On the surface, letting a restaurant manager use his or her smartphone to access sensitive information that resides on a company’s corporate network seems downright dangerous. But that’s the core idea of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement, and restaurants that learn how to leverage their employees’ personal computing power and connectivity can make big gains in customer satisfaction.

Why is BYOD taking hold at so many companies, restaurants included?

For almost 20 years it has been expensive to deploy Internet to restaurant locations. Usually it has involved things like ISDN over copper wires, cable modems, fiber optic connections (for the truly lucky) and private networks. Many restaurant chains make wi-fi available to customers, but not all have that luxury. Some of our company’s clients have limited Internet availability that is only accessible from their point-of-sale systems. Others have Internet available but bandwidth is restricted and heavily policed by IT security. Even when restaurants do have Internet available, most of them don’t want their store managers stuck behind a computer in the back room. They want them out front with customers and employees delivering exceptional experiences.

Their store managers don’t suffer this same fate. They have a Star Trek-esque device in their pocket or purse that gives them phenomenal cosmic data processing and communications power. We don’t have an exact read on how many store managers have smartphones, but it’s a safe bet that most of them do. IDC reports that 59 percent of all mobile phones shipped are smartphones with 33 percent sales growth occurring over the last year. Adding fuel to this fire is the continual drop in prices for smartphones. Prices averaged $443 in 2011 and $407 in 2013, and are expected to drop to $309 by 2017. On top of that, these devices pack more processing horsepower than desktop computers from only a few years ago.

The devices already possessed by many store managers are fast, powerful, mobile and connected to high-speed Internet. They can be used while directly helping customers and coaching employees. They represent a tremendous opportunity to improve customer experiences by leveraging information and analytics from readily available Voice of the Customer (VoC) technology. So why aren’t they leveraged more?

Use of personal smartphones and tablets by store managers is typically hindered by employer policies shaped by questions like:

● Who pays for the devices?

● How is bandwidth paid for?

● What data security concerns exist?

● Can personally identifiable data be compromised?

● What is the upgrade path for existing devices?

● Will the company pay for devices and plans?

To a busy owner, these questions are a nightmare.

Fortunately this trend is changing. And so are policies at successful companies around the globe. The solution is called the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. And it can help restaurants leapfrog their competition, improve manager productivity and provide better customer experiences.

The BYOD phenomenon

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Bring Your Own Device is both a movement and a policy change. It simply means you encourage or even require your employees to use their personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and smartphones) in the workplace and to use those devices to access privileged company information and applications.

In a 2012 research paper published by Ovum and commissioned by Logicalis, it was found that 75 percent of employees in high-growth markets like Russia and Brazil and 44 percent in developed markets are already using their own personal technology at work. Why not formalize and capitalize on this trend? The key is to create a BYOD policy that leverages the existing collective investment of your workforce.

A 2013 report from Gartner calls these BYOD strategies “the most radical change to the economics and culture of client computing” in a decade, and “the most radical shift in enterprise client computing since the introduction of the PC.” Gartner went on to list the benefits including “creating new mobile workforce opportunities, increasing employee satisfaction and reducing or avoiding costs.”

That same report predicts that “by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes,” and companies that offer only corporate-liable programs will soon be the exception.

The message to IT departments is clear: BYOD isn’t a passing fad. Get on board or get left behind.

BYOD opportunity for restaurants

Because many restaurants lack high-speed Internet and analytics devices for store managers, they can take the BYOD plunge and leapfrog over difficult Internet deployments and investments in hardware and network infrastructure. It’s one of those rare cases where being a little late to the party actually works to your benefit.

Restaurants that deploy an effective BYOD policy can immediately reap rewards from increased awareness of their customer experience by leveraging mobile applications that provide the latest in customer feedback technologies. They can listen to their customers, respond to service lapses, track employee performance and monitor customer comments using text analytics. All without the manager having to venture into the back room.

For example, if a customer has a bad experience, he or she can take a customer satisfaction survey to review the experience. If the customer rates the business poorly or leaves constructive criticism in the form of a comment, he or she can request a manager to call him or her back to remedy the problem. The store manager is alerted on his or her mobile device, sees the customer’s review, diagnoses the problem using text analytics, calls the customer and logs the result for future analysis. All while managing a shift.

BYOD how-to

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Even if you are not the IT manager, you can help shape the BYOD policy of your company. Chances are it’s already being implicitly shaped by employees whether internal IT likes it or not. The first step is to decide to pursue what a BYOD policy might look like if deployed to unit managers.

Security expert Symantec has published an infographic that may help you formulate a BYOD policy.

Highlights include:

1. Clearly identify your business goals related to a BYOD policy for location managers. It’s easier if you’re targeting a specific use case like “Store Manager BYOD” than a generalized employee policy.

2. Analyze existing security and regulatory policies looking for supporting and conflicting policies. Do you have specific legal or HR issues to consider?

3. Determine what kind of support you want to provide store managers. Does this shape the set of applications you want to publish to them? How will training be done?

4. Identify where the data will live. Can any data be downloaded to the device? If so, how is it secured? If not, how is the communication channel secured?

5. Define the minimum device standards. Cover things like jail-broken devices, which may pose a security threat to your network.

6. Define who is paying for data plans, how much and how often.  Create a cost model that clearly articulates the direct and hidden costs.

7. Start off with a pilot group that has minimum risk and slowly expand the program.

The above isn’t a comprehensive list, just a sampling to get you thinking. There are numerous articles on the Internet on creating a cost-effective BYOD policy. Be careful not to go too far down the rabbit hole. It’s important to keep it as simple as possible and ramp up from there.

Implementing a BYOD policy will take work and will not be met with universal acceptance. Embracing it represents an investment in an inevitable future, but one that will let you leapfrog obsolete technology, improve morale, boost performance and most importantly, provide an improved customer experience.

Kurt Williams (kwilliams@mshare.net, 800-634-5407) is chief product officer for Salt Lake City-based Mindshare Technologies.