What we can all learn from White Spot: Digital disruption

The situation facing restaurant operators is the same with all industries in the middle of digital disruption. They need to “evolve or die.” At least, that’s how the financial analysts at Morningstar put it in a recent report.

In the study, the researchers found that restaurants are in a precarious situation, bombarded by evolving consumer expectations, ever-changing technology, and eager new startups, getting between restaurants and their customers. The only hope for survival, the report argued, is to improve operations, integrate technologies in the front and back lines and – most importantly – gain a better understanding of their core customer.

No surprise, that was exactly the advice given to the IEF by Shauna Begley, the Vice President of IT at White Spot – a hospitality company that operates a popular family burger chain in Western Canada. Begley has spearheaded a number of ground-breaking IT initiatives in her time at White Spot, aimed at helping her business thrive in a disruptive market. From rethinking IT’s central role in digital transformation, improving operations, to managing data intelligently and fostering change management, below is a summary of the advice she shared exclusively with IEF members during our most recent Roundtable Discussion.

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Lesson 1: IT has to put customers first. Technology second. 

“It’s an exciting and disruptive time,” said Begley, explaining consumers today have more choice and technology at their disposal when it comes to selecting how, when and where they will enjoy their next meal.

But Begley’s advice for IT is to not get wrapped up in the exciting technology options, and to focus instead on who your customers are and what they are expecting.

“I love technology,” she said. “There is nothing I like more than to think about the possibilities that technology can do to serve our customers and our business. But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. The challenge is for organizations to get clear on using technology as a lever.”

For Begley, this comes down to getting clear on the customer experience her team is trying to deliver – and then using whatever technology fits best to serve that need. It’s this vision that allowed her team to be first out the door with online ordering in her market, nearly a decade ago, and to be investing heavily in the networking infrastructure today, to support more immersive guest experiences, inside the restaurant.

On that same point, with a detailed understanding of your customers, you will gain the confidence to say no to an attractive new technology trend if it doesn’t fit your business goals.

Lesson 2: How to drive adoption of tools like Microsoft Teams, before, during and after launch 

Disruption is straddled on the front lines and in the back offices. So, when White Spot was moving offices to a new physical location, Begley’s team saw this as an opportunity to change the way work was being done – never losing sight of the ultimate impact productivity would have on improving the customer experience.

One such project that emerged in this time was a migration to Microsoft Teams. On the call with IEF members, Begley broke down a few best practices that have been essential in ensuring the technology is adopted quickly and effectively, to make a real impact.

  • Focus on the people who “get it” first. Once the MVP’s are adopting the new tools, across departments, other users will follow. Peer pressure is powerful.
  • Focus on purpose and pains. IT must also make the value of new technologies, such as Microsoft Teams, clear to new users. “Just driving through the new technology and features won’t work. You have to build a business case. Here’s the challenge. Here’s why email isn’t a great tool. And here’s what you can do instead,” she said.
  • Stay on track with metrics: Ensure the use of new technology is tied into high-level, strategic KPI’s and metrics. “Does it help increase sales, improve guest counts? For our Microsoft Teams project, we looked at what is happening on the active Teams — is it decreasing emails and meetings? Improving collaborative conversations? Increasing the speed of decision making?”
  • Keep it going: Change management is not a one and done initiative – especially when tools such as Teams are constantly evolving with new features. Begley’s team keeps the adoption project alive with clever and casual “Teams in 30” weekly webinars, which are recorded and archived for future access.

Lesson 3: Don’t ask for more data. Ask for results.

Finally, Begley shared valuable advice when it comes to approaching big data and analytics.

As with many other organizations, Begley’s industry is one with plenty of data and insights available. But collecting more data is an expensive gamble, especially if you have no concrete plans to use it strategically.

Begley has a way to fix this. Whenever she is asked to provide or acquire new data, she asks: “What are you going to do differently with access to that information? What action are you willing to and able to take?”

By forcing the commitment to action, she immediately cuts to the real value of data – it’s capacity to inform better business decisions. Anything else, is just taking up space – and incurring costs and unnecessary risks.


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About Erika Van Noort

Erika Van Noort leads the North American Consulting Group for Softchoice, working with clients to build understanding and alignment between lines of business and IT stakeholders.