CIO Spotlight: Jason Pratts, Appetize Technologies

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? "Yes. 100%. Helping enterprises transform their digital landscape is in our DNA."

Name: Jason Pratts

Company: Appetize Technologies

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: June 2019

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Jason Pratts is the co-founder and Chief Information Officer at Appetize Technologies, responsible for the strategic direction of the platform, product team, and innovation as the company continues to expand into new verticals. His holistic approach to technology development and client initiatives has led the company to achieve over 100% annual growth, yearly, since inception.

What was your first job? My first job was at a local frozen yogurt shop in high school, and I ended up working there for three years and became the store manager. It was my first introduction to a point of sale system, complete with reporting and analytics, and I became hooked!

Did you always want to work in IT? Not necessarily, but I always tried to leverage IT to drive change and innovation. I started out in a variety of industries, most recently in international distribution. It wasn't until Appetize that it all came together and I realised how much I really enjoyed working in IT, solving problems for clients, and being a leader in innovation.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have my Bachelor's degree from Cal State Northridge, but have never been a big believer in certifications other than the school of real life lessons and building businesses.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I'm a big believer in taking risks with your ideas. I've thrown a lot of mud up against the wall to see what will stick. That's created lots of learning experiences and a pretty interesting LinkedIn page leading up to co-founding Appetize - an eyeglass distribution company, an equipment rental company, a receipt roll distribution company...

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Appetize's mission is to revolutionise the POS industry with a modern, omnichannel approach that delivers valuable data for businesses and a frictionless payment experience for customers. All of our initiatives are focused on our enterprise customers and the guest experience.

In the coming year, we'll roll out enhancements to our online ordering solution and our newest, and very successful, self-service kiosk platform. We're also going to launch a scalable architecture for partners and other third parties to better integrate to our platform, as well as some data strategy and warehouse initiatives. Those enhancements will help us deepen the footprints we have across the restaurant, retail, and quick serve industries.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? We're laser focused on staying ahead of the competition, and in our world, this means different things to each of our core industries. My top priority from Max (our CEO) is to develop a comprehensive plan that leverages existing and future technology to satisfy each of our core industries while continuing to deliver features that advance our product. It's no easy feat to take a holistic step back and look at how the product architecture for an amusement park can be leveraged for a restaurant chain with 700 locations.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? To me, it's about blending some of the best parts of the traditional CIO role and modernising it to include new and unexpected responsibilities. Today's CIO is less siloed than ever before. They have a stake in technology development, product management, security, and more. Our skillset is changing and we are really becoming a core part of overall company strategy conversations. In my role at Appetize, we're aligning technology efforts and product management. We look at what our clients are asking for and what the market is shifting towards and internalise that into actionable roadmap initiatives with scope and defined parameters from our technology organisation.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes. 100%. Helping enterprises transform their digital landscape is in our DNA. We founded Appetize because the industry needed a partner that really thought about the future of ordering and payments. Our digital transformation emphasises all three components: customer experience, revenue growth, and operational efficiency. We focus on improving the way our clients interact with their guests. By changing the customer ordering experience, whether that's empowering staff with easier to use software or adding self-service options (such as kiosks, online, mobile, etc.), data shows that revenue increases and turnaround time decreases.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? I'd say Appetize's digital business is fairly mature. It's really driven off our product roadmap and strategy to execute, which deepens our understanding of potential market penetration, how we can financially plan our org structure, R&D spend and predict budgets for the coming quarters and years.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Appetize's culture is pretty diverse and our differences are celebrated. When you're processing billions of dollars each year, you really need people who are dedicated, dependable, and understand the reach our products have. We want reliable team players who genuinely get along with others and are as dedicated to the product as the rest of us are. We also look for people who have a passion for ordering and payments. It's a really unique industry so Appetize invests heavily in educating and training so that we can foster experts and advocates. I strive to abide by the motto that if people don't know Appetize as well as I do, then I've failed in my job.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Not surprisingly, it's been difficult to fill positions on the product side, and specifically those with IoT expertise. We deal in software, but there is also a large hardware component. As the IoT matures and more people engage in the space, this will definitely become less of an issue. Another area is analytics - we see people really architecting data models for the size and scale of data, but what's missing is the foresight to understand how to capitalise on that.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Don't be afraid to jump in even if you don't know something. It's really about not letting fear hold you back and focusing on taking a practical approach, being customer centric, and using your common sense. In the end, it usually works out just the way it was supposed to!

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Not yet, but the goal is to build people up for success and my succession along the way. It's important to speak through people, not at people. Inspire them to do their jobs well and love what they do. And, one day, they'll eventually take over mine.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Things are going to happen that throw you off course. It's about how you respond that matters. How do you handle the curveball?

What has been your greatest career achievement? I'm extremely proud of the company that Appetize is today and how we got here. My co-founders Max, Kevin and I formed the idea of Appetize at an LA Lakers game where we were frustrated with the food ordering process and thought there had to be a better way.

We started out as a mobile application company with 5 employees and have grown into a complete point of sale platform with more than 350 people. Some of the more exciting moments have come with getting our large enterprise clients "live" and seeing how happy they are with the results of our technologies.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? If I had realised the value of focus a bit earlier, that would have changed some career and personal events, or certainly their timing. As a company and leader, it's important not to try to be all things to all people. Appetize started as "mobile ordering for all," which we quickly learned doesn't scale, and so we went deep into one vertical before we could expand out.

What are you reading now? "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle

Most people don't know that I… Like to sing!

In my spare time, I like to…Go to my clients' baseball games. I'm a huge Dodgers fan.

Ask me to do anything but… Enter a spelling bee. I type too fast for spell check