All in the Family

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All in the Family

By Reid Paul, Editor-in-Chief - 09/01/2004

When Carlson Restaurants Worldwide acquired Pick Up Stix in 2001, the company knew it had found a restaurant concept full of great potential. Carlson also recognized that it had a lot of work to do to get the chain up to par with T.G.I. Friday's. Technology-wise Friday's and Stix were like night and day, but now three years later Stix has fast become an equal member of the Carlson restaurant family.

Preparing Pick Up Stix to reach its growth potential meant first and foremost that Carlson needed to standardize its IT infrastructure. "Technology will no longer hold Pick Up Stix back," explains Janet M. DeBerardinis, PMP executive director, software development and information technology at Carlson Restaurants Worldwide. "I don't care where they put a site up, we're ready to go with it. We're proud of what the organization was able to do to help. I've been through a lot of acquisitions and mergers and the changes you do for them can cripple the organization. When Carlson acquired Pick Up Stix, we laid out a strategy to make it happen successfully."

The key to getting Pick Up Stix ready for growth has been DeBerardinis' focus on keeping the technology simple. By utilizing Web-based applications, an intranet portal and moving the software onto a single platform, Carlson Restaurants Worldwide has transformed Pick Up Stix into an agile business.

An agile organization
When Carlson acquired Pick Up Stix, it already had the Micros 2700 point-of-sale system in each of the restaurants. Still, DeBerardinis admits, Carlson is a 3700 shop. "We currently have Micros 3700 in our Friday's concept and the deployment team and market trainers did an exceptional job transitioning the Pick Up Stix team from the 2700 to 3700," she adds.
Not only does DeBerardinis insist on a single POS system at all Carlson's restaurants, but she wants to make sure that all the software is on a single platform. "We're using .Net Nuke (it sounds bad but it's part of the whole .Net environment)," DeBerardinis explains. "This is not cutting edge, but I am committed to being a .Net shop here and really leveraging the strength of it."

The true advantage of .Net, DeBerardinis argues, is that it enables Carlson to more easily integrate various software solutions and make quick and intelligent decisions. "It gets you where you need to be," she explains. "If I have a developer who is very strong in C# and I have a developer that's very strong in Visual Basic, they can work on that same application together in their strength areas. That's what .Net brings to the equation."

For Carlson using .Net also simplifies the process of customizing applications. Carlson, DeBerardinis notes, is not afraid to build software solutions when they can't find an off-the-shelf solution to fit a need. "It's the old 80/20 rule," she explains. "If it can fit 80 percent of the requirements and if I have to build out the other 20, I will because it makes sense for the business, instead of having two different applications, two different vendors."

In a crunch
One of the key concerns for Carlson, DeBerardinis insists, is to keep the focus on the restaurant-level users. "We have to help make our users successful, not just give them the newest technology and say, 'Hey, isn't this cool?'," she argues. "I don't want the manager tied to an application. Our job is to make it easier for them."
One of the challenges for Carlson was finding solutions that made sense for Pick Up Stix. Catering and wholesale operations are key compliments to Pick Up Stix's Chinese take-out restaurants. "With Crunchtime I had to make sure I had an application that could handle production planning so Pick Up Stix managers would know how to produce, and handle warehouse, and handle depletions from inventories, and do demand forecasting," DeBerardinis says.

"I had to make sure we had an application that could handle supply chain because that drives efficiency," adds DeBerardinis. "Crunchtime pulls data from the restaurants every time you ring an order at the POS. The item is depleted from the restaurant inventory, which helps them drive demand and manufacture forecasting."

To keep Carlson agile and its software simple, DeBerardinis also insisted on .Net compatibility and online accessibility in real-time. "When looking for a back-office solution, it was important that it could handle a true Web-based environment at the restaurant," DeBerardinis explains.

"I make sure the restaurants have an application that is easy to use but yet gives them all the information they need," DeBerardinis continues. "At the warehouse and the commissary, it is much more complicated."

Empowering employees
Carlson's interest in Web-based applications does not end there. While Carlson was slow in developing its own intranet portal, it has quickly transformed corporate communication. "Working with our communications director, we started saying, 'Well, how can we improve our communications?'," DeBerardinis says. "All of a sudden, MENU (My Electronic News Update) evolved. It actually benefited us more than what we imagined. We looked at it initially as just helping to reduce the amount of e-mails, so the manager is not reading a bunch of e-mailsÃ.‚¬"only those that are important first and deal with our customers."

At Friday's the marketing group posts information and guidelines for new menu items or promotions, while the quality group posts information pertaining to food safety. Finance, HR, and IT sections are available for posting notices and general information. MENU even has an IT application portal page where users launch applications. Every department has its own content manager.

The MENU intranet has quickly become a key resource at Carlson Restaurants. It's just one of those good things," DeBerardinis marvels. "You think it's just going to resolve this one issue, and before you know it's proven to be much more dynamic in the organization."

Tech Tool Box

POS Hardware: Micros 2700 & 3700
POS Software: Micros
Accounting: Proprietary (restaurant-level), Oracle (enterprise)
Labor Management: Proprietary; WEB Time
HR/Payroll: PeopleSoft
Business Intelligence: Cognos PowerPlay & Impromptu, Crystal
Enterprise Data Warehouse/Mining:
Supply Chain/Inventory: iSYS, CrunchTime!
IP Provider/Connectivity:
Server Hardware: Compaq ProLiant DL360 WEB Servers; HP 9000s for Database
Server O/S: Microsoft 2003; HP/UX 11
Credit Card Processing: Fifth Third Bank
Loyalty: Gold Points by Carlson Marketing Group
Gift Card: Stored Valued Systems (SVS)