Sushi Restaurant Enhances Quality Control, Customer Service with RFID Technology
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In the current business environment of intense competitiveness, business organizations are increasingly adopting technological innovations to build and maintain a competitive edge. An example of this trend is Blue C Sushi installing Microsoft Biztalk server technology in combination with radio frequency identification tags in order to enhance quality control and customer service. Blue C Sushi operates in the retail and hospitality industry where competition is intense. However the restaurant managed to avoid some of the competitive threat by means of differentiating the delivery format of its products and services. In most restaurants, waitresses would serve the tables. At Blue C Sushi, food-laden plates would move past the tables on a moving belt and the customers would help themselves. The company managed to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction by following this format. However the problem with this method was that the restaurant employees had no way of assessing how long the food had been staying on the belt and therefore they could not monitor its quality adequately. An additional problem was that the employees could not track purchase patterns. The company implemented the radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in order to address these shortcomings.
Methodology and epistemology
Blue C Sushi contacted Kikata in order to evaluate the viability of using the RFID technology. Kikata designed an RFID technology solution that used the Microsoft BizTalk server technology. The purpose of the solution was to capture data remotely and also to store the data. The restaurant had been implementing bar code technology which enabled the restaurant employees to track how long the plates had been on the moving conveyor belt. However one of the problems that the restaurant was facing was that during peak times, when the level of activity was high, the billing system created problems in the form of over billing the customers. As a result, there was customer dissatisfaction. What the management at the restaurant wanted to do was to automate the system so that the account information that came up was correct. In addition to that, the barcode technology did not allow the restaurant employees to track purchase patterns. This information was important in order to manage inventory in such a way as to provide those food items which were in high demand.
Kikata was a solutions provider in Seattle where Blue C Sushi had its operations. The restaurant decided to outsource the function of techno-structural organizational change to Kikata because the restaurant did not have the adequate knowledge with which to select the right technology that would enhance business strategy. Kikata had already provided total services solutions to other companies and therefore it had the experience and expertise to decide upon suitable technological frameworks. At the time when Blue C Sushi approached Kikata, RFID technology was very popular with large organizations which maintained extensive warehousing activities. The ability of this technology to remotely retrieve and store the data enhanced efficiency in inventory management.
However Blue C Sushi was a small company, therefore the cost of the technology was prohibitive. The management at the restaurant decided to wait for a while for the cost of the technology to come down. By 2006, the RFID technology had been through several advancements and the cost had come down substantially. The restaurant management decided that given the current cost of the technology, it would not conflict with business strategy for Blue C Sushi to invest in the new technology. The restaurant teamed up with Kikata and also Intermec, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, in order to install and operate BizTalk RFID.
The restaurant used a special application called Kikata Ebisu Live Inventory Management which facilitated compatibility of the RFID technology with workstations that ran Windows XP. The solution had a touch screen interface which enabled chefs to monitor the food items that were currently on inventory as well as the food items that needed to be added to the inventory. The advantage of the solution was that it was fully flexible and scalable. As a result, the restaurant officials could customize the solution to capture additional information if required. For example, the tags could be programmed to capture information related to not only what food items were on the moving plates, but also to the color of the plate so that price information was available automatically. The technology had several additional features such as administrative tools with a menu input field. The Table Talley function also enabled the restaurant employees to capture the number of plates that were taken off the belt by the customers. The information that was captured in this manner was stored on a Microsoft SQL server 2005 database. The server ran the BizTalk components and the SQL server using the Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition operating system.
Intermec introduced an additional feature into the system in the form of radio antennas which were stuck into the cutting boards used by chefs. These antennas were able to capture information from plates that were moving by in the vicinity of the cutting boards. Intermec customized the solution in a way that gave the antennas a very short range in order to eliminate the possibility of duplications in information capture. The management of the restaurant also decided to introduce a system of mobile scanners so that the restaurant employees were able to track the number of plates that had been picked up by the customers. Because of the wide range of information availability facilitated by the technology, the restaurant management also decided to conduct business intelligence analysis once the system was in place. The schedule for installation of the system was set for May 2007. Because of the flexibility and the scalability of the system, the restaurant management had the benefit of being able to modify the system for greater applicability as fresh business needs arose. The primary benefits of the system were enhanced quality control, better customer service and a strong platform for enhancing business. However the enhanced scalability and flexibility of the system meant that the technology could be used to provide greater monitoring and controlling capabilities on an evolving basis.
Quality and utility
As a result of implementing the new technology, Blue C Sushi was able to collect more information on inventory and purchase patterns. This additional information enabled the company to operate more efficiently and effectively. Thus the article provides an example of the benefits of business process reengineering through technological innovations. However the benefits are not easy to come by as change has to be aligned to strategic focus (cited in Baldwin & Curley, 2007, p17). The strategy that the management at Blue C Sushi followed was successful because the management had taken the time to assess change in light of business strategy. As a result, the end result had not conflicted with the organizational strategy of following a unique structure of delivering its products and services. The management at the restaurant recognized that its unique selling proposition would not continue to serve as a competitive advantage for long unless the employees were given greater scope for monitoring quality and developing better customer relations. Thus the management identified quality control and customer relationship management as the core elements of its strategic focus and proceeded to research technologies that would enhance these core elements. As a result, the strategic alignment process at Blue C Sushi was successfully concluded and the business achieved greater success as a result of business process reengineering.
Ensuring quality control requires close scrutiny of supply chain management (cited in Baschab, 2005, p29). For this reason, managing inventory becomes a critical issue. However the problem in this respect is to create the kind of information services infrastructure that would facilitate availability of information in a timely manner. This would enable employees to monitor inventory in real time and therefore avoid over-capacity or under-utilization of resources. The best way to build this infrastructure is to implement the latest information technology available. Before deciding to implement a particular technological platform, the management of a company has to research extensively for the most advanced products and services not only because of utility but also because of low cost.
Implementing technological solutions is a thorny issue particularly if the existing organizational structure does not have the necessary framework for supporting the technology. In that case, the company has to incur the additional costs of hiring a change management consultant. Therefore, business process reengineering is a resource-intensive proposition the pros and cons of which the management of the company has to weigh very carefully. This is particularly relevant in the scenario where the management or its employees do not have technological expertise. At Blue C Sushi, the management and its employees were in the food business. Therefore they had no way of assessing which technology would be the best solution given the current business strategy. As a result they had to hire Kikata and Intermec in order to provide a business solution that could address business needs on an evolving basis.
As mentioned before, the primary benefits of the RFID technology implemented at Blue C Sushi were that the employees had greater capability for monitoring and controlling quality, they were able to provide greater customer services and that they also had a scalable platform. These were the three primary components of strategic focus at Blue C Sushi and therefore there was a synergistic combination between business processes and technology. The strategic alignment process that Blue C Sushi used in order to select the right technology can be transferred to other organizational contexts.
Using technology in business process reengineering enables the management of a business organization to multiply the capacity of its process chains. However as we see from the process of organizational change that occurred at Blue C Sushi, the process involves coordination between several stakeholders. In this case the stakeholders were Kikata and Intermec. Therefore the important lesson to be learned from this scenario is that when it comes to techno-structural organizational change, the management of the organization which is implementing the change has to carefully align information technology strategy to business strategy. Once alignment is successful, the company could enhance the value of its transactional and analytical information because they would be automatically captured. Therefore, according to what we learn from the article, the important thing in techno-structural organizational change is to emphasize on the cost, the flexibility and the scalability of the technological solution.
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