Edge Computing Helps Feed Taco Bell’s Digital Business

Taco Bell is aggressively using edge computing to support the many digital ways customers can place orders, the fast-food chain’s technology head said.

As part of Yum Brands Inc., Taco Bell processes customer inquiries and account data at its local restaurants using a mix of centralized cloud services and connected devices and software. Although this edge computing setup was not easy to implement, the ability to offer technology options to consumers is a business advantage, Vadim Parizher, vice president of technology, said at a WSJ Pro Enterprise Technology virtual event on Thursday.

At Taco Bell, a computer server at each location takes in data from personal and digital ordering and loyalty accounts, as well as kitchen operations, and uses custom algorithms to make decisions about, for example, when to ask staff at the fryer to sink the potatoes for an order of nacho Fries so they’re warm when a delivery driver arrives for pickup, Mr Parizher said.

“We took [on] our most critical workloads in order processing and menu data,” said Mr. Parizher. “When it runs more efficiently than before, even by a small percentage, the results for a Fortune 500 company are significant.”

The so-called edge isn’t a place, it’s a computer model, said Lynda Stadtmueller, senior vice president of the research, information and communications technology practice at Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm.

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Key aspects are sensory devices, connectivity, analytics and responsiveness, said Ms. Stadtmüller, speaking at the same event.

The goal is to improve application performance by processing data where it’s generated, such as a local Taco Bell, and applying it at lightning speed. Energy companies, retailers and industrial manufacturers are using edge computing to take advantage of fast internet speeds, including 5G networks, and a growing range of connected devices. General Electric co

and Siemens Inc

For example, use edge computing to optimize factory machines in real time.

“A John Deere tractor is an advantage if it’s equipped with sensors that might monitor components. Your phone could be an asset if it’s collecting data, or a kiosk can reach it and ping it,” Ms. Stadtmüller said.

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Taco Bell has spent about five years introducing edge computing capabilities, Mr. Parizher said. Each site has duplicate devices that act as a backup in the event of an outage.

In addition to walking into a store or using a drive-thru, Taco Bell consumers can order their Mexican pizzas and Chalupa Supremes through the company’s website, mobile app, grocery delivery services, and by text message in some regions. In January, the chain launched a subscription service nationwide. For $10, customers can purchase a Taco Lover’s Pass to get one taco every day for 30 days. Menus are customized by location.

The Wall Street Journal’s Steven Rosenbush (left) speaks with Vadim Parizher, Taco Bell’s vice president of technology, at an online event Thursday.


Photo:

The Wall Street Journal

When a regular customer places an order, the local restaurant’s system pulls relevant information from the cloud. Understanding frequent purchases, typical order size and a penchant for trying specialty items will help decide whether to offer a tailored offer, Mr. Parizher said.

In addition to processing and analyzing orders from a variety of platforms, restaurants must deal with menu adjustments, meal pairing and staff changes, as well as data coming in from multiple channels at once, Mr. Parizher said. “They process these events and try to optimize them. We’re not different from manufacturing in a way,” he said.

The team needed to consider how to protect personal information of customers in Taco Bell’s loyalty program. “For security reasons, we don’t want that information to be in the store,” he said, so it’s stored in the cloud. “They don’t keep data at the edge any longer than necessary.”

Taco Bell hired a third-party provider to provide a platform to monitor all edge-computing activity, while Mr. Parizher’s own team built the software to route order data to various connected devices in the kitchens, he said.

With edge computing fundamentals, he said, Taco Bell can experiment with connected robotic devices that can fry food, heat up tortillas, or pour drinks. “Now it’s getting a little more exciting,” he said.

write to Kim S. Nash at [email protected]

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