Perhaps the most exciting innovation PPS Foodservice Director Kristy Obbink and Business Systems Analyst Connie Smith are working on is a data analysis tool to let them regularly evaluate the department's performance using a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) that are established markers for well-run programs. The new approach will require building a data warehouse from the tables available from the WinSNAP software used at PPS, although the principles and approach can be used to collect data from any “transactional system” (POS, etc.) and be equally powerful.
Smith, who protests that she is “not a programmer,” talked about the data warehouse project with a friend who happens to work for Intel, the microchip giant. By fortunate coincidence, Intel is celebrating its 40th anniversary by challenging its employees to commit one million volunteer hours to community projects around the world. If an employee has a project they want to work on when other responsibilities allow, they may do so. To date, Smith's friend has volunteered more than 30 hours to the district's data warehousing project.
The resulting reports will give Obbink and her staff the ability to compare schools over time and against each other. Participation, labor cost per meal, food cost and several other KPIs are listed on a report longitudinally but also vertically for all schools. This will make it easy to identify the outliers — those schools whose numbers are inconsistent. It also means that Obbink and her School Specialists (regional managers) can identify problems early and focus attention on corrective actions that matter. Then, after intervention, they can monitor progress daily, weekly or monthly by recalculating performance against the KPI standards.
Obbink's department has also received technical support for its project as a result of partnering with its software vendor, which was in the process of developing similar capabilities for its school nutrition customer base. The goal of their joint effort is to ensure that such capabilities will be made available as an option to many more school districts that use that vendor's software.
Whether employing a homegrown program like the one developed by PPS or a package offered by a vendor, Obbink says it is important to rely on standardized systems, metrics and training to effectively implement change and improvements in school meal programs. As she is quick to point out, data alone is not enough.
“Schools are all different, and you can't build a single, ideal model that works everywhere,” she says. “You still need people who understand the basic school business model and who can look at the data and say, ‘Yes, that value may be off the norm, but there are realities at that site that explain the variance.’ The tool identifies potential problems, but people determine how to improve or address it, based on the specific circumstances.” She notes that it is also a beneficial way to identify potential best practices which can be applied to raise standards in all of a district's schools.