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Roadblock: Technical Aversion

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2003-07-02 Print this article Print

McDonald's culture for years had been based on a very simple mantra: the burgers and fries had to be consistent and they had to be served fast.

McDonald's culture for years had been based on a very simple mantra: the burgers and fries had to be consistent and they had to be served fast. Anything that didn't directly improve either of those ends was deemed by management to be irrelevant. So when it came to introducing new technologies, says former Chief Information Officer Carl Dill, "Culturally, it was always a fight." Technical myopia didn't hurt McDonald's through the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite its reliance on antiquated IBM mainframe systems and proprietary human resources and finance software, the burger giant widened its huge market share advantage over fast-food competitors. McDonald's sales through this era were more than double its nearest rival. But within the past five to 10 years, competitors started to leverage client/server and Internet technologies. McDonald's management found itself playing catch-up to other restaurant technology innovations, such as the enhanced ordering software integrated into Burger King's "Have It Your Way" cooking system. Granted, its not easy convincing none-too-tech-savvy managers to embrace technological change, but it can be done.

FIND A FAN: Getting someone who has the chief executive officer's ear to support a project—even if the CEO really doesn't understand its significance—is crucial to getting the ball rolling. Whether it's the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer or anyone else the decision-maker respects, an information technology manager can't have enough allies in what inevitably turns into just as much a political struggle as a fiscal one.

PROVIDE A SIMPLE EXAMPLE: A CEO or even an entire management team might not see the benefit of a given technology. Crystallizing the cost-benefits of an improved supply-chain-management system or even something as basic as a corporate intranet into one succinct example can make all the difference.

USE OTHER TANGIBLE COMPARISONS: Even the most Paleolithic organization has embraced change at one point or another—either by choice or force—in virtually every other area of the business operations. Be it gender issues in the workplace or compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, every company has amended the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality to accommodate new ideas.

SCARE 'EM: Every company wants to be the innovator but only a handful dare to make that first expensive plunge into a major project. But first movers in a new technology space often can pick up significant market share. By showing managers how competitors are using technology to improve their bottom lines, a technology implementation once viewed as an "information systems project" may suddenly become a "strategic redirection."

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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