It was noteworthy when CKE Restaurants, parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, named a chief information officer to its executive team back in 2003. Recently, though, many big brands have started bringing professionals into the c-suite to head up tech efforts—from security and payment in the age of data breaches to consumer-facing mobile apps. This year alone, Bloomin’ Brands, Ovation Brands (parent of Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s and others) and McDonald’s all created new roles for technology experts at the highest level of their operations. The National Restaurant Association sees restaurant companies moving away from consultants and lower-level employees driving tech-based decisions. “We’re seeing more and more CIOs across the industry,” says Edward Beck, CIO at the NRA.
The reason? CIOs keep future strategy in mind versus just addressing right-now tech needs, says Beck. “They bring an enterprise mentality to chains ... They can interact at the business level to see where technology can aid long-term growth.” Beck also points to technology as a high-cost space, especially for restaurants, which tend to operate on relatively low margins. Keeping the large outlay of capital in mind, one person looking at a brand’s entire electronic footprint can bring the technology-reliant pieces—marketing, customer relations, security—together as a central part of the chain’s well-being.