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Applied Business Research Project

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Applied Business Research Project:

Benefits of Business Group Collaboration Systems

April 12th, 2009

Table of Contents

Abstract 3 Purpose of the Report 4 Background of the Company 4 Discussion of Current Business Issues 5 Research Findings on the Topic 6 Recommendations for the Executive Management Team 8 Bibliography 10

Abstract
One of the fastest moving industries is gas and convenience store market and also one of the toughest to maintain. Facing giants like Wal-mart, BP, Circle-K, and Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66 and many other retail chains like yours often results in competition operating across the street from one another. So in this type of industry that has a saturated market of convenience, how do you make profit and retain customer loyalty through business strategies that differentiate you from the competition? Does it begin in the gas price? Perhaps it begins with the sale of milk with cookies? No, I think it begins with business intelligence that tells you the customer sees the lower gas price, stops in to pay for and sees the coffee and donut deal that further lowers his cost of gas. How does all that happen? According to an Oracle White paper “Daily Business Intelligence requires an information delivery environment that offers advanced analytics that are easy to use.”(Mirani, Jagdish) This business intelligence often filters through many departments before it ever reaches the executive decision makers, which ultimately leads marketing ploys like the coffee and donut special that gives 2 cents off the gallon.

However this filter is often produced of cross functional teams and smaller internal department groups. Groups and teams that handle granular objectives that are often critical to the end result. This is where a lack of communication and real time development of business objectives between groups could be fatal to the goals and growth of a company. After researching different types of collaborative tools and how they provide synergistic partnerships between inter-departmental functions and communication I believe that the current business issues that Road Ranger faces can be resolved through these tools.

