Fast-Food CIOs Are Fast Learners

This $707 billion global industry is building more intimate customer relationships by pushing the IT envelope on technologies like real-time data analysis, inventory-tracking sensors and mobile payments

Those magic words "customer experience" have hit an all-time buzzword high with CIOs these days--and for good reason. The future of many IT organizations hinges on their ability to deploy technology externally in uniquely valuable ways that engage customers, clients and partners.

But you'd never guess which industry is perched on the leading edge of experimentation with customer-facing technologies. Businesses in this $707 billion global market are building more intimate customer relationships by pushing the IT envelope on technologies like real-time data analysis, inventory-tracking sensors and mobile payments.

The industry is fast food. Surprised? I was, too. But our cover story ("Fast Food Chains Add Mobile, Tablets and Personalization to the Menu") will bring you up to speed in about the time it takes to tap in a Domino's Pizza order on your smartphone.

With more than one-third of its pizza sales originating online, the $1.5 billion chain is adding ever-more-customized mobile capabilities to stay ahead of competitors. "We like people on mobile platforms," says CIO Kevin Vasconi. "Customer satisfaction is higher, cost to serve is lower and [average sales] tickets are better."

"Consumers are forcing restaurants to move faster than they traditionally have," says Robert Notte, CTO at Jamba, the $226 million smoothie chain. "It's important to be willing to take risks." He's experimenting with mobile and tablet ordering at two California stores now and plans to add mobile payment options to the next version of the Jamba app.

Even if your business has no direct consumer contact, our story may spark some ideas about applying mobility, data analytics and sensor technologies in more creative ways. Some restaurants, for example, are using IT to provide transparency into their supply chains and products. In the wake of the "pink slime" controversy about beef remnants in hamburgers, McDonald's Australia created an app to give consumers specifics about the sourcing of their burger ingredients.

Even behind the counters, these fast learners in food services are deploying IT in kitchen video displays, gamified training programs and real-time dashboards tracking sales and labor costs. "Once, a fast-food restaurant's menu differentiated it from competitors," writes Managing Editor Kim S. Nash. "Now IT is the differentiator."

Welcome to the future. Are you ready to order?

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