Digital servings across 850 KFC stores

The process of taking 850 KFC stores across UK and Ireland from print to digital was a mammoth logistical effort. Paul Milligan finds out how it was done.

When you are an integrator some projects are just meant to come your way, and this was the case for Paul Childerhouse, when he received a phonecall about an opportunity at KFC on his first day of setting up Pioneer Digital, the AV arm of IT, AV and electrical provider Pioneer Group.   The global fast food chain wanted to modernise its 850 restaurants in the UK and Ireland.  

As outlined by Brad Scheiner, head of IT, KFC UK and Ireland, the project had a dual purpose; “It’s all about communicating more effectively with our customers, but also creating a great customer experience in our restaurants.  This project was about the taking the old print menus and moving to digital, which allows us to showcase new menu items in our menu and gives us more flexibility.”

The previous incumbent (an IT infrastructure company) had decided to walk away form the contract to concentrate more on its core business, so Childerhouse was invited to pick up the initial contract.  KFC had completed 60 restaurants by the time Childerhouse’s team took over, leaving nearly 800 still to do, all of which had to be completed outside of normal opening hours. “We had three months to convince KFC we were the right company to take over, and we completed 300 stores without a main contract.”

In November 2014 Pioneer Digital was awarded the main contract (beating 5 companies in doing so) after a lengthy tender process.  “We had taken the project from 60 restaurants to 300, and met all the SLAs.  It had to go out to tender for us to get a 5-year agreement.  The tender process took 6 months, and during that time there’s always a risk you won’t win it. Our business isn’t totally dependent on this project, but on a bad year it’s a £1m a year contract, on a good year it’s worth between £2m and 4m.”

On top of transforming hundreds of existing KFC stores across two countries, Pioneer also had to work on the 50 new stores it and its franchisees build each year.  Each individual system installed includes 5 screens (mostly 47in), speakers, and IT infrastructure including 5 NUC PCs.

Once the new stores were up and running with the new setup, KFC took the decision to press ahead with a full digitisation programme for all its other sites.  ‘The plan went from doing 400 stores in three years to doing 400 in three months,” says Childerhouse.  Site surveys of 400 stores were completed in six weeks by Pioneer Digital, and then the arduous process of installing technology, at the rate of around 80 stores a month began.  

KFC Tottenham Court Rd
It was franchisees that proved to be one of the biggest challenges in this project says Childerhouse.  “Our learning curve was educating the franchisee. Once we got them on board we knew it would be ok.  I went to every franchisee in turn, driving around the UK. They own other shops in franchises (Costa, Starbucks etc), and everyone of them asked us why are we buying these types of screens? Why aren’t we buying TVs, they are cheaper? It’s an education process, they didn’t believe we were giving them best price. The remit from KFC was that it had to have a 24/7 5-year warranty, even though the stores are only open up to 16 hours a day.    You can’t get that with TVs, you have to buy professional screens.  Slowly we go that through to the franchisees.”

Once agreement with all the franchisees was agreed, KFC created a digital package for them to buy, which included IT infrastructure and digital screens.  Childerhouse explains the process his team went through for each install: “Most stores weren’t having a major refit, so we had to fit a digital menu screen system into an existing store setup.  We have to choose whether it would take 47-in or 42-in or 32-in screens, and decide if we needed extra power or data requirements.   We would annotate on top of photos taken during the surveys to show the store owners what it would look like.”  

Pioneer had the added difficulty that the old paper systems were a different size altogether, paper was portrait and the screens are landscape.  Each survey was completed between 7am-11am and 8-10pm when the stores weren’t busy, with all installs completed out of hours. Each install took just three days, “If it went over three days it was a major problem,” said Childerhouse, “So we had to hit our mark every day.  We found working from 10pm till 7am in the morning you could get two stores done in one day.  We worked Sunday night till Thursday night away from busy times, and we had a day shift and night shift.”

Pioneer set up temporary depots across the UK and Ireland so the engineers vehicles could get access to kit wherever they were, as their vans could only take 2 days worth of kit at one time.  To ensure customer happiness, each engineer couldn’t close a job without getting it signed off by store owner first.  That engineer then sent data back each night during the job, which was open on a central database for everyone (including KFC) to view.    

As Childerhouse emphasised earlier, a project of this scale represented a massive commitment from both sides.  “KFC has committed to going 100 per cent digital, but at the same time we need to meet their service levels.” To help it do this, Pioneer Digital has set up a third party 24/7 helpdesk, and two technology centres in England to deal with problems.  “Our SLA with KFC is next business day, before the store opens, 4pm is the cut-off.  If we get a call at 3.59pm on Monday, we have to close it by 9am on Tuesday,” says Childerhouse.  

“We have a minimum of five PCs per store, so we are looking after 4,000 PCs and 4,000 screens. Even though we are not responsible for the IT infrastructure (that is handed by Fujitsu for KFC’s parent company Yum!), we still have to manage things like Windows updates.” To help smooth this process, Pioneer Digital has written scripts for the helpdesk to handle calls from KFC staff.

The 5-screens in each restaurant, placed above the ordering position on the front counter, are a lynchpin in a project such as this, as reliability was a huge priority – no screens means no sales. The project began using Philips (about 100 restaurants early on) displays, then Samsung (about 200 restaurants) before becoming LG.  

KFC Tottenham Court Rd

Content for the screens is managed centrally by KFC.  “Marketing owns the content for the menus, IT owns the reliability and availability of the network, and the development team is in charge of new store development.  It’s a partnership across many job functions,” says Scheiner.  

One benefit from having the screens in place has been that KFC has transformed its staff communication procedures through an initiative called ‘meetings on a box’.   “It’s a new way for us to communicate (with our teams) on the latest marketing windows, new products and new product builds,” says Scheiner.  “It’s difficult to cascade messages across 850 stores.  With digital we can be very consistent with our messages.

Historically this was done via the post, and was reliant on restaurant managers to relay these messages to staff.  Having this technology also allows us to ‘day part’ (section off the restaurant’s day into breakfast/lunch and dinner etc) far easier.” 

The instructional videos are sent directly to store by the KFC operations team, and played through the central screen of the 5-display setup before the restaurant opens in the morning.  

Now this mammoth project is completed, what technology lies ahead for KFC? “We all know the opportunities are now endless at this point, it’s about how we leverage the digital technology going forward,” says Scheiner.  In the short-term KFC is looking to digitise all of its outdoor screens in restaurants which have a drive-thru.   In the longer-term it is looking at how technology can help it interact with its customers.  It has recently launched its first loyalty program called Colonel’s Club, and a think tank is currently investing beacon technology to provide a one-to-one interaction with customers in-store but also in the drive-thru part of the restaurants.  It is also piloting touchscreen menus in some stores to help speed up ordering at the point of purchase.

Kit list


LG SP2000-LG speakers

LG 47-in LS55A and WX50 displays
Samsung DXn, UXn and LEC series displays
Philips BDL Series displays
Intel NUC i5 PC
Peerless mounts        

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