You might not know it, but every moment from placing your order at a McDonald's burger to the time you finally have it in hand for the first bite, is enabled and empowered by a set of powerful technologies.
"The ICT strategy for the region, at its core, is about standardisation for both countries. Our strategy is to deliver the best consumer experience in our restaurants every time they come in. You can imagine there are a number of pieces to delivery to ensure that," says Henry Shiner, McDonald's CIO for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific region.
"First, there is the technology that we employ in the restaurant. Secondly, and very importantly, is the strategy on how we service the restaurant and the technology platform to maintain uptime and to deliver the best experience to the consumer."
The strength of service delivery to the customer depends on an integrated platform that works seamlessly within franchisee restaurants.
"The surprising thing about restaurant technology is that a lot of people are not aware of its integrated nature. It starts with elements such as our point-of-sales (POS) platform, how that then drives the kitchen, how the kitchen operates in terms of preparation of food, to the delivery and eventual payment options that lead to cash and inventory. Then there are predictive tools to say what sort of food and ordering we need – all these are running at the back-end constantly.
“These are together solutions that provide for best in class transactional experiences for our consumers. So it is a fully integrated platform that runs our restaurants," says Shiner.
When technology fails in this situation, the consumer is immediately affected, because the entire restaurant's modus operandi would change – from taking the order, to issuing it to the kitchen and even transacting the payment – which in turn affects the consumer experience. Due to these reasons, uptime is extremely crucial at each restaurant venue.
"Our partnership with Unisys provides support to that technology platform," says Shiner.
Unisys beat others in a tender process to provide help-desk services to McDonald's restaurants in the region two years ago. The company replaced an existing help-desk provider as part of the company's attempts to provide 'step change improvement to the way services were delivered across the region."
"Today, from Wellington in New Zealand, they delivery help desk services to support in excess of 1100 restaurants across A/NZ and the Pacific Islands. They are managing in excess of five and a half thousand desk calls. Some of those calls can turn into onsite services, where they would have to attend the restaurant to maintain and rectify issues with that integrated platform," says Shiner.
Into the second year of the five-year contract, Shiner says that Unisys not only helps restaurants solve issues promptly, but also triages relevant issues to any third-party provider who needs to be involved in getting the restaurant back on its feet. According to Shiner, whatever the scenario, and regardless of who needs to solve the issue, the company sees the call through to closure.
"The partnership with Unisys has brought us benefits and flexibility in engagement that we did not have previously. For example, we were uniquely able to work on restaurant initiated service levels. They brought tools to the table that enabled restaurants to be informed about the status of their issues.
"Also, the access we have to the senior management and the active roles they play in ensuring that the services are being delivered is really quite unique," says Shiner.
Though unwilling to put a number by it, Shiner says that the partnership has brought "great value" to McDonald's.
According to Shiner, the biggest challenge facing CIOs in his industry involves understanding and working with the various stakeholders to help the business and the IT strategy come to life.
"The purpose is to benefit the whole business. That means connecting effectively not only with our corporate colleagues and peers, but most importantly reaching out to our licencees and our suppliers, all within our three-legged stool approach."
Shiner describes the three-legged approach, which involves bringing suppliers, licencees and the main corporation to work together, as a key strategy in the company.
"That in itself is a key challenge, to make sure that we are doing that effectively, and it takes time. Time is needed to allow for the diversity of thinking that needs to be harnessed to bring about that successful outcome when we are trying to roll out a new strategy or new tactic.
"We have very well defined governance models and processes that engage all three areas of that stool as we work year-to-year on strategy and tactics. There is strong integration, strong contact points, within that model, to bring that thinking forward within all areas of our business as we formulate a strategy and a deployment approach," he says.
For a number of reasons, IT needs and requirements for the corporate are treated quite separately from those of the restaurants and the franchisees.
"The corporate network is not provided by different suppliers. It is one network. In terms of the corporate enterprise needs and requirements, they differ from those of restaurants because we are running a corporate entity's apps – financial systems, HR systems, and so on and so forth.
"However, it is all within my one team and they are not separate. When we make decisions we might consider corporate and restaurants separately, but we always have an integrated thinking and consider it within the whole of system approach," says Shiner.
Not willing to state numbers, Shiner says he works with a relatively small IT team and credits strong partners, like IBM, HP, Fujitsu, Westpac and Telstra among others, for giving him the ability to work with a lean staff strength.
"I have some very strategic partnerships. We are a very big business, we are very good at partnering, and that three-legged stool helps us deliver the agility without being too top heavy," says Shiner.
McDonald's is currently in its budget finalisation period, and in 2014 it will continue to focus on restaurants, "with the customer front-and-centre".
"We are on the cusp of rolling something out just now. What I can say to you is our focus for the next stage of development is on our back office systems for our restaurants. This will come along with the utilisation of the cloud to bring efficiency and effectiveness to the way our restaurants are run, by de-bottlenecking those functions and allowing mobility of those functions for our restaurant managers," says Shiner.
Unwilling to give more details, Shiner says they are currently in the process of piloting the program, and will look to review and deploy it in 2014.
"The other area of focus is the consumer, and meeting the mobility needs and requirements of our consumers. We are examining the opportunities on how we can engage with the consumer in the ways they want to engage with. This includes looking into the mobile form factor, iOS or Android devices and what we can we do to provide for ordering platforms through those devices, in order to continue to provide the convenience that consumers is asking of us," says Shiner.
This is an area that the firm hopes to have actual deployments in by the end of 2013, with an expansion of capabilities going into the new year.
With strong IT budgets, and the majority of it being assigned to restaurants, all indicators point to more technology enablement by McDonald's in the region in the near future.