Chipotle’s Recipe for Digital Transformation: Cloud and Artificial Intelligence

Chipotle CTO Curt Garner has advanced the fast food chain’s digital aspirations by leveraging multi-cloud media, which provides a foundation for innovations to improve customer experience and restaurant operations.

When Curt Garner joined Chipotle in 2015, he was serving as CIO and the fast food chain’s first chief information officer. At the time, the only technology used for online restaurant orders was the fax machine, “believe it or not”. Seven years later, the Newport Beach, California-based company has developed a robotic arm system called Chippy that makes its famous lemon-flavored French fries artisanal every day without human labor, with the goal of adapting production to each restaurant’s daily needs. . “We are using robotic technology to perform all the manipulations a human can do in the process,” says Kurt Garner, noting that Chippy is currently only used in one of 3,000 Chipotle Mexican Grill stores, but its use will expand. “We spent several months in our lab refining the recipes and processes to make this possible.”

The former CIO of Starbucks wasted no time launching the restaurant chain’s digital transformation in 2016, applying and developing “what they’ve learned” in the coffee specialist to try out a digital ordering system. The idea was to provide Chipotle customers with the ability to pre-order online and pick up their food from a drive-through storefront — without resorting to typical fast-food restaurant speaker boxes or drive-through menu boards. Removing the physical on-site speaker box for the controls was a simple concept, but it’s an essential part of a larger digital transformation that Chipotle launched in 2018 and exploded in the business, largely because the digital ordering system requires less human labor during a pandemic. In 2022, Chipotle’s digital business is expected to reach $3.5 billion, well above the $100-200 million annual average before the company’s digital order operations were executed.

Chipotle’s Secret IT Sauce

Kurt Garner credits Chipotle’s business model for allowing it to uniformly deploy advanced technologies like cloud, analytics, data lake, and artificial intelligence across all restaurants because they’re all built on the same digital backbone. On the other hand, many restaurant chains are individually owned and operate as franchisees. Explains Mr. Garner, who was promoted to chief technology officer in September 2018 after establishing himself as CIO and then CDIO.

« Une partie de la stratégie et de la politique que nous avons mises en place début 2016 autour du cloud était que plus nous étions proches de l’expérience du consommateur, plus nous pouvions nous abstraire de cette expérience et tirer parti du cloud et des services Core.” And the cloud is the center of it all. Chipotle’s digital commerce platform is built on Microsoft Azure, and its internal business processes, such as ERP, have been migrated from on-premises Oracle to OCI. Because the company started so early, 98% One of Chipotle’s workloads is now running on the cloud, the chief technology officer says, allowing the chain to retire from its Denver data center and begin implementing a series of cloud-native applications to grow its activities in the United States and Europe.

A foundation for moving towards artificial intelligence and machine learning

According to Sandeep Oni, senior analyst at Gartner, this institution has not only allowed Chipotle to survive, but also to thrive during the pandemic. “In an industry that has historically been resilient to change and operates with margins on the edge of the razor, the importance of investing in digital data and customer experience cannot be overemphasized,” says Sandeep Oni. “I look to Chipotle as the perfect example where the stakes for strategic digital transformation were being met long before the pandemic succeeded.” Currently, Chipotle operates several cloud services that are part of the Microsoft Azure platform, such as AI and ML modeling services.

The restaurant’s data platform for online customer orders, hosted on Azure, has built-in AI that performs tasks without human intervention, but Curt Garner also makes significant use of another AI application built on startup technology. . “We really like the cloud-based AI program,” says Kurt Garner. “It allows us to build models and applications very quickly and seamlessly. They have a level of management on top of that, allowing us to change and monitor performance dynamically across the platform and its powerful toolkit.”

Building on the foundations

Kurt Garner also recently implemented RFID technology in 100 restaurants to make it easier to trace his food supply from local farms to distribution centers and then to each restaurant. The system links to Chipotle’s Oracle system, providing traceability, points of origin, and real-time insight into a supply location, especially if suppliers are experiencing issues. But Kurt Garner sees additional potential for the system. “I see a future where we combine a technology called ‘real food printing’ that we have implemented that allows the customer to understand the environmental impact of that order, such as the local farm where their food comes from,” he continues.

He says the company is an exporter of more than 14 million tons of domestic products, which are becoming increasingly important to customers, especially students. Curt Garner’s flexible cloud infrastructure, which includes a data lake built on Snowflake, has also made it easier on-chain implementation of PreciTaste, and a SaaS and AI system that allows each store to correctly forecast its own sourcing needs. The system provides “cooking forecasts and making ingredients to order to improve productivity and freshness while reducing food waste,” according to the company. “By leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, the system monitors ingredient levels in real time and notifies the team how much preparation, how much to cook, and when to start cooking, all while automatically feeding real-time production planning to each restaurant,” the company recently announced.

Flexibility, competitive advantage

Despite Chipotle’s heavy reliance on technology, Garner asserts that fully automating stores with bots would hurt businesses because customers still want to interact with and understand human servers. While this longtime CIO and his team are keen to use the latest tools of the commerce to deliver the freshest food possible, Kurt Garner also makes it clear that he is not married to a single cloud or technology infrastructure.

“Technology is always changing, and one of the things that I love about the cloud as a growing business is the flexibility we have to scale up or down quickly and save more, but also the ability to migrate to other platforms over time at no cost,” explains the chief technology officer. To conclude recently: “I never see our architecture as static,” “I think flexibility and agility will continue to be a competitive advantage for us for some time to come.”

Leave a Comment