Au Bon Pain: On a Path To Mobility

By Randy Burkhart  |  Posted 2008-09-29

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.

To help us through the decision-making process, Enterprise Mobile addressed a number of questions, including the following:

  • What capabilities do various mobile platforms offer, in terms of handling e-mail, calendars, contacts and remote-access security?
  • What is the end-user experience?
  • What are the infrastructure requirements?
  • Could we leverage any existing infrastructure? How would that affect IT costs?
  • What’s the best solution for gaining access to a P&L application?

After getting answers to these questions, we decided the best approach would be to provide our area directors with Windows Mobile-based devices that were preinstalled with our daily P&L application. This internally developed Web-based app proved extremely valuable in helping the directors measure store performance.

Enterprise Mobile—which provided the end-to-end solution that facilitated the development and proliferation of best practices in executing Windows Mobile-powered mobility strategies—played a crucial role in developing the mobile version of our P&L application. They also helped us select the next generation of devices that would meet the needs of our team, as well as the requirements of our current carrier contracts.

We were looking for a solution that would not only give us access to information immediately, but would also provide for the reliable exchange of data, meet our security standards and be easily managed from a central location. It also had to be .NET-based to integrate with our P&L app. Ultimately, we decided to implement two Windows Mobile devices: the Motorola Q9 and Palm Treo 700w.

Because area directors had varying levels of comfort with technology and had used a variety of mobile devices in the past, Enterprise Mobile created a training series that included in-person and Webinar sessions to educate our directors on how to best use their devices. We wanted to be certain they fully understood the intricacies and features of their devices and were comfortable with the new format of the P&L. The training would enable the area directors to make the most of their smart phone and the P&L application when they were traveling to the cafés.

To ensure the success of the training, Enterprise Mobile solicited feedback from the training group on a regular basis.

From start to finish, the process was streamlined to make the transition seamless and worry-free for our area directors. And—a big plus—it was done without overburdening our IT department.

Mobility Answers Business Needs

The results of the deployment have exceeded our expectations and underscore the increasingly important role that mobility plays in helping us reach our business goals. Our area directors are already accessing the P&L application multiple times a day, and we’ve realized substantial benefits. These include:

  • Because each visit takes far less time, our area directors are able to manage several additional store visits per day.
  • Area directors are able to show café managers the real-time, up-to-date numbers that demonstrate trends in sales and provide actionable data that drives management decisions, such as adjusting inventory.

Next up in our mobility plan is the deployment of a daily labor report that will provide the area directors with real-time access to café sales and labor statistics. With this information, café managers will be able to respond immediately to fluctuations in café performance metrics, such as overstaffing. This should help improve store margins.

Enterprise Mobile made mobility work for our organization, and we will continue to rely on their staff’s technical expertise and management as we expand our mobility strategy. Furthermore, all the devices we use moving forward will be Windows Mobile-based. These devices offer the wide range of functions Au Bon Pain needs—from the Exchange e-mail server and ability to integrate with our applications to top-level security features and manageability.

As we move forward with our mobility strategy, our goals continue to be providing the best possible experience for our customers and creating greater efficiencies for Au Bon Pain—efficiencies that will save us both money and time.

Admittedly, implementing a mobile solution can be a demanding process, but it need not be a scary one. Success comes from developing and following a viable plan that links the strategic goals of the mobile deployment directly to the company’s business objectives.