Ordering your burrito has never been more personal. At least that’s the mission of Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill CIO John Boyd, who said the company is relying on digital technologies and cloud infrastructure to feed the consumer’s growing appetite for beefier customer service and deeper brand connections. It’s all about enabling the retailer to become a “restaurant of the future.”
“Ultimately what we’re aiming towards is the customer experience,” Boyd told CIO Australia, explaining the restaurant chain wants to engage with its customers on a personal level and tailor offerings specifically to them on a one-to-one basis where possible.
“Customers want more than just a meal. They want an experience. They want to be connected to the brand. The customer base is fickle and has a right to be because there’s just so many choices – and it’s really about the differentiation. What is different about one store that sells Mexican and another store that sells Mexican, or a store that sells burgers? It is not just about choices; it is about a community, about being apart of something.”
Boyd, who’s come from the corporate sector – he worked as CIO of True Alliance – said he’s excited to be involved in shaping and blending IT into what he said is a super fast-moving agile startup company. It is known for delivering made-to-order Baja Mexican dishes combined with quick service.
And for Boyd, who wants to adopt digital technology to help the company learn more and more about the customer, personalisation across its 51 stores in Australia and 10 in New Zealand is a major pursuit.
He said millennials represent a growing, “frequent” customer demographic, while Generation Y and Generation X account for its core customer base, and who are more likely health conscious consumers and attracted to the “fast casual restaurant format” of Mad Mex.
“Personalisation is definitely a key factor, and using artificial intelligence such as machine learning and predictive analysis to try to understand what the customer will do in store and determine different triggers is a key growth area,” he said.
“The data crunching and then creating a digital path ahead is going to be super exciting and will start to crystallise who the customer is, and being able to understand them, is going to be absolutely fascinating.”
Indeed, there’s a wealth of data to collect, dissect, and gain greater intelligence from, he explained.
Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill
“We’re moving towards using our own data. Having the Wi-Fi information, Facebook, our Loyalty program, identifying basket analysis, age brackets, where do they live, what are the end traits – all of that data is really now coming into our own arena where we are able to segment the information that we have. It is having a system that will be able to take this huge amount of information and allow us to get the diamonds out of the dust.”
CRM, combined with digital, he said, will enable much more than just email, but allow for greater customer analysis.
“CRM and the digital space is where IT can have the bottom line and help increase sales, rather than just email and files. It is something that’s going to improve sales and reduce costs,” he said, explaining the company uses Oracle Hospitality Simphony, a cloud and mobile hospitality management platform that provides enterprise point-of-sale (POS) and back-office functionality.
“There’s less administration and more time spent on the customer, rather than spent on the machine or the hardware or the process. It is moving the dial away from the support office, away from the franchise, the owners, but moving the dial towards the customer and having them at the centre of your world, which I personally find quite exciting.”
Certainly, there’s been lots of foundational work taking place at the company, he said, explaining the decision to focus on cloud technology has been a strategic focus and a key factor in its ability to rapidly innovate.
To ensure this innovation was delivered successfully, Boyd said the company initially focused on moving all its on premise servers to the Azure Cloud and adopted Office 365 for email, SharePoint for files and Microsoft NAV for its Finance system at a support office level.
The company then focused on consolidating, accessing and leveraging its business information which has been a big win. Using SQL 2014, it continues to build on the “one source of truth” methodology to allow it to get the best out of its data, which is often a struggle for many companies.
After seeing the success of cloud technology at a head office level, he said Mad Mex implemented an Australia-wide store infrastructure upgrade in December 2017, which included standardising routers/switches in all stores and installing Wi-Fi.
The company is upgrading its Oracle Simphony Point-of-Sale system, which will enable all Mad Mex stores to be entirely cloud-based so it can focus on improving the customer experience. Mad Mex will also be installing its cloud based CRM system with Dynamics 365, which will collect data from its Wi-Fi system and loyalty system.
“We are connecting the Oracle system with Dynamics 365, which will allow us to personalise the offers we have by gathering digital information about our customers. We will be able to pull in the Wi-Fi information, the Facebook information, and really start that road towards personalisation and targeting and segmenting the data to create connections with the customer,” he said.
“We’re now able to start utilising the next generation of opportunities, such as machine learning, to try and analyse the data. The foundation this provides for the company and for the stores and the franchisees is really a firm base to really grow, especially within the digital world. We are advancing towards developing our application and our website, and are gearing up in the digital space. We will be utilising the technology that we have to be a point of difference.”
He said the Oracle system, in particular, provides Mad Mex with more accurate information for stores because of its conversational ordering, an intuitive interface that also allows the new system to have more accurate cost of goods, so you can track your cost of goods.
“This means the restaurant managers and owners are not tied to the back-office PCs. They can access the system from anywhere, anytime and not be locked into hardware. There is more reliability within the system.
“The downtime will be significantly reduced because the amount of hardware is significantly reduced,” he said, explaining the company also has access to advanced dashboards which helps the company proactively “catch incidents” before they actually happen.
“The opportunities to provide the franchisees with rich data and information on their own customers within their own area will allow them to develop their local area marketing plan and help them really create an experience for the customer as well as a great meal.”
Certainly, Boyd’s digital and IT plans at Mad Mex mirror key technological shifts transforming the overall restaurant sector.
According to a global research study conducted by Oracle, Restaurant 2025, emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing, biometrics, voice activated responses and virtual reality, are all destined to reshape the dining experience.
“Fast and accurate drone food deliveries, 3D printing of unappetising food into nutritious meals, and biometric diner recognition are some of the new technologies under development as the restaurant sector rapidly gets set to satisfy the seismic shift in consumer expectations for a great customer experience,” the study revealed.
For Mad Mex, Boyd said robotics and automation are something the company is “constantly looking into.” He cites a new drinks dispenser in use at McDonald’s, which automatically fills the cup directly from the order from the pods, instead of somebody going down selecting to fill it, as something to consider.
“Just small pieces of automation that slowly come in to try and speed up the amount of time it takes to service the customer, is helpful,” he said, explaining the company is eyeing catch and display units with table service.
“Automation is something that has definitely been a staple of IT,” he said, also pointing to the countless opportunities with wearable technologies. “Ordering from your phone, ordering from your wristwatch – ultimately that is something that is going to come into view so that we can actually access this type of technology.”
He said Mad Mex’s cloud foundation technological advancements puts it in a strong position to explore and take advantage of new technologies such as facial recognition, mobile payments, voice activation as well as virtual reality to order food and engage with the brand.
“Voice activation is definitely in the future for ordering. I would love to see a situation where you can use virtual reality to see what you’re actually going to receive.”
Drone technology, meanwhile, is not on his radar. “I don’t see much use for drones – a lot of little things flying about and smashing people in the face.”
Asked what excites him in his role, he said it is seeing how people’s everyday working life is being “transformed and empowered by technology.”
“The one thing I find most rewarding is when you introduce new technology and see the impact it has in a positive way in people’s lives, especially employees in the support office or at the stores where people will tell you, ‘this particular technology has helped me do my job and I can do it much better now,’ whether it is support that previously took two hours and now takes five minutes,” he said.
“I am very lucky to be in a position where I can get the opportunity to think about these different technologies in an entrepreneurial startup business. I had the same view while working within corporate, but with corporates it is a much larger beast. They don’t move as fast as a startup environment.
“At Mad Mex, it is a bit easier to try different technologies and new ways of doing things. To be able to encourage the business to come with you on the digital path and enable it, is very rewarding.”