Costa Coffee: Reacting to an accelerating pace of change
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Costa Coffee: Reacting to an accelerating pace of change

Sam Forsdick — December 2020

Costa Coffee CIO Phil Scully explains how technology transformation has helped the rapidly globalizing UK coffee chain keep pace with the fast-evolving business environment of 2020.


• Watch Costa Coffee’s Phil Scully speaking at Fujitsu ActivateNow


Costa Coffee CIO Phil Scully has had little time for a break over the past year. Following the company’s 2018 acquisition by Coca-Cola and the completion of its final separation from former parent Whitbread earlier this year, the UK's fastest-growing coffee shop chain was then faced with the challenges associated with the national and regional Covid-19 regulations, imposed on the hospitality industry, in many of the 30 countries in which it operates.

The constantly changing circumstances have required adaptability from all businesses in the hospitality sector. As a guest speaker at Fujitsu ActivateNow, Scully outlined how Costa has been in a state of “continual evolution and change” since March. This unprecedented period involved shutting down all of its 2,600 UK and Ireland outlets and many of the 1,200 it operates elsewhere in the world, turning off internal systems and reviewing commercial contracts and leases.

Scully and his team have used the period to refocus on the evolving needs of customers. Many aspects of customer interaction have been fundamentally changed by the pandemic, with consumers now reluctant to handle cash, touch keypads or wait in line close to each other.


Costa Covid


“All of this has a massive impact on the business and on the technology you put in to a retail business,” Scully said. “It’s all about pace now: the amount of times you have to adapt on a daily basis to changing business circumstances and consumer behavior means that the technology has to adapt at pace too.”
Rapid course-corrections

Although click-and-collect and delivery services were already high on the agenda for the IT team, the pandemic accelerated plans for that and other aspects of the company’s digital journey. Among the rapid changes were a widening of the click-and-collect service to cover more regions, extending contactless payments to all stores and enabling mobile orders via an app to reduce the time spent in lines.

“It meant we could emerge stronger, wiser and safer from lockdown,” Scully added. Events have moved so quickly that plotting the company’s future has been difficult, he said. “Strategically, we might have a direction but being able to course-correct as we go through that is going to be hugely important.”

What is perhaps easier to ascertain is the ways in which consumer habits are developing. “What I do see changing are people’s behaviors,” Scully said. “The longer we stay in [various levels of] lockdown, the more time those habits have to bed in, making it harder to change back to what the world was like before coronavirus.”
Preparing for a post-Covid world

One of the ways that Costa is preparing for a post-pandemic world is by increasing customer self-service capabilities. Its Costa Express machines are in place at more than 9,000 sites in the UK and more than 1,200 globally. And in October, Costa entered the US market for the first time with the purchase of US automated coffee kiosk company Briggo.

The 52 vending kiosks, which “combine exceptional coffee with ingenious technology for a connected experience,” have been rebranded as Costa Coffee BaristaBot. Featuring a touchless interface and the ability to customize orders via an app, the technology acquisition allows the coffee brand to meet some of the new demands from customers described by Scully.


Phil Scully Costa E


So how has Scully managed the scale, scope and pace of change at Costa over the past 12 months? “Control the controllable,” he said. “There are things you can do which make a difference and there are things which you can’t. Focus on the day at hand and the current task.”

His advice for other business IT leaders is to “take time to look up and look out.” He explained: “At the moment, it’s a bit like running a sprint and a marathon at the same time. If you look at a sprinter, they start with their head down and moving fast — they don’t look up until the second half of their race. That’s where we need to be now, but we also need to be thinking about looking at what else we can do because we have to keep up [in the longer race].”

First published December 2020
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