Purpose of the Report
As the Senior POS Analyst for Road Ranger, LLC, I am exposed to every department because of my responsibilities extending to cross functional objectives. Objectives extend from nearly from every direction of the company, whether from the legal department all the way to human resources all have a stake in the POS system. With that being said the purpose of this applied business research project will be to identify some of the needs that Road Ranger has along with group collaborative system types that will provide solutions. After which I will discuss my recommendations of those solutions that I believe will help Road Ranger maintain its growth with stability through information technology during the implementation and transition of business objectives stemming from business strategies.
Background of the Company
Dan Arnold is the president and founder of Road Ranger, LLC. Dan Arnold acquired his first store in 1984 on a 50,000 business loan. Road Ranger, LLC a private owned Gas station convenience chain, along with a few others for profit franchise chains under its umbrella. As of last year in April 2008 Road Ranger reported having 73 locations in seven states. Today Road Ranger owns close to 90 gas station convenience stores with this number including 17 or so Subways and a few other fast food chains. Recently as of January of 2009 Road Ranger and Pilot have entered into a partnership at 24 travel centers. With such great growth Road Ranger is becoming a name amongst its competitors operating with the latest technologies within its stores like the touch screen point of sale (POS) systems and latest security upgrades to prevent credit fraud like address verification service (AVS). (Vergara, Rowena)
Currently Road Ranger is moving in the direction to secure its market and develop business intelligence to expand its profit margin. With few group collaborative systems or tools between internal resources to support Road Ranger’s incredible growth, Road Ranger will need to implement information technologies that will synergies business strategies with business initiatives. Though the growth of Road Ranger has moved so quickly that its information technologies have struggled to keep up, Road Ranger still continues to implement technologies that maintain the speed their growth has taken.
Discussion of Current Business Issues
One of the biggest issues that relate to Road Ranger is a lack of synergy between departments that share cross functional data. Whether it’s the marketing department implementing a new sale or accounting requiring tax changes, the Information Technology department has to implement those changes or maintain the data on the information technology systems such as the POS system. So there has to be a cohesive collaboration between the two business units. The breakdown happens not in the initial communication between the two units, but in the management of continuous communication where directives are given and affirmation of their completion required. The lack of communication control results in failed deadlines to implement marketing initiatives or when they are completed communication isn’t given or it is lost within someone’s email in box.
So the lack of communication controls produces a lack of accountability. This breakdown occurs between the store level and corporate as well. So this problem rolls down hill like a snowball until it affects a customer. Naturally the lack of communication control is direct result in the lack of group collaboration systems.
Research Findings on the Topic
During my research I came across a web page that gave a short history of great inventors that contributed to the development of the internet in some form of collaboration of inventions and ideas. I ran across one of the simplest tools we think very little of but almost can’t be productive without, that tool was invented by a man named Douglas Engelbart. (Internet Pioneers)
Mr. Engelbart was studying computer-aided software engineering and the way a graphic interface could enable interpersonal communication he invented a new tool to assist users interacting with a computer according to www.ibiblio.org in 1960. This invention is called a mouse and is sold with nearly every computer sold today. While it is a simple tool it is an important one and to go without today would seem unthinkable because of its ability produce efficient collaboration between the end-user and the computer. (Internet Pioneers) While some might wish to brush off the thought of group collaborative software due to time and expense, they might want to take a closer look at the benefits to increase productivity.
Today we use a lot of collaborative tools from the mouse to email, the internet to the Point of Sale System in a store. These tools help us to communicate our wants, needs, and how we interact because of them. So the need for collaborative tools that will increase or at least maintain Road Ranger level of productivity has a definite need. When customers come to Road Ranger to purchase a sub sandwich and chips it’s typically because they came purchase gas. This is the hook that is often used to introduce customers to our stores. However according to management this can’t be our form of business intelligence today and I would have to agree. The movie the Field of dreams had a great theme of “if you build it they will come”, but in the gas and convenience store business you also want your customers to return once they have come. So we utilize marketing tools like customer loyalty and the data sifted from the POS into another system that takes the raw data and turns it into information. We still have to interpret what that information means to us about the customers, which brings us to one of the most important steps, which is to communicate that information from the POS to management so they can make better decisions based on this business intelligence.
So what kind of tools would help Road Ranger when they already have tools to retrieve the data? Well we have tools to manage the data, but what about a tool to manage the data exchanged between departments? Such as when Marketing needs new buttons to be implemented on the POS that are used to ring up the new vendors hotdogs how is this communicated down to IT? Once completed how does IT communicate that this objective has been completed so that marketing knows, management is informed, and the store staff is trained and prepped on the new changes? Can a collaborative tool like Microsoft’s Outlook help? Yes and no because while communication can be passed it often is not well maintained, nor passed down through management. Why this is simple and that is the human element of error.
A group collaborative tool would solve this problem easily, but would have to be implemented including the following ways, but is not limited to them. First it would need to be accessible from virtually anywhere internet access is available. Second it would have to have securities to protect access, such a secure VPN connection, password, and etc. Third it would cater to the specific needs of an individual based on job responsibilities. So someone in Accounting wouldn’t need access to information pertaining to the information technology department.
Recommendations for the Executive Management Team
Since Road Ranger tends to lean toward building custom solutions. I propose that the solution to a lack of communication control begin with the framework of a project management based Intranet with external links. This system would form what I would think of as a data warehouse with custom project task logistics that direct information between the task giver and task taker. Additional parties could be added to be given updates when tasks or initiatives are complete. This on the onset might seem simple, but it functionality would be similar to the POS system where all transaction flow through the POS, transactions of communication would flow through the data warehouse. This could then be linked to email as a secondary source of information reception to work as “receipts” so transaction produce accountability.
To fully understand the basis or rather importance of such a system you have to understand the fundamentals of what Wikipedia.com so well lays out in an article entitled Collaborative Software. Collaborative software is directly associated with collaborative interactions which is the “main function of the participants’ relationship is to alter a collaboration entity”. This collaboration entity would be data or information that gets passed along as it is used to achieve business objectives across business units. Other examples given by the article are the development of ideas (perhaps an internal blogging board to stir ideas on relevant business discussions that extend beyond department), Creation of a design (test sites could be housed internal and tested by internal end-users before going live to the public), and the achievements of shared goals could be posted on the intranet homepage for recognition. (Collaborative Software, Wikipedia)
According to CSnews.com (Top Technology Trends, CSnew.com) Executive Editor Tammy Mastroberte reported that 33 percent of convenience store chains said they would be recanting on their spending towards technology and another 33 percent will be spending the same amount as last year on information technology. (Top Technology Trends, CSnew.com) While these statistics present a reality of our economic times, I believe that we should put funding into these tools as I believe their benefits of group collaborative systems will state the same.
So my multi-component solution would be better classified as a Collaborative Project Management Tools or CPMT. My particular CPMT solution would directly encompass project management (tools), knowledge management, and Information sharing (tools), that would manage action items, tasks, and a knowledge base to minimize data loss, increase productivity, and produce solutions. (Collaborative Software, Wikipedia) This custom web based solution would also offer almost immeasurable future growth potential to expand on its deliverables.

Bibliography 1. "Collaborative software - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 13 Apr. 2009 . 2. "Douglas Engelbart." North Carolina @ibiblio. 6 Apr. 2009 . 3. Jagdish, Mirani. "Daily Business Intelligence." Oracle.com. 10 Apr. 2009 . 4. Mastroberte , Tammy. "Top Technology Trends for Convenience Store Retailing." Convenience Store News is a Convenience Store Magazine Market Information. 12 Apr. 2009. 8 Apr. 2009 http://www.csnews.com/csn/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003961210 5. Vergara, Rowena. "Homegrown Road Ranger hopes to pass $1B mark." Rockford Register Star 9 July 2006. 21 Mar. 2009 .…...

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