Baker By Day, IT Rockstar By Night

Written by Todd L. Michaud
October 8th, 2009

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

Just because Danielle wears an apron and makes sandwiches all day, doesn’t mean she can’t solve your most challenging IT problems. If you really want to unlock the potential in your POS system, you need to give up control.

You need to turn to the collective knowledge and experience of the people who use the system every day and empower them to “create a better mousetrap.” Sure, there are some things that are non-negotiable, like PCI compliance. But when it comes to things like POS menu design, leverage the hundreds or thousands of great ideas in your system to produce the best system possible.

I just finished reading a book called “Crowdsourcing: Why The Power Of The Crowd Is Driving The Future Of Business.” The book is about outsourcing some or all of a problem to the users of that system or the general public. The book talks about the success of Web sites like Wikipedia (the users create and edit the content) and (the users design all the T-shirts that are sold) and how this type of business model is becoming more pervasive in today’s business environment. Netflix recently offered $1 million to anyone who could improve its recommendation engine by 10 percent, and several companies now outsource tricky problems that they cannot solve to Innocentive, a firm that offers prizes to people in the general public who solve the problems.

When working in a franchise IT environment, one of the bigger challenges that a chain’s CIO deals with are the hundreds, if not thousands, of different opinions about what is right. This fact is especially true when it comes to setting chain-wide standards, because all locations are impacted. To help with this situation, most franchise organizations use a group of franchisees as advisors when making IT decisions. This select group of franchisees provides crucial feedback about the various systems and standards to the chain’s CIO. Although this process works great for macro-level decisions such as vendor selection and process design, what should a CIO do when it comes to setting standards at a lower level of detail such as functional design? Crowdsourcing.

When it comes to the functional design of a quick-service POS menu, there are three major requirements: speed, order accuracy and data integrity. In most cases, these requirements are at odds with each other. If you want better order accuracy, you might prompt the cashier to enter a greater level of detail. But that could slow things down by requiring additional keystrokes to complete an order. To keep a high rate of speed, the crew chooses the first button on the list instead of the actual detail.

“Was apple flavoring really our top seller? No, it’s just the first one on the list.” There goes your data integrity. I wonder how many marketing people have promoted a new apple product, or their chain’s version of the same, without knowing that it is the result of the menu design and not actual sales.

Because of this balancing act, it can be very difficult to create a functional POS menu that meets all of the chain’s needs. Why not use crowdsourcing to get input from the people who use the menu everyday? Here is an idea: “Crews for a Cruise! Design the next generation POS Menu and you could win an all-expense paid cruise for two to the Caribbean, including paid time off. Not a designer? By helping those who are, you could win, too! All employees of the location that submits the winning design will receive a $50 American Express gift card!”

How would you execute such a contest? On the simple end of the spectrum, you could put the basic rules in a PDF (how large is the screen, what colors can be used, etc.) and then provide an Excel-based template for them to use (Excel provides the capability to easily link to other sheets or cells to emulate a menu screen). Want to go more advanced? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a Web site with an authoring tool that allows the users to design and submit their ideas.
  • Create a blog or forum to interact with the user community and allow users to share with each other.
  • Create a poll to let other users vote on which submission they like best.
    The cost of holding such a contest, at least in its simplest form, would be on par with—or even less expensive than—outsourcing the design to a third party. Holding such a contest would have a much greater impact on the organization.

    If used effectively, crowdsourcing provides a great opportunity for retail CIOs to harness the power of their users while creating a higher level of engagement and enhancing adoption.

    What do you think? Love it or hate it, I’d love to gain some additional perspectives. Leave a comment, or E-Mail me at

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