Note: This article was written by Siobhan Fagan, IT Director at Pizza Express, and originally appeared on the Microsoft website here.
It was 53 years ago in bustling Soho, London, that Pizza Express opened a restaurant selling pizza by the slice. Having since established ourselves as a passionate purveyor of authentic Italian pizza in the UK, we’re now taking our recipe for success to the rest of the world, using a customer-centric, data-driven approach backed by world-class cloud technology from Microsoft.
In 2015 Pizza Express was bought by China-based private equity firm Hony Capital and the change of ownership prompted us to rethink our business model and operations, including our tech strategy. We had strong ambitions for global growth, for which we needed to become more operationally efficient but ultimately we wanted to provide an exceptional eating experience for our customers whether they were in Dublin or Dubai. That meant using data to make decisions that reflect our customers’ desires, so we adopted a cloud first approach to give us a base for agility, flexibility and innovation.
Today we have over 570 restaurants, mainly in the UK but also in places such as Ireland, the Middle East, India and the Far East, including China, where we have 30 restaurants. To kick off our new joined-up tech approach we stripped out our old EPOS system and set about replacing our dispersed infrastructure with a unified platform hosted on Microsoft Azure. We wanted to make working for us as easy and empowering as possible for staff so we also replaced our mish mash of locally hosted email systems with Office 365 productivity tools which provide a simplified, unified and richer user experience for all our staff across continents.
Putting our customers at the heart of our business requires ongoing analysis so our first priority was to migrate our data from various 3rd party agencies into our own Azure data warehouse, with support from our partner Altius. We then built a tool called Event Stream using Microsoft Event Hub and Data Factory which allows us to ingest multiple feeds of information and identify a single view of an individual customer. When a customer logs into our restaurant WiFi, downloads a voucher or makes a table booking online we can track that activity, understand their preferences and respond in real time. This might include sending them special offers or incentives to re-engage them if they haven’t visited in a while. Event Stream is a powerful tool for deepening our customer insights yet we were able to set it up and get it going pretty quickly without lengthy development time because we created it using the ready-made tools and resources of Microsoft’s PaaS.
Previously, thirty of our regional operators used to spend every Monday collating and interpreting results from the week before. Our customer data was kept separate from our other financial and operational data but now all our KPIs are combined so we can gain a balanced scorecard showing our overall performance relating to our customers, staff, sales and profits. Using Power BI, those regional managers now access all that performance data on a mobile device in near real time, and slice and dice the results by region, area and individual restaurant. Having precise information on demand means we can be agile and decisive and respond much better to our customers through mechanisms such as our customer survey ‘How did we dough?’.
In our noisy, competitive and fast moving market, data is highly valuable so we collect and mine it intensively. However, the flipside is that it’s brought data protection sharply into focus for us, which is where Azure’s superlative security brings strong reassurance, particularly with GDPR compliance being critical. As well as Azure being the top choice for security and resilience, the IaaS model allows us to scale our usage on demand and pay as we go which is highly cost effective. It’s helped our development and innovation too because our IT team is no longer consumed with infrastructure maintenance and repair. Combined with Azure’s high availability, this means that, as the IT Director, I sleep better at night.
If our new strategy was a pizza, Azure would be the base on which everything else sits because its full service capability allows us to think big and say yes to new ideas and innovations which, like the toppings, add the flavours and textures that keep our brand synonymous with great pizza.