McDonald’s: Delivering the digital dining experience
Portrait photography: Stefan Hobmaier. Other images: Getty/McDonald's
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McDonald’s: Delivering the digital dining experience

Kenny MacIver – December 2016

Doug Baker, head of IT for McDonald’s UK, outlines how the company has forged a custom, agile IT support model with partner Fujitsu to drive ultra-high reliability in its tech-rich restaurants.

Over the past six decades, restaurant group McDonald’s has established remarkable levels of business efficiency and customer loyalty by continuously refining its operational processes and subtly refashioning its menus and restaurant designs to suit evolving consumer tastes. However, in the past five years, another critical success factor has come into play — restaurant-wide digitalization — and nowhere is that more evident than in the company’s UK operations.

“In a very short space of time, the role of technology in our restaurants has become central to the experience we give our customers. It is now key to every part of the customer journey through the restaurant, and that means we need to ensure the 24/7 availability of that technology,” says Doug Baker, Head of IT for McDonald’s in the UK where it operates 1,270 restaurants, 70% of which are franchised. The business, he says, is undergoing a rollout of new technologies and services, including:
• New digital channels  Large touch-screen kiosks where customers self-order and pay for meals which are collected at traditional counters or served at their table
• Entertainment and comms  Table-top tablet devices allowing customers to browse news, check email and play games as they dine
• Dynamic menus  An array of digital menu boards displaying changing meal options during the day
•  Internet access  Free high-speed Wi-Fi throughout restaurants
• Wireless charging  Power points for customers’ mobile devices
• Real-time order-taking  In-kitchen systems that process orders from kiosks and guide crews through the assembly of customer’s on-demand orders.

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McDonald’s is already halfway through the upgrade of its UK estate, and by 2018 each of its restaurant will have this new digital environment. It's a program Baker likes to quantify in terms of the volume of IT hardware installed alone: “When we convert a restaurant today we take out one pallet of IT; when we go back, we put in eight.”
Always-on retail

Putting the technology in place is one challenge; keeping it all running with minimal interruption to customer services is another. With half of McDonald’s restaurants operating 24/7, Baker says the rapid build-up of technology emphasizes the degree to which the company relies on the high availability of its in-restaurant IT systems. As a result, the transformation program led to a radical rethink of the traditional IT support model the company had previously used in its restaurants.

“The challenge for us is how to maintain all of that at peak periods and to ensure that the technology remains on at all times. Shutting one of our restaurants because we’ve lost two screens in our kitchen, for example, is not an acceptable option. The days of us being able to say ‘we can wait till it is fixed tomorrow’ have gone,” says Baker.

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Drawing on in-depth feedback from both its own business users and its 160 UK franchisees, the company sat down in mid-2015 with its longstanding IT support services partner Fujitsu and crafted a service tailored specifically to those changing needs. At its heart is the CARE (Customer Aligned Regional Engineering) program, which features a team of 10 Fujitsu engineers, each dedicated to servicing a collection of McDonald’s restaurants. Spread across the UK, the engineers’ vehicles exclusively carry equipment and parts geared to the repair needs of the McDonald’s estate — whilst supported by the other mobile break-fix engineers and helpdesk teams back at Fujitsu’s global service delivery operations. The new model has satisfied many key requirements, says Baker, especially for local franchisees.

“Franchisees want a relationship with the people who are supporting their restaurants. They want someone who understands their particular environment. So our CARE engineers are geographically based and allocated to sets of restaurants, each of which is naturally unique,” says Baker. “The IT might be in the ceiling, behind walls, underneath counters, but the dedicated engineers build knowledge of equipment and its physical location and understand what aspects of it are most important to each restaurant.”
Preventative measures

Increasingly, though, those engineers themselves are helped by some fairly sophisticated technology. Remote monitoring of the status of equipment and analysis of faults means their job is not only to fix problems but also to anticipate them, says Baker. “Importantly the CARE program is very much a proactive service, focused around preventative maintenance visits. Engineers are expected to get in there and find the problems before they happen,” he says.

“The biggest benefit to us is the value of the information we get from engineers — they often see issues we aren’t aware of, and based on their reports we’ve even changed the types of equipment we use,” he says. “Importantly, they are not tasked with going into a store to fix things when they break; they are tasked to go in and help.  So in many ways they want to drive calls out — which is very different from traditional break-fix.”

At the same time, engineers also support the education of restaurant staff members (known as Operations Technology Persons) who are taught to troubleshoot their local IT systems for potential issues and to be capable of swapping in and out basic parts as necessary.


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The program, says Baker, is changing how such support is viewed. “We no longer talk about service-level agreements [SLAs] for how fast things can get fixed — we talk about restaurant uptime and how to make sure that we can deliver a consistent and reliable service throughout the day.”

CARE also moves away from traditional rigid, fixed-term ‘break-fix’ contracts that might run, unaltered for five years. “We made it clear that we couldn’t do that any more,” says Baker. “We needed a partner who was flexible, and with the Fujitsu CARE program what we now have is a process that constantly evolves.” Even in the first six months the program has developed dramatically, he says. Following franchisee feedback, for example, maintenance visits are now scheduled to avoid peak meal times.

Much of the pressure for such change has come not from the business, but from a new set of customer expectations, says Baker. “Our customers are not only our customers for burgers and fries and milkshakes — they’re consumers of technology too. The technology we have put in place for them provides an experience that differentiates us from other restaurants. The expectation is that those technologies should be as available as any of our checkout tills or kiosks,” says Baker, “so our reliance on technology to ensure we give the right customer experience is greater than it’s ever been.”

McDonald’s UK is one of almost 60 customer stories detailed in the Fujitsu Technology and Service Vision. View more here.

First published December 2016
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