​McDonald's Australia on keeping the golden arches relevant with technology

Even a fast-food chain needs to use technology to keep pace with its competition.

McDonald's is a globally recognisable brand, but not necessarily one known for its adoption of technology, despite undertaking a fairly extensive internal digital transformation program.

Speaking at the Fujitsu World Tour 2018 in Sydney on Tuesday, McDonald's Australia manager of IT Restaurant Technology Matt Cottee said the local entity has had a "pretty steep digital transformation" over the past five years, with the business also introducing new technologies outside of its standard bricks and mortar restaurants.

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Discussing the "unique" organisational structure McDonald's has, Cottee said the business' consultation and engagement process has to consider the 220-plus operators around Australia, and a nationwide crew of over 100,000.

"They're business owners and it's their livelihood to run restaurants that we need to consult with and take them on that journey," Cottee said. "We've got suppliers as a part of our system and all of their organisations that we have to bring along too.

"There's a pretty significant organisational change in a comms piece that we have to go through and talk around technology."

Over the years, McDonald's has "bolted on" a number of different technology-based initiatives, but Cottee said it has now culminated to a necessity for streamlining.

"It's now come to a point for us as how do we streamline and consolidate all of that into something that's a bit more manageable and easy for us to control -- that's something that's a challenge that we're tackling and challenging ourselves with right now," he continued.

"But really as we wrap around what our restaurant means -- a family restaurant, a retail [quick service restaurant] -- our operations in our restaurant is key. How do we run really great restaurants and use technology as a way that augments and supports and enhances what we're really good at in restaurant, but not change it because when we start to change that learned behaviour with our crew in restaurants, that's where we start to get some friction and the wheels fall off a little bit."

To Cottee, it's important that the R&D, testing, and validation of procedures and equipment in McDonald's restaurants is extensive.

"We want to use technology to help and enhance that, not go and change it across thousands of crew," he explained.

Cottee said there was a period of time not too long ago where McDonald's was becoming less relevant -- becoming increasingly squeezed out by similar chains such as Hungry Jacks, and the newer players in the fast food space such as Guzman Y Gomez, which offered a more healthier alternative to French fries.

"It was really squeezing McDonald's as a brand and we had to really reckon and identify what we wanted to do and play in to remain relevant with our customers," Cottee said. "So it teased out through that pressure, market pressure, what we needed to do and really start our digital transformation journey."

The golden arches did need to move through a cultural shift to make that happen, which also saw investments in tools and methods to extract data from customers.

"We want customers to engage with us how they want, when they want, and over the last five years, it's really that journey of understanding that want and developing it and delivering it," he said.

"I think about a self-ordering kiosk which we did two or so years ago, there was ... a view that it's taking away crew from restaurants, it's cost-savings etc -- that couldn't be further from the truth -- we actually employed more crew across Australia during that time to fulfil another function.

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"Not only did we deliver technology in-restaurant that allowed customers to order at their own pace and not have that anxiety and that pressure behind them ... that allowed us to reallocate that resource."

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