Au Bon Pain: On a Path To Mobility

By Randy Burkhart Print this article Print

Au Bon Pain created a custom mobility strategy to serve the most up-to-date data to its team of peripatetic area directors.

With more than 200 cafés operating in the United States and parts of Asia, Boston-based Au Bon Pain prides itself on offering an inspired menu of salads, soups and sandwiches made with artisan breads. Among its main goals is finding ways to use technology to provide customers with the best possible dining experience, while also enhancing the efficiency and performance of each café.

To achieve that goal, Randy Burkhart, vice president, information technology, and his team worked with a solution provider to develop and deploy a custom mobility solution that would give the company’s area directors better, more timely data as they traveled to meet with café managers to discuss performance metrics.

As the vice president of IT for a fast-growing café chain, I’m constantly evaluating how new and improved technologies can increase the performance of our cafés, help our staff work more efficiently and, ultimately, contribute to Au Bon Pain’s bottom line in a meaningful way. One area that’s had a tremendous impact on our business is the rollout of Windows Mobile-based devices to our field staff.

At Au Bon Pain, we rely on a team of area directors, who are constantly on the road visiting our cafés, to ensure that we deliver the highest quality customer-service experience. A lot of work goes into that.

The area directors must ensure that sales numbers align with plans and that inventory is in line with customer demand. This requires a thorough review of each café’s performance metrics. To accomplish that, we developed a custom application to measure the precise performance levels of each store to make certain every café is operating according to established best practices.

In the past, in order to review the performance data onsite with store managers, area directors had to first print all the required profit and loss (P&L) information prior to a café visit, or else they had to bring their laptops to the cafés to access that data. Neither approach was conducive to the café hospitality experience, and it burdened the area directors with unnecessary administrative tasks. Plus, printing reports even one day prior to a site visit would serve up data that was already “cold,” limiting visibility into daily café performance.

Increasingly, accessing these critical reports became a major challenge, as Au Bon Pain continued to expand its footprint, and area directors became responsible for more stores. What we needed was a solution that would provide access to all relevant information “on the fly,” without the need to lug around laptops or paper-based reports.

A custom mobility strategy seemed to be the optimal solution. We decided that having data accessible via smart phones would give area directors access to timely data, allowing them to have meaningful discussions with café managers. The devices also would enable the directors to spend more time addressing customer and food issues.

Getting Going

Area directors had been using a variety of mobile and portable devices: Many still had standard cell phones or laptops, while others used BlackBerrys to access e-mail. We determined that the way to assure that the directors would be as productive as possible would be to provide all of them with access to one centrally managed device.

After evaluating the various alternatives, we decided to provide our area directors with smart phones that would give them instant access to scheduling, e-mail, contacts and messaging. These devices also would allow the directors to access the critical company-specific applications needed to accurately and quickly assess store performance.

Because our IT team had little experience implementing a mobile strategy, we decided to work with Enterprise Mobile. This solution provider helped us choose the next generation of mobile devices, drive development for a mobile platform and configure the devices to properly integrate with our existing systems.

This article was originally published on 2008-09-29
Randy Burkhart is vice president of information technology at Au Bon Pain.
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