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Papa John's hires Panera IT leader as CIO, CDO

Papa John's hires Panera IT leader as CIO, CDO

After a legal battle with Panera, the pizza chain hires Mike Nettles to lead its IT and digital efforts, which include online and mobile ordering from computers, smartphones and Apple TV.

Papa John's International has hired Mike Nettles -- a key member of the IT team that drove Panera Bread's digital transformation -- as its CIO and chief digital officer (CDO). The move signals the pizza chain's intent to boost its capabilities at a time when rivals Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza are exploring voice-based virtual assistants as the next frontier for digital ordering.

Nettles is a “proven leader in the digital and retail sectors that will help us deliver a better customer experience and elevate our digital platforms,” says Papa John's President and COO Steve Ritchie, who is Nettles' boss, in a statement.

Nettles demonstrated that leadership at Panera, where he drove IT architecture and processes for Panera 2.0, an effort to remove friction from the ordering experience. Customers can order and pay for takeout in advance online or from their mobile phone, as well as from iPad kiosks, in a Panera café. Nettles led the technical design, development and implementation of digital and in-café Panera assets.

Change management is paramount

While such an ambitious project requires its fair share of tinkering with code, applications and servers, it also required significant change management for Panera's café employees and the consumers they work to serve, Nettles tells CIO.com in an email interview.

Nettles will apply his experience balancing quality guest and operational experiences at Papa John's. For example, he says that while it may be easy to drop in a feature that looks great on paper, it can have unintended consequences if not introduced properly, harming both operating margins and the guest experience.

"The industry is littered with examples of feature glut that simply didn’t work, and usually because they didn’t work in harmony with the culture of the brand," Nettles says. "That focus on the overall solution -- the system if you will -- is what excites me about Papa John’s. They have a tremendous culture and it resonates with our customers. Finding ways to change technology offerings that leverage that is the real opportunity."

While Nettles says Papa John’s current architecture roadmap is solid, technology changes are inevitable as his team finds new ways to augment the customer experience. “There’s an art to it, and that’s where the team already in place at Papa John’s will impress the industry the most. They are already well adapted to change.”

From Starbucks and Panera to pizza chains, online and mobile ordering have become table stakes for a quick-service industry where consumers expect to use any device to reduce wait time. Papa John's says that 55 percent of its domestic sales now come through digital platforms, with 60 percent of those digital transactions coming from iPhones and Android smartphones. In August, Papa John's launched an app that lets consumers customize and order their pizza from their Apple TV.

Pizza ordering via chat, voice platforms

Digital and mobile solutions help facilitate transactions and reduce friction for consumers. Moves by Papa John's rivals Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza suggest voice and messaging platforms could be the key ingredients to courting more customers, or at least boost brand loyalty.

Domino's last week began allowing consumers to use their smartphones to text orders to its Dom virtual assistant within Facebook Messenger. Pizza Hut Thursday began allowing customers to order pizza using their voice via Amazon.com's Alexa assistant. Customers can enable the Pizza Hut skill from either the Alexa App or Amazon.com by saying "Alexa, ask Pizza Hut to place an order."

Whether Papa John’s will offer similar services is aquestion the company isn’t ready to answer. A Papa John’s spokesman said, “In the coming weeks, stay tuned for announcements detailing some new digital innovations which are sure to improve the customer experience.”

Nettles’ path to Papa John's is a rocky one. Panera in July sued Nettles and the pizza chain for violating a noncompete agreement. According to the USA Today-owned Courier-Journal, Papa John's alleged that Nettles took with him, via his Mac laptop and Dropbox, trade secrets related to capturing consumers who place mobile orders. The case was settled and dismissed in December, clearing the way for Nettles to begin his new role.

Prior to Panera, Nettles served as the CTO at DiningIn and previously held positions with Torex, Brinker International, NeoStar Retail Group and was the founder and principal of Red Chair Ventures.

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