by Cio Executive Council

The New Role for IT: Generator of Innovative Ideas

Sep 25, 20133 mins

At Yum Restaurants International, the value of IT is business innovation.

Consumer technology is changing rapidly, and CIOs have to respond just as quickly. And that response often starts with changing the mind-set and culture of our department. IT can no longer wait for the business to tell it what to do.

We need to be aware of what’s happening with consumers and our team members, and we need to bring ideas to the table. In old-school IT, the definition of success was keeping the email system up all the time or making sure the right security processes were in place.

Now that’s just the cost of doing business. Success is now measured by what we are doing to drive the business and the bottom line. What operational efficiencies can we deliver through technology? What incremental profits do we enable?

I encourage my team to bring any and all ideas to the table. We need to deliver the best ideas to the business frequently. I would rather be told “no” after sharing a bunch of ideas than have people wonder why I never brought any ideas forward at all.

Global Differences

We’re often consulted on emerging topics like online and mobile ordering, CRM, and social media, because those areas are all about technology. One of the interesting aspects as a global business is the differences in consumer behavior around the world. For instance, in Asia, the Middle East, the U.K. and Europe, smartphones have rapidly proliferated; however, in places like Africa, feature phones are common, but smartphones are not. This requires us to adapt our strategy according to each market.

We could mandate that every restaurant, no matter what part of the world it’s in, has to have mobile ordering, but that doesn’t make sense if the local consumer doesn’t have a device in-hand.

One of the things we are working on now is how technology can improve operations in our restaurants. We are testing the use of real-time data so restaurant managers and team members can see operational metrics immediately. If we can deliver real-time data and insights that highlight what they’re doing well and whether there’s a problem, they can make real-time changes to improve the customer experience. For example, if speed is an important metric–how long it’s taking them to make and deliver a pizza–we want to show that in a fun and exciting way, as well as displaying how they’re performing compared with other nearby restaurants. We think this will bring out the best behaviors in our restaurant team members, as compared to just talking about it at a district or regional meeting.

True innovation comes with the risk of failure, so you need the support of the leadership team to try things that may not work. I am lucky to work for a company that’s very consumer-focused and driven by an innovation mind-set. When you look at companies that aren’t around anymore, you can only imagine there was a group of people saying, “It’s too risky, we can’t do it,” and that attitude contributed to their demise.

All of this is representative of a cultural change that a lot of organizations are going through. CEOs are frustrated with their technology groups because they see how rapidly things are changing with consumers, but IT doesn’t always have the speed it needs to respond.

Baron Concors is CIO at Yum Restaurants International.

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