Mitchells & Butlers CIO's recipe for change: Faster payments, free wi-fi and private cloud

Interview: Mike Sackman, CIO of pub and restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers...

...effecting change across 1,600 units which aren't all the same," he says. "We have a multiformat business... so my role is about ensuring that we maximise the scale of M&B without diluting [what] we are trying to offer in each of our different brands."

On the infrastructure side, M&B has just signed a deal with Fujitsu - transferring the running of its datacentre and WAN from IBM. "It's a huge deal for us because it provides the platform and the connectivity to all of the sites - all 1,600 businesses and our 10 or so corporate offices," says Sackman. It will also be implementing a private cloud to "make the best use of virtualisation technology and servers".

The attractions of cloud for M&B were twofold: cost and flexibility. "[It] will massively decrease our cost base but also enable us to be agile in terms of the plans we have to grow the business," he says. The company plans to achieve this growth by expanding the number of outlets, so IT costs must be scalable and flexible, according to the CIO.

"What I need to do is put in a cost base so I can flexibly grow," he says, "and grow in line with the growth of the business - so I'm trying to make my cost base as variable as I can so it can track the scale of the business, rather than me having a huge fixed cost base that is not flexible."

Deploying a private cloud is a stepping stone on the way to adopting a much broader set of cloud services, reckons Sackman. "If we were having this conversation in five years' time after the current deal - and it might be in less time - I've no dogma around sharing of power. The reality of most outsourcing arrangements is that most people share storage area networks anyway," he says.

"The key [to cloud] is security but I think the reality is you describe your requirement in terms of an outcome and you find a partner who's able to deliver that outcome and demonstrate it, rather than pretend you have all the answers yourself. So, in the future, other than real sensitive stuff or things we really need to run locally, then absolutely I think we will be sharing power and storage and the rest of it. I see that as a commodity."

"In the same way that we don't all run our own electricity power-generation systems, we'll be moving to the cloud in terms of infrastructure and computing power," he adds.

Harvester Facebook fan page

M&B brands such as Harvester engage with customers on FacebookImage: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

Other projects on Sackman's plate include the deployment of a labour scheduling system to set staffing levels in M&B's outlets based on forecasted sales throughout the day - currently 80 per cent deployed, it's due to be completed this year - and the implementation of a central master data-management system for product, pricing and promotions.

The latter system will enable the company to exploit its new till systems, says the CIO, and "vary the offer" - either at a brand level or site level "depending on how we want to manage our different businesses going forward". Pricing and promotion variations will also be able to be more easily tied in to M&B's social media activities, such as its Facebook fan pages, says Sackman.

"We have one of the biggest...