Analytics and contactless payments will drive Pret A Manger's business performance, but the speed of technology innovation presents IT challenges, according to the company's IT lead.
Andy Chalklin, director of IT at the company, told V3 in an interview at the ServiceNow 2014 NowForum that the company's IT has transformed from a traditional back-office department into a support centre for the entire company.
This has been driven by the company-wide visibility provided by data analytics, according to Chalklin.
"We do an enormous amount of analytics," he said, explaining how data can be used to monitor the performance of departments via the speed at which queries are submitted through the company's service centre.
He detailed how Pret uses historical data to analyse where and when problems, such as till failures, happen and how they can be resolved quickly and effectively. "What I want to do is solve the problem at source," Chalklin added.
Pret also uses analytics to reveal interesting insights into the company's operations. Chalklin cited the example of rolling out new chip and pin machines earlier this year.
Data analysis not only revealed a reduction in card machine failures, but a 20 percent reduction in transaction time, allowing staff more time to "engage with the customer", he said.
But Pret also uses predictive analytics to find new ways to improve performance by bringing different and seemingly unlinked datasets together.
"Where it gets really interesting is when we bring all that data back into our warehouse, and we start matching it with till data, transaction volumes, staff turnover - and that's where you start to see [data] hotspots," he said.
"Those are the things that really add value, but they're the very edge of what we can do."
V3 asked Chalklin about the impact of contactless and NFC payments now that major brands such as Apple are championing the technology.
"It's a dream for us. We've put an awful lot of effort in over the last couple of years in improving our contactless reliability, and we've benefited. Nearly 40 percent of our transactions are contactless, so it's massive growth," he said.
"The next step is going to be NFC contactless, probably with applications. And I think that's where you will see the payment industry developing into being able to pay more with your phone."
Chalklin added that the data exchanged between a contactless payment card or device and a till presents the opportunity to carry out "proper marketing", as the data can be analysed to get a clear view of a customer's preferences by looking at their Pret purchase history.
This also means that promotional material can be carefully tailored to suit individual customers through the use of technology rather than traditional cumbersome marketing practices.
However, such innovations and advances present challenges for retailers like Pret, as the need to rapidly adopt new technology contrasts starkly with traditional integration practices in established IT departments.
"It's challenging; the pace of movement required doesn't allow for those traditional IT processes of testing and reliability," explained Chalklin.
"So you're in this very difficult process of trying to move at pace but with those absolutely rock-steady, reliable concepts that you built in from old-school IT."
He went on to explain that the risk in developing and integrating new technologies and IT-led products can be mitigated by keeping things simple and efficient.
Citing app development as an example, Chalklin said: "What that makes you do, is be ruthless about what you put into an application.
"It's very easy for developers to suddenly go off on flights of fancy and have a trillion functions that are not really core when they've only got three weeks or months to deliver it in. They have to be really ruthless."
He added that making apps for mobile devices is one way to achieve this, as the smaller screen real-estate forces developers to make interfaces and features simple and customer-oriented, which in turn helps reduce the resources needed in the development process. Chalklin described this as a "cleaner thinking" approach to IT.
The scope of customer-focused technology integration appears to be spreading into a range of services that see vast amounts of daily use.
Contactless payments went live on the London Underground recently in a bid to to speed up life for the city's commuters.
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