‘That’s when the magic happened’ with mobile for a restaurant firm

The former CIO of Cara Operations discusses the strategic use of apps and the promise of cloud-based networking

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Swiss Chalet mobile app

To some people, the phrase “there’s an app for that” is the response every company should have when the question of a smartphone user’s needs come up. To organizations like Cara Operations, a better response would be, “there’s an app for that specific need, or that specific user.”

Headquartered in Vaughn, Ont., Cara Operations is better known to most Canadians by the names of its various restaurant chains, which include Swiss Chalet, Montana’s, Kelsey’s and Milestones. Though it employs some 40,000 people, the nature of Cara’s business means it works with a number of franchise owners, who need work locally but provide a consistently high level of customer service. Recognizing the way those franchises work was key to helping Natasha Nelson and her team use mobile apps in a way that created real value.

Nelson no longer works at Cara Operations, but she discussed her experiences as part of a panel discussion at last month’s Canadian Telecom Summit (which also featured TD Bank’s Dave Codack and Allstream’s Raymond LaHoud). Like many firms in the retail and hospitality space, Cara had introduced a mobile app for its customers at restaurants at Swiss Chalet, for example. The app allowed them to search locations, check menu items and learn about specials.

Natasha Nelson

Natasha Nelson

“A lot of companies are doing it,” Nelson observed, “but the magic happened when we launched an app for restaurant managers. These are entrepreneurs, franchisees. They don’t spend any time in front of a computer at all. They’re travelling to multiple restaurants.”

Managers already had access to analytical data, but traditionally they would have had to print it out after logging in from a desktop. Having a mobile app means those same people can now have what Nelson described as up-to-the-minute information on how their particular restaurant is doing in terms of sales, the employees who are successfully cross-selling or upselling food items, or the results of local advertising campaigns.

“All of a sudden, for the first time, analytics have come to life to people who are not technology savvy,” she said. “It’s been extremely simple, with no training required. It’s bringing together mobile, the cloud and analytics. It’s version one, but there’s a huge opportunity.”

Those mobile apps reinforce the need for a network that can support vital communications, Nelson added, which is where cloud computing continues to hold great promise.

“You can’t just roll the trucks when something goes wrong,” she said. “There is a huge cost associated with troubleshooting networks and sending a tech on site. I think we’ll see more and more cloud offerings from technology providers to centrally and remotely manage those things. It continues to be an area where we can reduce our costs.”

The more CIOs can do that, Nelson added, the more likely they can focus on doing things that make their organizations more competitive. This should be the mandate for IT leaders in the future. “We’re best positioned to know how to make data come to life,” she said.

photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

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