Meet the Pizza Hut MD putting digital on the menu
Digital Transformation

Meet the Pizza Hut MD putting digital on the menu

Once up a time, few in senior management at non-tech companies paid much attention to IT and IT had precious little to with the hospitality and eating sector outside of keeping the wheels of the back-office turning and point-of-sale systems. But today, times have changed, even if the "every company is a software company" (Satya Nadella) and "software is eating the world" (Marc Andreessen) mantras long ago began to sound tiresome, given the heavy rotation those terms currently enjoy. But the reason clichés begin is that they capture some sort of universal truth and these buzz-phrases are no exceptions.

When I was approached with the chance to talk to Regina Borda, the managing director of Pizza Hut Europe and Canada about its attempts to capture the digital zeitgeist, I thought about how far we had come and then, like the character in Proust with the madeleine cake, I thought of pizza. As an undergraduate thirtysomething years ago, I lived off the moreish, deep-crust variant and its must-have accompaniment, the intensely pungent and unctuous garlic bread. In those days, I suppose computers fulfilled its grunt work of operations but Pizza Hut, a digital company? Surely not.

This is a 61-year-old brand, having started out in Wichita, Kansas, the very town where Glen Campbell located the anonymous lineman in his famous song. Today, Pizza Hut is the world's largest pizza chain with over 18,000 restaurants. Borda, a Swiss-born, multilingual globetrotter and veteran of the food and food service industry at brands including Hershey's, KFC and Taco Bell, says, when we talk by phone, that the backdrop to this was three years ago when the company cooked up a strategic plan "to be the fastest, easiest place for pizza: the easiest to find and easiest to afford. E-commerce [needed] to be a core competency."

Making the base

To drive this, a dedicated digital team was created. Amazon calls its development sprints ‘two-pizza teams' because the group should be of a number requiring only that much food at a sitting. But Pizza Hut's digital project was a broader effort, and consulting firm McKinsey was recruited to help the transition process, creating a partnership that started in the UK and is being rolled out globally. Today, the digital plan revolves around front-end work done in London, back-end work in Vietnam and a local US centre in Denver.

Some rivals had, of course, by then already begun to tap into the power of mobile, GPS, the internet and other sources that feed information, transactions and fulfilment. UK readers will recall that one of the key advantages of having an early Sky Sports subscription was the chance to purchase a Domino's from the red button at half-time in a Premier League game. Fast-forward to today and McDonald's looks more like an Apple Store than a burger joint. Everyone gets the importance of digital, customer loyalty, the customer experience and service.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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