For more than 40 years UK pizza lovers have been dining in Pizza Hut restaurants. From a single store in Islington, London, to 268 outlets with more than 8,000 staff, a lot has happened since 1973.
It is, however, the last three years which has seen arguably the most significant degree of change. The brand is evolving fast, thanks to innovation and transformation inside and outside of the restaurant. By the end of this year, 192 restaurants will have been refurbished. New menus and cocktail bars are generating an entirely new evening atmosphere all helping to provide a better experience and service to guests.
Working behind the visual refresh, technology has proven to be the great enabler of improvement.
Keith Frimley is Pizza Hut Restaurant UK’s IT Director, joining in March 2013 to oversee the separation of the restaurant business’s IT from YUM! and to develop a 5 year IT roadmap to improve the technology to help team members deliver great guest experience. Now with a team of 19 behind him, the vision is very much to plan, build, run and service all things technology to best possible standards.
“The ultimate vision is to provide business leadership in technology to enhance our operational capability,” he adds. “By doing that, we will be providing first class support on the new IT systems, and on the people side have a team of customer driven people with a focussed can-do attitude. In terms of reliability, we want to ensure dependable on-time delivery of services and products to our restaurants and facilitate secure access to information systems anytime, anywhere via mobile.”
Indeed, ‘technology at the heart of the development of Pizza Hut Restaurants’ forms the crux of Frimley’s five year plan, which focuses on four key areas: In restaurant technology; CRM, digital and social media; Business intelligence and institutional knowledge and, finally, infrastructure.
The five-year plan bids to build on vast enhancements and upgrades already made since 2013, no more evident than in the restaurants themselves.
New Windows 8 Lenovo tablets are linked up to the point of sales systems, allowing staff to take orders digitally. By the end of 2016 48 restaurants will have been introduced to the new system. “This has been particularly effective,” comments Frimley. “It has proved that we can make better use of staff’s time, as team members can deal with more customers by not writing down orders and walking to and from the kitchen. It also removes errors and speeds up the ordering process.”
“As well as tablets, we have also upgraded a lot of our point of sales terminals in our restaurants. Pizza Hut first introduced the terminals in around 2005, but over the next three years all of them will be upgraded, which is a considerable investment. We have already rolled out 300, with another 350 coming by the end of the year and another in 400 early 2017. It will increase reliability and support - for instance, when we require menu changes, the new system will reload more smoothly.”
As soon as orders ring through, it is vital that the kitchen is made aware of what is needed and when, and this is where a new restaurant enterprise system has been earning its crust. Old and multiple versions of the software has been upgraded to one common version of Oracles Micros RES3700, a unified platform rolled out across the restaurant network.
“The last thing we want is half an order being ready and waiting on the side for the rest to catch up,” Frimley says. “The system stages an order for the kitchen. It will tell you to first start cooking a pizza, and then three minutes later it will notify you to start making the sides to go with it.” Crucially, the Restaurant Enterprise System also keeps track of inventory levels as and when orders are made, allowing restaurants to know exactly what goods need ordering at any particular time.
Further optimising service is the simple addition of buzzers to prompt front-of-house staff when food is ready to be taken to tables, again helping to enhance customer experiences and turnover tables more efficiently. Customers are also benefitting from the provision of free Wi-Fi from O2, introduced in 2013, which has allowed Pizza Hut Restaurants to gather crucial customer insight data and engage them with offers and promotions.
The most notable promotion comprises a loyalty points system available through the iOS and Android-enabled mobile app, a huge area of focus for Frimley for next year.
Since the national launch in May over 100,000 customers have downloaded the app and are participating in the points deal. The app allows customers to book tables, order take-away and collect rewards when dining in. Rewards include a choice of free food, such as free sides or pizza as a reward after three and six visits respectively. Additional offers like free desserts and money off vouchers are also available. The app forms part of a wider strategy to appeal to the millennial market.
It is the improvements in the pipeline next year that energises Frimley. “The exciting thing for us next year is the opportunity to extend the reach of the app,” he says. “Customers will be able to order and pay for food and drink on their mobile device, either in the restaurant or before they arrive.
“You could book your table and also order your food, which we’ll have ready for when you sit down, and even then you can add things on and pay when you like. That lapse time between deciding to leave and paying bills can be frustrating for customers, so this offers real flexibility and speed.”
Supporting team members
Team members have been the other major beneficiaries of Pizza Hut Restaurant’s recent IT investments. Hutters, formerly known as HutSpace, is an internal social network built on Microsoft Yammer to help staff engage better with the Restaurant Support Centre and each other.
“Having 268 restaurants across the UK can make it difficult to generate proper team member feedback,” Frimley explains. “We only have 120 employees in the RSC but 8,000 across the restaurant network, so we needed a platform which would help engagement”.
“We chose Yammer because it is Software-as-a-service (SaaS) hosted in Microsoft cloud, it has mobile applications meaning anyone can access it anywhere. It provides us 24/7 access and everybody now has an email address.”
Feedback has so far been extremely positive, and 3,800 staff are currently using the portal, with individual restaurants able to set up their own groups and drive localised discussions. Team member rotas and training videos, played through Hut TV, along with emergency IT support are other helpful tools.
