M&B COO Robin Young has transformed the company's IT systems so that core applications can be used to support its 10 different business units. A central menu management system helps every pub and restaurant in the business order food and drinks stock cost effectively.
He has just finished an estate refresh, opening up their use as training terminals and beefing up the power of local wireless networking, so that they can all use handheld Chip & PIN terminals effectively.
Young is thinking even further ahead. His IT strategy might be based around the business units using a common software set, but he wants to leave the hardware choices to them, ultimately making use of customers’ own devices as ordering and payment platforms.
Young has no timetable for this, but considering recent launches of digital wallet services, the opportunity may arise sooner than later.
Business performance will also be measured through a central business analytics system.
At the moment, business intelligence is collected piecemeal through a number of systems and Young feels there is too much human intervention before the information reaches the people who need it most.
“Over the next 12 months we will work at de-layering the information and taking the opinion out of each layer,” says Young.
“We’ll leave the machines to do the crunching and bring the analysis in at a higher level.”
Change of strategy
This last comment is very relevant to the way Young and his outgoing CIO Mike Sackman have approached IT staffing.
The IT team had experienced a shift in remit when hosted projects, such as the Fujitsu datacentre, called for a focus on bringing business benefits.
Young expects a hands-on attitude from all of his staff and his IT professionals are no exception.
“There has been a turnover in the IT team as we move from keeping the lights on to being an enabler for sales, profit and customer satisfaction,” he explains.
Those in the team that were content merely to watch things tick over in a maintenance sense have found work elsewhere.
They have been replaced by staff who can demonstrate a talent for dealing with third parties and who are happy to pitch in behind the bar to get some experience of how the IT strategy impacts the front-end of the business.
Sackman, who is moving on to Argos, is being replaced by interim Tony Bentham for six months.
Young has worked with Bentham before in a number of financial services environments and values his ability to estimate the return on investment of IT assets accurately.
Sackman’s ultimate replacement will be hired from within and this is an indicator of Young’s desire to nurture the talent that is already inside the company.
M&B is clearly not a typical corporate environment. It has some peculiar challenges and presumably the best people chosen to meet them are those who already have some experience at the company.
Young himself joined at a time when M&B were undergoing a management turnover. He is a lively, enthusiastic man, with a disarming manner and a have-a-go attitude that is undoubtedly common throughout the company.
The executive turnover at the top of the organisation has been extreme in the last two years and Young is dismayed that some media have chosen to portray this as a sign the company can’t hang on to top management talent.
He describes it more as a period of renewal that the company has now emerged from.