'Don't think too much about technology': EAT's IT chief on how to serve up successful projects

Interview: Sandwich chain tech chief on NFC, tablets and getting creative with tech...

EAT cafe

The EAT chain has been around for 15 years and now has more than 100 storesPhoto: Andrew

Putting the customer first and then figuring out the technology is the recipe for a successful tech project, according to the head of IT at sandwich chain EAT.

Now with more than 100 stores, the 15-year old chain has big plans around mobile payments and apps, but according to EAT's head of IT Rene Batsford, customer expectations must come first with any tech project.

"Don't think too much about technology - think about who the end consumer is," Batsford told silicon.com. "That's what I try to do at EAT.

"Think about the consumer journey and work back from that and you'll get there. You might have some innovative products and some people think to themselves, 'Well, how can we shoehorn this in?'. Don't think like that: think about how you can improve it or make your products more accessible or interesting to the public and work your way back."

"That's why my department's called ICT - information and communications technology. We're not just about putting little grey boxes in and they hum away - we look after those things but absolutely we need to understand the customer first and work back and make sure that systems link all of that up," he added.

Wave and pay

One area that EAT is keen to work on is contactless payments. Consumers have been able to pay with NFC (near-field communications) at the food chain since 2007, making EAT one of a handful of UK retailers taking contactless payments in the UK.

EAT IT chief: Rene Batsford

Rene Batsford, EAT's IT chief, has been at the company for four yearsPhoto: EAT

According to Batsford, EAT has seen 100 per cent year-on-year growth for contactless payments this year, with contactless last month accounting for 12.5 per cent of all electronic transactions.

"It's been very successful for us," said Batsford.

With NFC phones yet to arrive en masse, contactless payments currently involve handing over some form of bank card.

There are now more than 16 million NFC credit and debit cards in circulation in the UK, according to Batsford, who pointed out that early next year TFL will start to accept contactless payment cards on some bus routes followed by the Underground in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics.

"The Olympics is going to have vending machines that are all contactless. You'll see more and more contactless everywhere, and the more phones [with NFC] that are out there will build up this critical mass."

As well as payments, EAT plans to...