Updated: Oct 13, 2018
We all know that technology is a key component to operating a successful venue. With a tough market multi-site operators are increasingly turning to technology, seeing it as a way of creating efficiencies, attracting new customers and enhancing the customer journey.
The number of systems and technologies to run even a modest multi-site operation can be overwhelming to say the least, even without much by way of innovation, the number can run into the dozens. Start adding in new and more innovative technologies and the whole thing can become a nightmare, particularly when they’re not connected. Connectivity or interfacing is of course the crunch point of any technology meeting.
We have very few large scale technology providers in our sector, some play nicely together, many don’t. For a smaller, more agile players entering the market, it’s almost impossible. This is stifling our innovation as a sector. Sure, technology development is costly, but in many cases these big players hold us to ransom with our own data, refusing to interface with other technology providers with the same few excuses, but most commonly with the undertone of competitive advantage, wanting to maintain a monopoly – somehow believing that they are the answer to all of our requirements as a business. This can be as explicit as simply refusing the connection or masking it with ridiculously high integration fees. In a recent conversation with one leader at a large operator, they are being quoted tens of thousands of pounds for such work.
I could recite dozens of examples of the technology issues I’ve experienced in my career. Here are just a few. A large back of house provider refusing to interface to our employee app, resulting in a poorer experience for the team it was meant to benefit. A till provider unwilling to interface with a start-up order-at-table solution because they had a competitive product twelve months away in their pipeline. The same EPOS provider quoting ridiculous sums to interface with a feedback provider, as they have a competing product. The fact they see it as competing certainly suggested an inability to understand the constraints of their own products.
While I’m not saying that the big technology providers can’t innovate, it is well-known that pure innovation is often driven from smaller players, with less to lose, who can take more risk and get closer to a problem. Go to any technology incubator and you find passionate entrepreneurs who have recognised a new opportunity and focused on overcoming a problem for their clients. I’ve met many such people in my time in hospitality, many are ex-operations staff members from their time as a student, turned coders or entrepreneurs, who know the issues first hand. The fresh thinking sees things that the incumbent players often do not, not to mention the benefits of using the latest technologies, not legacy systems. Look at the worlds largest technology companies and they are regularly acquiring and investing in smaller start-ups, to capture the technology for integration into their system.
I wholeheartedly believe for us to achieve success and drive technology based innovation in our sector, we need our first adopters to be able to make use of large established technologies and smaller, start-up technologies. To do this, we need our large technology providers to loosen the grip they’ve got on our sector, before they choke it. Some aspects of systems will compete, but you can’t be the best at everything. In my experience I’ve found some of the more innovative smaller platforms take more care on user interface and usability of their technology.
It’s time to push these players to open up their API’s. It’s unlikely that this is going to happen overnight, but it is possible. It’s time the biggest operators with the biggest sway push hard against their providers to achieve this result. If we work as a sector to achieve this it will benefit us all.