IT Innovators
IT Innovators: Transforming Data in the Network to Enable More Insightful Business Forecasting

IT Innovators: Transforming Data in the Network to Enable More Insightful Business Forecasting

When Debra Miller discovered her company’s data components “spoke different languages,” she set out to transform data that was like ‘the Tower of Babel’ to predictive analysis and better facilitate optimal business decisions.

When Debra Miller stepped into her new role as vice president of business analytics at Church’s Chicken, she recalls that the data that existed within the fast-food restaurant chain’s network was like “the Tower of Babel.”

“The data components just didn’t speak the same language,” she says. “Just to organize the data required a tremendous amount of manual intervention and manipulation.”

Miller was confident that strengthening the organization’s data analytics would be the key to sifting through the clutter and confusion. She believed that through network data analytics, she and her colleagues could work toward developing a more effective view of the restaurant and provide the management team with the tools it needed to facilitate optimal business decisions.

As Miller faced this challenge head-on, she began by creating a standard nomenclature that consolidated thousands of disparately named items into just hundreds. She worked closely with the organization’s IT team to execute this in an efficient and effective way, she says.

From there, Miller and her team were able to develop standardized hierarchies that quickly allowed them to gather the data in order to develop tools and analyses. In turn, this helped them better understand the performance of the business. As a result, they were able to gather insights that would impact critical and profitable management decisions.

Soon into the process, Miller says, it was evident that she and her team were accomplishing a lot at record pace with limited resources. Some factors that really propelled them forward involved having a clear understanding and definition of their end goal and planning what the roadmap would look like. She says it was also helpful to anticipate issues they expected to encounter and predict how they might hamper the timeline.

One of the most important strategies was mastering the art of prioritizing. The team had to determine “which issues we could live with, and which we couldn’t,” Miller says. “We addressed the issues that we couldn’t live with in Phase 1 and tabled those that we could live with to Phase II.”

In the end, Church’s Chicken was able to leverage predictive analytics for more insightful business forecasting. The impact of the new analytics system was clear. Prior to this push, a number of decisions were made based on anecdotal evidence, but now critical business decisions could be supported by data and methodologically correct analyses. In addition, some of the anecdotal evidence used to shape important business decisions of the past were relabeled as inaccurate, thanks to the new analytics system.

“We’ve been able to take a deeper dive that has allowed us to gather information more efficiently,” Miller says.

The company’s predictive analytics also helps with forecasting, since the company now has a better understanding of promotion performance and purchasing patterns. There’s also a better understanding of where the company has issues with waste.

“There is still a lot of work to do, but we have taken the necessary steps that allow us to be in a much better position than we were in the past,” Miller says.

Renee Morad is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Discovery News, Business Insider,, NPR,, and other outlets. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected]

The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.

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