IT In 3: Pizza Hut Focuses On Mobile, Analytics

Pizza Hut technology efforts have recently focused on mobile ordering, which has helped drive incremental sales gains, but the chain's chief information and digital officer Baron Concors is also focusing on analytics and utilizing "big data."

Concors joined Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut Inc. in late 2008, after serving as vice president of global retail technology for FedEx Corp. and as a management consultant for Deloitte & Touche and Ernst & Young. As he joined Pizza Hut, the pizza segment was foodservice's ground zero in the battle for market share of online and mobile order sales. Each of the Big 3 – Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza and Papa John's Pizza – in recent years has reported significant incremental growth in that business compared with other order channels, such as walk-in requests and telephone calls.

Concors recently spoke with Nation's Restaurant News about IT initiatives at Yum! Brands Inc.-owned Pizza Hut, which is the global and domestic pizza leader in terms of units, with nearly 13,000 restaurants worldwide, including about 7,200 locations in the United States.

1. What IT projects have recently been completed by your chain and what benefits do they provide?

We continue to invest heavily in mobile. I truly believe mobile ordering will be bigger than web ordering in the future as people have these devices on them all the time and it's easier to order from a mobile app than go to your computer and boot it up and then visit a web site.

Our iPhone application was leading edge when it was released in 2009 and we recently followed it up with new apps for the iPad, Android and Windows Mobile.

The main focus is improving speed and ease of ordering. We want to provide an experience that is easier and faster than a phone call. We have made the apps faster, easier to use and smaller in size.

These apps have been downloaded over 5 million times and the sales growth month over month is phenomenal. I'm really proud of the team and the quality they delivered to our customers with these apps. All of them are rated at least 4 out of 5 stars by our customers and the iPhone app is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

2. What IT deployments are under way or in planning, and what spurred them?

Sometimes we can get caught up in a lot of key performance indicators and metrics and it makes it difficult to prioritize and focus on what really matters so we are testing a variety of new technologies to deliver real-time analytics [from above-store reporting systems] to our front-line operators. We are testing in 60 stores tablets, digital displays and automated text alerts to help our restaurant team members and managers get better visibility of their store's performance by monitoring the seven to eight things that really matter to our customers to ensure they have a great experience.

3. What new IT developments in the business or consumer spaces have you excited because of possible applications to foodservice and why?

"Big data." We have so much data available – from customers, suppliers, operations, sales, social media, etc. – and there are more innovative tools coming out that allow you to better analyze and make smart decisions. Every business function looks at its own slice of data or reports, but bringing it all together and looking at it in different ways gets me excited about the possibilities.

Is Pizza Hut already in 'big data' territory?

I would say we are a third of the way there. We have automated the analysis and insights of some of it and we will complete the rest by yearend. We are using tools that bring together data across the enterprise. For example, looking at store training compliance alongside customer satisfaction and sales metrics can show how they all correlate.

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