytics

Moving Towards Tableau Governance, Building the Framework

With ARG gaining a firm grasp of the ins and outs of Tableau, Tableau governance soon became the new priority. In other words, it was time to reign in the controlled chaos. But how exactly would they achieve this? How does Tableau governance work in an organization the size of ARG’s with so many dedicated Tableau users? How would they control what visualizations made it out of their analysts’ desktops and into the board room, and how would they do all this quickly and easily? The guiding strategy was one half of the puzzle, but just as important were the tools and backdrop necessary to help them execute that strategy.

ARG began by focusing on their newly built enterprise data warehouse, which now had both a quality assurance (QA) and production server environment as opposed to one server for everything. This gave them a controlled funnel into which they could push certain workbooks from QA to the dashboard consumers. Of course, additional Tableau governance steps resulted in additional time.

With this environment now in place, new objectives emerged. Primarily, the BI team knew they needed a way to streamline their workbook production process. As capable as Tableau Server is, manually promoting workbooks from one environment to another is still a time-consuming and tedious endeavor. Additionally, ARG needed a tool to migrate content from their old environment to the new. Fortunately, ARG remembered hearing about a certain tool at the Tableau Conference from InterWorks that could help them address these concerns: Power Tools for Tableau: Deployment, part of the Power Tools for Tableau suite.

Power Tools: Deployment Goes to Work

Not wanting to settle for anything less than optimal performance, ARG turned to InterWorks to create a proof of concept built around Power Tools: Deployment. For the long-term, they wanted to use it to help them promote workbooks from QA to production. But first, they wanted to use it to migrate their disparate data sources from their old database and point them to their new QA database. Power Tools: Deployment could achieve this without having to download each data source, many containing millions and millions of rows, and then setting up the connections manually.

The Power Tools: Deployment proof of concept was completed quickly and successfully. InterWorks pointed it at the new QA server and ensured there weren’t any issues. From there, they called ARG to discuss data source migration. After walking through the general concepts behind Power Tools: Deployment, InterWorks took one of ARG’s data sources and modified it in place, changing the database to which it was pointing. They achieved this in the span of 45 minutes, a major improvement compared to the hours or even days it would’ve taken by traditional means. From there, the BI team was able to bulk-move the remaining data sources on their own.

Data source transformation was just the start of ARG’s Power Tools: Deployment use. In fact, their first application of the tool in production saw some impressive results. Whenever ARG received a dashboard from one of their vendors about utility usage in restaurants, the vendors initially wanted to be able to send that dashboard to ARG’s leadership in the form of a packaged workbook. From there, ARG’s leadership would open the dashboard using Tableau Reader. The downfall there would be that opening with Tableau Reader poses potential security risks. The BI team thought that there had to be a better way, and it involved content migration via Power Tools: Deployment.

They soon came up with a new solution. Instead of sending out a packaged workbook via the conventional means, they could instead publish it to Tableau Server with the help of Power Tools: Deployment and open it via a Tableau portal in SharePoint. The solution paid off. ARG now receives the same dashboard every month, puts it in a staging folder and then uses Power Tools: Deployment to publish that dashboard to a production folder so it doesn’t have to change names. That way, SharePoint is pointing to the same dashboard every time, regardless of changes. Once the next month’s dashboard comes along, they can then archive the previous month’s dashboard.

This new process was a big win for several reasons. First, ARG had just recently implemented a new SharePoint environment, and the ability to directly integrate Tableau dashboards right into it was incredibly convenient. Secondly, by using Power Tools: Deployment to promote these workbooks to their production folder, they avoided sticky security issues as well as the overall inconvenience of downloading and installing Tableau Reader. Instead, they can leverage their existing SharePoint environment – a fact ARG’s leadership greatly appreciated.

Transforming data sources and creating a clear channel through which they can share dashboards via Tableau Server was just the start of Power Tools: Deployment’s usefulness. When Tableau 9.0 came out, ARG got their first taste of just how much faster workbook promotion was with it.

“We had a complicated dashboard with over 45 worksheets, which we know isn’t best practice, but it took well over two-and-half minutes to load on a good day. Using Power Tools: Deployment as our migration tool, we were able to migrate from our prod environment to my laptop server environment very quickly. That allowed us to spin up a copy of Tableau 9.0 Beta and cut down dashboard load times to 20-35 seconds.”

– Karl Riddett, Manager of Business Intelligence & Analytics

Power Tools: Desktop Plays Its Part

With data sources successfully adapted to their new environment, a faster way to migrate workbooks from QA to production and a defined delivery channel for their workbooks, ARG could now focus on improving workbook performance. Again, Power Tools for Tableau would make an impact, this time with Power Tools: Desktop.

Making full use of the Performance Analyzer and Data Source Audit features in Power Tools: Desktop, ARG has been able to streamline their workbooks to run more efficiently in their new environment. Specifically, ARG has used the Data Source Audit feature to a great extent. It allows them to quickly perform an audit, export an Excel file containing the data they need and send that file over to their data modeler. With that data in hand, their modeler is able to immediately see all the data sources used in their Tableau dashboards, which facilitates data profiling.

ARG’s BI Team has just skimmed the surface of Workbook Tools applications. They’re now starting to use Drawing Tool to help them create some truly unique dashboards, and they plan on using Style Management once their upcoming corporate style guide is complete. In those respects, Power Tools: Desktop will help them considerably as they strive for increased Tableau governance and consistency.

The Secret to Success

ARG is a great example of an organization that both recognized and seized the opportunity to improve the way they interact with their data. Many organizations fail to see the true value their data can bring while others sit on the fence indefinitely, trying to decide which road to go down. ARG avoided these common pitfalls with decisiveness and attentiveness. They began by recognizing the need for a flexible yet powerful data visualization tool, which led them to Tableau. From there, they knew they needed an ideal data environment in which Tableau adoption could thrive. By creating a capable enterprise data warehouse, they were able to more effectively manage data used by Tableau. They still saw room for improvement, so they sought out tools that would complement their new technology.

InterWorks provided the spark by equipping ARG with Power Tools: Deployment and Power Tools: Desktop, but ARG’s BI team were responsible for the overarching vision and continued application of these tools, leading to continued success with Tableau and, moreover, their data. Now ARG can create dashboards on the fly, migrate them between environments in a matter of seconds and deliver them to consumers using SharePoint – all in a secure and controlled environment. Because they invested in the right tools, they’ve reaped the benefits of a data environment that works for them.

But what does this all mean in the end? Where is the business value in having such a seamless data analysis experience? Quite simply, it gives ARG the power to make educated, data-driven decisions in real time. Considering the pace of business today, that speed is a considerable advantage. ARG can use relevant insights generated from Tableau dashboards to make smarter business decisions and further differentiate them from the competition. After all, being different has been a key factor in ARG’s success since they first opened their doors back in 1964.

Want to learn more about Power Tools for Tableau? Head to the official Power Tools website for more details!

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