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Is The System a Good Idea?

After out doing some shopping this past weekend I took my daughter to one of the fast food restaurants in the city on our way home. When we walked in I was surprised to see us greeted by an employee at the door but then quickly realized what was going on. This store was a pilot site for a set of new self-serve ordering kiosks that the chain was rolling out and this young man was in charge of showing it off and trying to get people to try it out as they came through the door. The kiosk would take my order, allow me to pay for it, print out a receipt with an order number on it where I’d pick up my food from a dedicated expediting station.

Being a tech junkie I felt that I didn’t need a lot of hand holding to use a giant touch screen with cheeseburgers, but I humored him through his spiel and went about ordering meals for myself and my daughter.

While the system itself was a fairly clean interface and ordering our meals wasn’t very difficult, it probably took 2-3 minutes to place my order – a far cry from how short it would have taken if I was placing my order verbally to someone working the till. This may seem like I’m splitting hairs but I want you to try something. First, set your smartphone countdown timer to 3 minutes. As soon as you hit the start button, say the following out loud:

“I’d like a [proprietary burger name here] meal with Coke. I would also like to order a cheeseburger, small fries and a child-sized iced tea please.”

Wait for that timer to count down to zero. The silence you hear is inefficiencies being gained as part of implementing this new system that is not a good fit. Taking myself as a prototypical customer, for every order that restaurant takes using the kiosk system is two minutes, forty five seconds of restaurant idle time that they are incurring.. Multiply that by the hundreds or even thousands of orders per day and you get a staggering figure. How are people who are not familiar with touch screens going to adopt this change? As we ate, I observed an older couple with their grandchild struggling with the kiosk and getting frustrated over how they couldn’t understand how to order their meal. After 7 or 8 minutes they finally got their order input and then waited in line for their food.

What’s my point? You can have the coolest idea, the most advanced technology, the most well executed project, proper change management and your project can still be considered a failure if the end product is simply not a good idea. I look at retail business technology implementations as a means of saving time or money. I suspect that this system did (nor will do) either. Time may prove me wrong but I think this was a swing and a miss. I’m not picking on the restaurant, but I am using it as a very clear-cut example of what businesses do all the time – implement a technology more for the sake of the technology than the business. Businesses need to focus on their business and allow the technology to support them – not the other way around.

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