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Floating on cloud computing

The Fortney Hospitality Group manages 17 Brothers Bar & Grill locations in the Midwest and is poised to open its first franchised location. You might think that Scott Severson, director of operations for Fortney, spends a lot of his time dealing with the complex technology required to monitor sales, run POS systems, check inventory and handle employee schedules.

Wrong.

"We don't spend time worrying about IT. That is a beautiful thing for us," he says. "We've put as much out in the cloud as we can. There is very little that we have running within our four walls."

Severson is on cloud nine thanks to cloud computing. Cloud computing can seem like a nebulous concept, but it's really very simple. If you use Gmail or another web-based email system, then you already use cloud computing. If you back up your iPad with iCloud, then you already use cloud computing. Cloud computing consists of software systems and services that are delivered through the Internet.

This means restaurants save on hardware investments and the time it takes to install and manage old-fashioned software packages. "We can get the big heavy servers and databases and back-ups out of the restaurant, somewhere where they can be monitored 24/7 by a professional organization," says Mike L. Russo, Chief Technology Officer for POS software company Micros Systems.

Fortney Hospitality Group uses two cloud systems. "The benefit is our individual stores have the ability to dial in their sales,” says Severson. “They can dial in their labor and take a look at those on a real-time basis." It also gives Fortney executives a quick way to monitor each location without having to physically visit each one or wait for someone to compile a report.

The move to cloud computing was an easy choice for Fortney. "We were spending too much time and too much money on IT infrastructure," says Severson. "It means a better focus on our business, as opposed to IT."

Fortney has seen cost savings come from not having to make huge investments in hardware, telecommunications gear and IT personnel for each restaurant. "The price for these solutions is less for the restaurant operator than if you had to buy all the hardware and software and install it and maintain it yourself," says Russo.

Google Apps is an easy way for restaurants to test out the cloud computing waters. Severson's company uses Google Apps for email and Google Sites for maintaining and sharing new hire checklists, HR forms, training manuals, operations manuals and marketing information. "One of the big benefits is it really helps us insure that our staff, our management team and our franchisees all have access to the most current version of documentation," he says. That ability to instantly update data and software versions across multiple locations is a hallmark of cloud computing.

One reason why some restaurants have been hesitant to switch to cloud computing is the need for an always-on Internet connection. What happens if the Internet goes down?

It hasn't been an issue for Brothers Bar & Grill. Severson can't recall having problems with interruptions. Even if something happens, key systems will continue to work. His system, which is supplied by Micros, has enough resident intelligence to ring up checks if there are temporary outages.  

There are many different cloud solution providers competing for the attention of restaurants. Remember that these companies will be handling your business. Severson recommends choosing vendors with robust systems for backing up your data.

Russo has one last tip for restaurateurs who are looking to streamline their technology and save money in the process through cloud computing.

"Don't be afraid of it,” he says. “It's good stuff.”

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