The New Restaurant CIO

Today’s restaurant industry is extremely competitive. More than ever, brands rely on technology to capture market share while, at the same time, speak to their multigenerational customer base. How to best navigate these waters falls on the company’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). Gone are the days when the CIO focused solely on internal infrastructure. Today’s CIO must be focused on customer-facing technologies, e-commerce, social media tech, cybersecurity… all while upgrading legacy POS, inventory, and labour management systems. With this shift in focus comes a shift in strategy when identifying a restaurant brand technology leader for the future. Historically, the restaurant industry has “kept to itself” when hiring executive leadership, but the business is evolving. Executive teams are changing their way of thinking as more companies are starting to look elsewhere to recruit their next CIO. Over the past few years there have been some notable additions to the restaurant industry in the CIO seat. Yum! Brands, Inc. recently hired Clay Johnson from Walmart; McDonald’s new CIO, Daniel Henry, joined from American Airlines; and earlier this year Inspire Brands had Raghui Sagi join from retailer Sephora. To no one’s surprise, it is the biggest and historically more forward-thinking brands that are leading the trend, but others will soon fall in line. The strategy is sound and one that Aethos™ has championed for years. When it comes to amplifying their technology platform, looking at other “consumer-centric” businesses can provide an organization with both a new level of strategic thinking and a fresh set of eyes. Any competitive advantage to grab market share should be considered. Ultimately, what the restaurant companies of today need to deliver to their customer (outside of quality food and service) is a “best-in-class” digital experience. This includes experiences across the mobile, online, and delivery – as well as the in-store – experience. CIOs with such experience know how to do so by leveraging the company’s back-of-house technology, big data, and analytics to further enhance its front-of-house technology, mobile applications, and online ordering features. This results in technology becoming an enabler by unlocking the overall potential of the business and, ideally, a better experience for their customer as compared to those who aren’t doing so. As the restaurant business continues to evolve, more and more emphasis on solidifying top talent at the CIO seat will occur, and that talent will come from the likes of retail, hospitality/travel, and CPG business verticals. The new CIOs will be tasked with not just further enhancing their customer’s digital experience but also combating industry disrupters, looking at major technology acquisitions, and deciding whether to build their own “in-house” technology platform and continue to bolster cybersecurity. No one can truly predict the future of our business, but we can start playing chess, putting the right pieces in place, and getting ahead of what the future holds. Since technology is not going anywhere, restaurant companies should start investing in a forward-thinking CIO.