KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell: Delicious Collaboration

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 07-06-2011

KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell: Delicious Collaboration

In Summary

Who: Dickie Oliver, vice president of Global IT for Yum! Brands

What: Discussing how the use of advanced collaboration tools has enhanced operations across the company's 38,000 restaurants, which include KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

Why: To give CIOs and other IT leaders insight into the business benefits that can be gained from enabling a collaborative culture in their enterprise

We talk all the time about collaboration, and, usually, we're intrigued by what the leading-edge companies are doing in this space. Maybe we're fascinated with how the creative geniuses at Apple came up with something as novel as the iPad. Or perhaps we want to get inside the brain trust of an innovative company such as Google so we can understand how tech tools can be used to create an entity that's more than the sum of its parts--an entity in which employees are empowered to interact at the highest levels.

Maybe we're having this discussion at a fast-food restaurant where we're ordering a taco or a pizza. Unknown to us, that very same type of collaboration is taking shape just beyond the counter where a teenager is serving us.

This would do well in describing Yum! Brands, the corporate parent of top quick-service restaurant chains KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Boasting nearly 38,000 restaurants in more than 110 countries and more than 1 million employees and associates, Yum! Brands earned more than $11 billion in revenue in 2010.

For Dickie Oliver, vice president of global IT for Yum!, interactive tech tools are driving the company's present and future. Primarily, Yum! is partnering with Cisco to establish a culture of sharing best practices designed to influence the way products and services are presented at all retail locations. Cisco started off by supplying voice over IP (VOIP) technology to reduce long-distance/international phone expenses for Yum! Now, the vendor is delivering wireless tools such as Call Manager and 3502i Series Access Points, along with other solutions that support routing, LAN switching and security. Other major Yum! vendors include Microsoft, for Windows support; Orange and AT&T, for global Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS); and Dell and IBM, for data center operations.

Oliver spoke with CIO Insight's Dennis McCafferty about Yum! Brands' collaborative culture and the enterprise-technology oversight needed to make it happen. The company is headquartered just outside downtown Louisville, Ky., where the main building on campus is affectionately dubbed "the White House." It's a traditional three-story Colonial facade with a completely modernized work environment within. Also on campus are interactive working spaces; a full, modern fitness facility; Yum! University; on-site day care and other amenities.

Yum! chairman/CEO David Novak believes leaders should reward and recognize the contributions of others--and have fun doing it. His "Yum! Award"---a set of chattering teeth on legs--is given to people at the company who excel at leadership. "He's given out nearly 900 by now," Oliver says. "We all take pride in a culture in which people are recognized for achieving breakthrough results and taking action." In overseeing the IT structure for Yum!, Oliver, too, has sought to drive winning results. Here's what he has to say about collaboration and other emerging technologies.

CIO Insight: Let's play devil's advocate here: How much technology can be involved with running a company like Yum! Brands?

Dickie Oliver: We're like any other major company in the retail space. We have nearly 38,000 locations with more than 1 million employees and associates. They need enterprise-level tech support. Every one of us working here is focused on the customer, so we want to push further and further out into technology areas that serve them.

This involves expansion into social media, mobility and customer analytics. Our recruitment and retention programs are heavily supported by technology as well. We use solutions from Kronos, for example, to cast a wide net into the labor pool and get access to as many high-quality candidates for new associates as possible.

How heavily are you involved with messaging and collaboration tools, and what's driving demand for them within the enterprise?

Oliver: We're very much invested in messaging and collaboration tools at all our restaurant locations throughout the world. Our principle tool is iCHING. The "i" is for Internet. "CHING" is Chinese for "relationship building." iCHING is a tool for employees--across multiple time zones and geographies--to share best practices and foster breakthrough thinking and innovation in every area of the company's business.

We created iCHING to allow our associates to build profiles of themselves, tag keywords to communicate their expertise and post information on our network. They create discussions and links to come up with new ways to create better products or help introduce new, successful product lines. They share tips on how to make these products as quickly and easily as possible. On the tech side, we depend on Microsoft SharePoint to allow for file sharing, both internally and with our external partners. This is one of our data repositories. For example, an associate in the United Kingdom can type in a query and find data that helps develop a better way to serve customers.

Do employees really have an impact on product lines using these collaborative tools?

Oliver: They sure do. In Australia, we have a beverage line called Krushers at KFC. Our KFC Australia team shared their product-development expertise on iCHING. This resulted in the introduction of Krushers to other markets, demonstrating an international pipeline of best-practice sharing. Another example is our "Crunchwrap Supreme" from Taco Bell in the United States. The KFC team in the United Kingdom leveraged the Crunchwrap expertise to develop a similar product. Collaboration and messaging are major business drivers.

Tech Decision Making at Yum! Brands

Which brings up a question we're constantly asking our CIOs: Is the use of technology being dictated by the business side or by the IT execs?

Oliver: We're in front of the business folks as much as possible. We seek their ideas. We want to know what will directly serve their business needs. We firmly believe that technology serves business, not the other way around. Ultimately, we seek to have business drive 95 percent of everything we do. We also push decision making far down the chain because we maintain a highly decentralized organizational structure. Our store associates are dealing directly with customers. They know what they want. They know what's selling. They exchange ideas on this with our division managers, and that gets pushed up within our company. The technology departments are tuned into this, and they then seek products and solutions that meet the business needs being conveyed.

Has Yum! been able to determine ROI on the use of collaboration tools?

Oliver: We're exploring this. We know collaboration through these resources helps drive the business. Right now, we're focused on establishing and encouraging this kind of information-sharing environment. We want the next generation of workers to know that we are providing for them in this space, and we want them to use it to build and share best practices.

How have you adapted to best serve the needs of your mobile customers?

Oliver: We allow many of these strategies to be determined at the brand level. We have a Pizza Hut application on the iPhone, for example. You can load it on your device and order any product in our stores.

The use of mobile devices at work is, more and more, determined by users' personal preferences. How is this affecting Yum! Brands? Have you had to establish best practices, policies and procedures?

Oliver: It's something we continue to evaluate with the proliferation of Androids, iPhones, BlackBerrys and other such devices. We mainly work to ensure that we can support the tools needed by our employees to perform their jobs. We want to make sure their experience is user-friendly to promote more collaboration, but we also need these communications to be secure.

How invested are you in cloud computing?

Oliver: The cloud is a buzzword that means different things to different people. We're heavily virtualized on our internal servers, and that's the first step in getting "to the cloud." We were way out ahead in that game, launching virtualization nearly five years ago. Now we're always looking for the best business-serving solutions with respect to software and internally hosted applications, and many of these are available in a private or public cloud offering.

Have you opted for the public cloud or a private model?

Oliver: It's predominately private. That's the easiest one for us to secure.

How involved is the company with respect to monitoring and evaluating the comments that customers make about your stores on social media outlets?

Oliver: We have social media managers who are tasked to do this. We're obviously very interested in what customers have to say. We track customer-response trends, sentiments and conversations. It's a big space, and it's evolving rapidly over time.

If there was one "magic power" you could get out of collaborative mobile technology, what would it be? Oliver: There are so many providers in this space, and so many more appear to be on the horizon. The mobile industry needs to standardize how these devices "talk" to each other, so they can all interact in a seamless way. Our associates are using a large variety of individual devices, based on their personal preferences, and they'll continue to do so. So a more standardized approach would only enhance our ability to share information across Yum!

About the Author

Dennis McCafferty is director of content for Welz & Weisel Communications.