'Big-Data' Vision

PDI's Gilkerson sees convergence of technologies, actionable data

Greg Gilkerson

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Everything from electronic tablets to the ability to buy a terabyte of data storage from Wal-Mart is moving c-stores to a new age of "customer-centric" technology, according to the head of one of the industry's better-known software-solution providers.

"Soon we're going to have a good idea of what customer is going to what store, and what he'll be doing," said Greg Gilkerson, president of Temple, Texas-based PDI. His company held a four-day users conference this week in San Antonio, Texas, that attracted 340 retailers and more than 400 attendees (see related story in this issue of CSP Daily News). "And we'll come up with an offer to make him feel unique, and put in front of him what's relevant."

Gilkerson took the time to sit down with CSP Daily News and talk about what his company is doing and where the industry is headed.

Q: So speaking of relevance, what are the issues affecting your company's direction today?

A: Customer-centric marketing is what I'd call it. We're at an intersection point where costs have come down and the capability of loyalty and customer-centric marketing are coming together.

Of course, we're known for our reporting capabilities but we're improving in areas of mobile phone and tablet [applications], workforce with payroll and benefits, and tools for the people side of the business. But with the emergence of capable point-of-sale (POS) devices in the industry, we're seeing a move to maximize the value of the transaction. I see thinking along the lines of affinity marketing and operational and customer-focused opportunities.

Q: And where do you see PDI's role?

A: We're not a loyalty system, but we can facilitate the process to provide data. … It'll be a race to see who can service the [retail] customer better.

Q: We're at a unique time with regards to technology. How did we get here and where do you see everything going?

A: If you look back to 1979 with the first PCs, we first put PCs in the stores. Then we moved to item-level management, pricebook and scanning. Then computer-assisted ordering, item-level inventory management .… And now we're ready for the next step, which is using the technology to serve the customer--where now, [technology] is making a profit versus just being a cost savings.

Q: Profit and efficiency.

A: Yes, and we don't want to forget efficiency. I've heard a client explain to his boss that an investment in technology would make him capable of running either 10 or a million transactions. We've ratcheted up the complexity, but it's inversely related to the cost of technology.

Q: So where so you see it all going?

A: There's a term we've been hearing--"big data." It's where we'll be able to use large amounts of data from multiple sources to produce actionable information.

Q: And speaking of the future, do you think the c-store industry is going to be viable in that "Brave New World"?

A: Absolutely. We're obviously going to be the supply chain for motor fuel. Probably for CNG, depending on how our nation addresses energy. But our top-tier chains are doing a fabulous job of making stores an integral part of everyday life in foodservice and snacks.

Temple, Texas-based PDI provides software, hardware and professional services to convenience retailers and wholesale petroleum marketers. Worldwide, approximately 350 companies and more than 24,000 retail locations rely on PDI's systems for retail automation, fuel and warehouse management, business intelligence and financial management. PDI/Enterprise is a complete network-centric software system that enables convenience, foodservice and wholesale petroleum operators to do business electronically. Built using decades of industry experience, design input from more than 250 customers and Microsoft.NET technology, PDI/Enterprise spans the home office, warehouses, backoffice and mobile applications.