How Should Mobile Impact Back Office? Pizza Hut CIO: Doesn't Want Pizza Makers Troubleshooting iPhones

Although Mobile is a great enabler, it could also pose a great burden. And nowhere are those burdens more apparent than in retail back-office operations. Among the issues that Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors ran into with his chain's mobile deployment was proper training of store personnel, something that is often overlooked.

"A big thing to think about is how you are going to train your in-store personnel and educate them on the mobile strategy and the mobile app. We found many customers walking into restaurants, asking our personnel how to use the iPhone app. That can get lost in the mix," Concors said. "How are you going to redirect those consumers to the right level of support when those things come about? There's no way you are going to train all your personnel how to troubleshoot an iPhone app. In 99.99 percent of cases, there's no problem with the app itself. It's because the person doesn't understand or there's a problem with their phone or there's a problem with the network. If there's a problem with the app, we will see it across the board."

Asked if Pizza Hut wants to get into the business of troubleshooting iPhones, Concors took the tongue-in-cheek question and answered in kind: "We may spin it off as a side business, but not right now."

Concors was part of a StorefrontBacktalk panel on the challenges for retailers deploying mobile projects in a strategic way. Those conversations have become a series of podcasts, including "I have a vision around tablets as it relates to our store manager being able to use it in a variety of ways. I think about dashboards to help him run his business. Team members who need to take online training, using this device to go out to somewhere else in the restaurant, to take the training away from one of the computers in the back of the house," Concors said. "I also think about consumers that want to apply for a job, giving them this device to submit an online application. A tablet is in its infancy right now. It's part of a pilot project. I think it will potentially play a big role. The desktop has a role and the employee smartphone has a role, as well."

Another panel member, Mike Sajor, CIO at the Ann Taylor apparel chain (he just got promoted to CIO, from his prior CTO role), focused many of his back-office comments on how many devices a chain should support. That answer varies wildly, he said, depending on what specific function employees are doing at any given moment. "We think about associate-level mobility in three ways. There are associates in the store, where they are using a mobile device, perhaps even an associate in the supply chain in a warehouse or distribution facility or wherever. They're using the device in some operational capacity to fulfill a business mission. This is where we enjoy the unparalleled ease of being able to dictate exactly what device that associate is going to use. We have total control over that environment: We can do anything we want," Sajor said. "The second modality is, for example, field management or store management, [people] who may not be in the store, but yet we're providing some level of functionality to them around reporting analytics, whatever it might be. We might have slightly less control over the device, but we usually do have pretty good control over the application and how that might be rendered."

Sajor then argued that it's the next level down where things get tricky. "The third level is what you might call casual associate usage. So you have an associate who wants to perform an HR function, like perhaps they want to change benefit selection or view their work schedule. To do something that would fall into that personal associate task realm where you have almost no control over the device and, therefore, you have to go for the lowest common denominator that you're comfortable with," he said.

Where should a chain draw the line? For that third functional group, it could be fairly extreme.

"It might not be unreasonable to say, 'OK. If you want to use an associate HR function in a remote mobile context, feel free to do so. But your minimum level of capability of your device is X. And if you aren't comfortable with that, or if you don't have that [ability], then you're free to go to the back of the store or go to whatever corporate facility is available to you and perform those functions there," Sajor said. "I don't necessarily feel obligated to satisfy every device on every network everywhere in the world. Total ubiquity in that case, to me, is not mandatory. We certainly don't want to disappoint people by picking too narrow a slice. But it doesn't have to be everything."