It’s been over a year since Computing last checked in with Domino’s Pizza IT director, Colin Rees. Back then, he was about to roll out Microsoft Dynamics AX as the fast-food chain’s ERP system for the whole of the UK. But as is often the way with major IT deployments, things didn’t go quite as planned.
“We’ve been going through a new evaluation process, and we’ve just taken on a new chief executive and a new finance director, so we paused [the rollout] while we got those guys on board,” says Rees, who’s worked in IT for 25 years, starting out at Argos in the 1990s. “It’ll kick off in earnest in September or October.”
In the meantime, Rees has been spending a lot of his time on the introduction of a new point-of-sale (PoS) system across the UK’s 858-strong network of Domino’s franchisees. Called Pulse, the new system was developed in-house by Domino’s US business and first arrived in the UK in April 2013.
“We’re looking at how we can drive franchise profitability using the data that we capture from the Pulse platform and using it in clever ways,” he tells Computing.
The PoS upgrade has been implemented in parallel with an overhaul of the company’s consumer website, which is designed using HTML 5 for an increasingly mobile and multiplatform customer base.
“We already have iPhone, Android and Windows apps,” he says, adding that in the US these now boast a Siri-like voice-activated order service. “But I think what the new website will do is take that further, and add smart TVs, in-car access – we’d love a more organic platform.
“You can see the particular crossover between a PlayStation or an Xbox person, and a pizza customer,” Rees says.
Given his multi-platform strategy, Rees’s attitude to Microsoft’s new Universal Apps cross-platform development plan, with 90 per cent of APIs now shared across Windows devices and the Xbox games console, is surprising.
“I wasn’t overly excited by [Universal Apps],” he says. “I think those platforms are becoming more accessible and more generic on their own. We use [open-source cross-platform development solution] Kirin for mobile apps, which allows us to roll out different mobile platforms relatively easily – even on gaming platforms.”
There’s no room for a BlackBerry-specific mobile app in Rees’s plans, however. “I think we’ll end up with just the big mainstream platforms with dedicated apps,” he says, damningly, “and then we use responsive design for the thin tail of apps, such as BlackBerry and old-fashioned mobiles.”
But Rees’s mobile strategy doesn’t stop at mobile apps or even HTML 5: his dream (or nightmare, depending on your level of cholesterol) is for customers to be able to order and receive pizza any time, any place.
“The big draw to Domino’s is fresh, high quality pizza delivered to you in the most convenient way possible,” says Rees.
“So our dream is, you’re in a park on Sunday afternoon and you’re hungry, you press one button [on your smartphone] and 20 minutes later a pizza turns up. It’s convenient, it’s simple. They are the sort of things we try to encapsulate with our technology.”
So how far is Domino’s from creating this fast food nirvana.
“I wouldn’t want to give a date, but it’s absolutely coming,” says Rees. “On the new website, you’ll start to see much more map-based activity and geolocation activity – stepping stones along the way.”
This brave new world will require Domino’s to gather, store and analyse a lot more customer data than it has in the past. The new PoS systems will obviously play a key role in this, as will Rackspace Hybrid Cloud, which hosts nearly all of Domino’s core infrastructure.
“We run pretty much everything that supports the business at Rackspace: our commerce platforms, our mobile platforms, all of our dev/test platforms, all of the systems that support us as a corporation, our finance systems, etc. The only thing we really host locally is print servers,” says Rees.
This arrangement has brought two major benefits, the first being improved uptime. “We’ve gone from outages – if not weekly – certainly bi-weekly, to running pretty close to five nines [99.999%] availability,” Rees says. The other is that it has enabled Rees’s 70-strong team to focus on more commercially rewarding activities like analytics.
“What we’ve done is we put a lot of effort in the foundations, making sure we have reliable data and accurate data and consistent data,” says Rees. [The BI] department doesn’t report to IT [one senses a silent ‘yet’ here], but we have a new analytics team, which I think is a slightly dumbed-down term for data scientists.”
One buzz-phrase guaranteed to get Rees’s back up is “big data”.
“I get so frustrated with this term ‘big data’ – I don’t see it as being anything new. We just collect more data [than we used to],” he says.
“It’s all just data science and analytics. My first job at Argos was in the operational research team, which is data science, and even back then we were able to make weekly sales forecasts in the jewellery department down to the last ring. That wasn’t ‘big data’. I’m not sure any of this is really new. I think the industry is full of buzz-phrases.”
Rees says his analytics team performs a different role to the BI one in that it is looking for “the insight behind the data, rather than the manipulation of it”.
“We’ve been looking at how we can compare the labour usage in our most efficient stores and the others, and this basically shows that the most efficient store is best at managing labour in the early hours of the morning,” Rees says.
“The financial benefits of getting every store to be as good as [the most labour-efficient] is actually huge. But to get to that, you need to crunch a huge amount of data.”
Domino’s head office regularly exchanges information with the company’s franchisees, who are “a great source of innovation”, according to Rees.
“What I try to do is listen to as many of them as possible. We don’t necessarily buy from them, but if a franchisee comes up with a way to, say, sell 50,000 more pizzas than anybody else due to upselling, we try to find a way to integrate that.”
Mobile device management
Another buzz-phrase that Rees has yet to embrace is bring your own device (BYOD).
“Our policy is not necessarily to encourage it, but also not to prevent it,” Rees says.
“What we try to do is assist and secure. So every device we have connected to our infrastructure, we have a very simple policy that has to be applied, which is basic stuff like having the ability to wipe the whole device, and it has to be password-protected.”
Rees has never had to wipe a device, describing the hanging threat as “kind of a last resort”.
Domino’s currently uses mobile device management (MDM) technology from AirWatch to support its mobile policy, but is in the process of putting a new MDM contract out to tender.
“I always say you can’t stop [BYOD] these days – it’s a fact of life. And you have to find the right way of securing and managing it without putting a huge overhead on the company.”
Company devices – a mixture of iPhones and a few Android devices (but no BlackBerry) – are subject to all the same lockdowns, but are also allowed to VPN in to the Microsoft Exchange server. Company devices are for “a select number of people” in the IT department only, though.
Like his IT team, which has grown significantly over the past few years, Rees’s role at the company has also changed, he says.
“It used to be a much more technical role, but it’s more about business now. It’s not any longer good enough to be just good at the technical stuff – you need to be able to work with other people in the business. That’s essential now.”
And the technology landscape has also been transformed, he adds.
“And as for tools – 10 years ago we’d have talked about the three or four vendors in the market, and who was doing best, but these days, the vendor’s not important.
“It’s about the tools. It’s about the outcomes and business value.”