Restaurants are Ripe for Innovation

Restaurants are Ripe for Innovation

Embracing cloud computing and large data for fulfillment 

At Sonny’s BBQ, like many franchise companies, we've a comparatively small IT staff in comparison to chains that own many or all of their restaurants. Once I joined in 2014, I wanted to form sure we didn’t need to use our vital few resources to stay an outsized data center running. We made the conscious decision to “get everything out of the building.” At that point , cloud services and storage were at the purpose where it had been so much more economical to outsource our infrastructure than to stay in-house. 

With good service level agreements in situ , we began to send everything to the cloud. Two years later, the sole major systems we house in our building are for document management and accounting, and that we are considering moving one (or both) soon. It's so nice to not need to worry about power surges, generators, HVAC, disaster recovery, and everything else that comes with having to support an outsized infrastructure. Instead, our IT team concentrates on the items that make us unique, just like the administration and support of our global restaurant management and franchise management systems (which also are housed within the cloud).

“I learned way back that if you don’t understand “why” something is being done, you've got little chance of succeeding" 

On paper, big data analytics is our ultimate goal, but it comes with its challenges. As a 48-year-old company, Sonny’s BBQ features a great history of success despite our overall scarcity of quantifiable data with which to form decisions. A primary goal once I joined the corporation was to style an information infrastructure that might allow us to utilize data so we will make the simplest decisions. Today we are rolling out systems altogether of our franchise restaurants which will allow us to capture transactional data on sales, labor, usage, and our supply chain, but are still working to garner the deep analytics to return. 

Simply bringing in big data from multiple sources and finding correlations isn't our end game, knowing this might cause false assumptions; the key's “causation,” as your college statistics teacher will tell you. simply because you'll find an immediate correlation between rainy weather and therefore the sale of pork sandwiches doesn’t mean you ought to cook more pork when the forecast involves rain.

Our goal is to spot correlations, then test for potential causation through a series of A/B tests. Knowing we are within the early stages of knowledge collection and analytics, it'll be a few years of study to know if bringing in big data sources for our team.

Fostering innovation and growth

Innovation is what drew me thereto within the first place. Having the ability to make something fresh from code or circuits is incredibly fulfilling. To foster innovation during a consumer industry , I pay careful attention to what our guests and staff do now and what they'll be doing next year. most significantly , how might they be interacting with our brand next year and beyond. Consumer electronics are the most important disruptors in recent history. 

To me, nothing is more satisfying than finding a disruptor in its early stage and exploring options with technology vendors to bring it into their system. i used to be fortunate to be ready to do that within the 2000’s with RFID chips and hotel property management systems, and again in early 2010’s with some advanced touch screen technology and guest interaction. While it's great for the ego to initiate something with a “cool factor” it's vital to make sure that there's a true business case for love or money like this. I always ask myself, “is this just cool or does it solve a drag.” Restaurants are ripe for innovation; they're also where many ‘cool’ ideas attend die. The implementation of any new technology requires an excellent plan for business change management.

Advice for fellow CIOs

I learned way back that if you don’t understand “why” something is being done, you've got little chance of succeeding. So, I always asked tons of questions until I fundamentally understood “why”: I didn’t just want to understand the sunshine switch turned on the sunshine, but how the electrons moved through the wires to make light. As my career progressed, I adapted to specialize in the “why” at higher and better levels, because going to the electrons whenever had succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. I surrounded myself with incredibly smart people that understood the electrons then started asking other functional areas of the business “why.” Technology people are familiar with jumping to “hows.” We like to solve puzzles and make amazing systems that solve a business problem, but until we understand the matter that must be solved, we cannot find the simplest solution.

Now that I'm moving beyond leadership in only technology, I find that I have to slightly loosen my grip on my favorite question. I want to form sure fellow leaders and other specialties are asking “why,” so I can specialize in “how”, including “How did Sonny become America’s premier BBQ restaurant?” Sonny’s BBQ loves and appreciates its unique and special history, but we can’t pack up to appeal and resonate with new audiences in an ever-changing community.

In the past, it had been rarely brought into strategic discussions, but there has been a shift within the perceptions of top executives toward technology. It's becoming increasingly harder to know our worth proposition without understanding the flow of data. Information comes from all functional areas, and therefore the CIO must intimately understand the sources and validity of that information. As this shift has occurred, technology leaders who truly understand the worth elements of business are elevated. The CIO that adds to the worth discussion, even as with the leader in other functional areas of the business, is valued and revered.