“It’s a great way of getting feedback from our restaurants, in fact our CEO has appeared several times on there, posting ‘ask me anything, and I will answer it’,” Frimley adds. “Menu discussions also take place, app discussions take place, and customer feedback can be posted on there too, helping us to recognise the great work carried out by individual restaurants.”
Team members can also enjoy content generated by The School of Life, its behavioural learning which is using external expertise to deliver behavioural and personal development to all our team members for free on top of their traditional training. It's blended whole person development and the tech of Yammer has allowed it to be delivered, but also accessed wherever and whenever team members want it.
Pizza Hut Restaurant UK’s Chief People and Marketing Officer Kathryn Austin recently won HR Director of the Year award at the HR Excellence awards. Her adoption and implementation of Yammer was praised by award organisers.
This open communications underpins the behavioural culture of the organisation, through the best of me and best of us approach as well as assists the technology journey.
Supplementing the additional organisational benefits of the Hutters network is a new workforce management system, implemented by Verteda. This has enable Restaurant managers a greater degree of accuracy and control over labour planning and deployment, as restaurants can forecast how many employees will be needed for any given shift at any given restaurant. With accurate labour forecasting, based on activity and sales data, you can build efficiency, grow revenue and positively impact the restaurant’s bottom line. “Without this you are in danger of impacting the ability to properly serve customers which, if we’re going to be the best place to eat, we have to get right,” Frimley adds.
Behind the scenes, several key partnerships have transformed vital IT processes, from enterprise resource planning through to 24-hour IT support services.
A key task for Frimley when joining in 2013 was to review upgrades to Pizza Hut Restaurant’s ERP software, which back then comprised JD Edwards AS/400. He decided the best course of action was to stick to the expertise of Oracle and keep the JD Edwards product suite, bringing in Redfaire to implement the upgrade. Numerous benefits have been reaped from the move.
“We upgraded to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne release 9.1, taking the opportunity to adopt a SaaS approach, using Redfaire to host the application in its Cloud 9 private cloud infrastructure,” Frimley explains. “This has given us a far more robust service level agreement and disaster recovery. The user interface is now a web-based setup, which is far more user friendly for our teams and more intuitive.”
Pizza Hut Restaurants underlying server and network infrastructure, including that which runs their main website and key business intelligence systems has been successfully supported, monitored and maintained as part of a Managed Service Contract held with CSI for the past eight years, while Retail Assist provides crucial support to keep the business online when problems arise.
“One of the challenges we faced was the quality of support and service to our restaurants,” Frimley says. “I had no awareness of the call volumes being made, key issues, let alone the information needed for my team to identify trends and root causes. For me it was very important to implement a one-stop-shop for our restaurants to report and resolve any IT issues, to have a single point of contact where all calls can be logged.”
After three months, having transferred the knowledge of how Pizza Hut works, Frimley saw a step up in service. The number of incidents gradually reduced and the Helpdesk is now delivering an impressive first time fix rate of 90 percent. Retail Assist, awarded Best Managed Service Desk by the Service Desk Institute, also provides early morning global checks and validation of systems, meaning IT has been thoroughly checked before staff arrive for work.
All suppliers and partners are encouraged by Pizza Hut to visit the restaurants and grasp a feel of the pressures of service, creating a picture of how their services can translate into frontline impact. “In general I look to work with partners and suppliers who are challengers, come to the table with fresh ideas and who have a strong track record,” Frimley adds. “Most importantly they do what they say they’re going to do, as our suppliers are an extension of our IT team.” “We have introduced a formal supplier review process which includes a Supplier of the year award, enabling ourselves and our partners to provide feedback and ensure that jointly we maintain high service levels”.
Foot on the pedal
Though much has already been achieved in three years, with new technology coupled with a balance of leveraging existing applications giving a blended platform to build upon, plenty of hard work still lies ahead. Restaurants and IT colleagues are considered long term customers to Frimley, whose vision can be described by standing in his customers’ shoes.
Frimley explains: “In terms of what our customers will notice, I want them to say ‘I have reliable and secure access to the products and services I use; our IT Team deliver great value through services, products and provide up to date technology, they are always bringing new ideas on how technology may assist and improve the business and ultimately the service to our guests and value to our shareholders. The support of our systems is first class.’”
And as an internal supplier to the business, Frimley’s end game is for his customers to say: ‘IT are jointly owning the success of the business by working with operations to provide and operate world class IT solutions in the Restaurants rather than just provide kit that works. They are always there, 24/7 to assist us help improve the effectiveness of the operations.’
The past few years has seen IT move from what Frimley describes as “firefighters to trusted operators”, and with new innovations such as the app extension coming in next year, technology looks set to drive the business forward in the future, enabling the IT team to deliver business value. And although robot waiters are not on the near future menu as they are in Pizza Hut Asia, best practice and excellence are the overriding priorities.
Frimley concludes: “Ultimately, we are running IT as a business. IT in restaurants should be like turning your lights on, a given that it will work, like electricity – that is the panacea. Job well done.”
By Tom Wadlow