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The Anonymous CIO: The Fight for the Franchisee


The journey of the technology executive in today’s retailing environment is littered with strategic obstacles, unsolved problems, and unclear paths forward. Many CIOs, VPs, and technology leaders are forced to travel this journey alone, with few trusted resources to rely upon as risk-free sounding boards and sources of trusted consultation.

This column aims to serve as the first true forum in the industry where technology executives can share candid “war-stories” anonymously with their peers, creating a growing pool of collective wisdom for the betterment of the industry.This edition focuses on one brand’s approach to navigating the complexities of the franchisor-franchisee relationship.

Q: What is it really like working with franchisees?

It all depends; there are so many different types of interactions with franchisees. What I have found is that a brand IT relationship centered around genuine support keeps the franchisee community happy. In many cases, larger franchisees with over 50+ restaurants expect to pay out a sizable monthly fee to corporate for help desk support on anything IT related in their restaurant. However, they do expect a higher level of service. Additionally, this model doesn’t really work for “mom and pop” franchisees; the burden on the help desk goes through the roof. Many technology providers will tell you the same thing. As a result, you have to really get creative when supporting large numbers of smaller franchisees. One of the best solutions that I’ve seen is outsourcing your help desk to 24x7 call center providers. The outcome is that your smaller franchisees get responsive support and you get to stay focused on the strategy.  

Q: How do you keep the franchisee community engaged?

About once per month we travel to a couple different states with representatives from our corporate departments, holding open forums with our franchisee community. These events typically draw a couple dozen franchisees and spur some great conversations. Our brand actually requires that IT attend these open forums due to the rapidly changing nature of the technology landscape. I truly believe that these exercises are critical to helping us connect with the folks on the front lines. The franchisees are passionate about their businesses; they have a lot invested in our brand and they truly appreciate us investing back with our time.

Q: What is some of the feedback that your team receives from your franchisees?

Our franchisees always seem to have surprises in store for me. There have been many instances where they give great practical advice that translates into projects that our team undertakes.  We do have to continuously combat the pressure from those that think that we are “behind the times”. Regardless of our wins in areas like order ahead, loyalty, and mobile payment, many of our franchisees always have an eye towards the future and keep us on our toes about cutting-edge technologies. For example, they point to delivery technology capabilities offered by many of the brands in the Pizza sector and push us on why we are not following suite. As a result, we have to remind them that we aren’t a Pizza company, and certainly don’t have the AUVs to justify the associated increase in IT fees required to make their “wish list” technologies a reality in their stores. At the end of the day, meaningful feedback from the franchisees requires consensus between the franchisees that want to invest in tech and those that don’t. We utilize a Franchise Tech Committee in an effort to get that consensus.

Q: What do you want to tell your franchisees?

We really do care about innovation and about implementing franchisee ideas. However, we also have to take into account what is best for the system as a whole. We have a wide range of AUVs across the franchisee community; some are raking it in and some are barely making it.  In addition, we like to be on one platform.  Not because we want less work to do, but because we are concerned with all the different integration points. We like to wait for a solid, integrated and working product before offering it to the franchisee community. We have seen a lot of cool technology in demos, only to find out in our lab that that technology falls apart when plugged into the entire technology ecosystem.

About the Author

George Orlin is the COO for Intelligent Transactions. He has over 10 years of experience in helping food service and retail brands drive positive guest engagement through the implementation of the right software, operations, and culture.

Intelligent Transactions is a strategic technology consultancy with an extensive history of helping multi-unit food service brands define and achieve their Store of the Future through pairing the right near-term and long-term technology strategies with their overarching business objectives.

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