Adir's Divita: Designing IT systems for fun and profit

Adir's Divita: Designing IT systems for fun and profit

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Name: Carlo Divita

Title: vice president of finance and information technology, or IT, Adir Restaurants Corp., Los Angeles

Birth date: May 5, 1954

Education: bachelor's of science and education, University of Notre Dame, Chicago

Career: hired in 2004 by Adir after working eight years as an independent finance and information IT consultant for Interactive Restaurant Consulting of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; previously served several years as vice president, operations, for San Francisco-based Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafes

Pastimes: cooking, hiking, wind surfing

Reports to: Jose Cofino, president and chief executive officer

Current IT platforms: Radiant Quick Service with MenuLink Back Office, Megapath VPN, Microsoft Great Plains Financials, ADP Payroll

"I design my information technology, or IT systems, to save money."

So says Carlo Divita, vice president of finance and IT for Adir Restaurants Corp., Los Angeles.

Adir is a subfranchisor in six western U.S. states for Guatemala-based Compero USA, which is affiliated with the Pollo Campero fried-chicken chain that is popular in Central America. As such, Adir owns and operates 15 Pollo Campero stores in Los Angeles and San Bernardino, Calif., and is preparing to subfranchise the concept to others. There are 15 additional franchised Pollo Campero restaurants in America under the direct control of Compero USA.

While cost savings is Divita's primary motivation for implementing technology, he also gets a kick out of the release IT endeavors afford him. He explains that his finance role is "very rewarding," but adds, "When I get tired of the hum drum number crunching, I can go play with some neat toys."

What are some of the ongoing IT projects at Pollo Campero?

We will be [implementing] and [refining] technology to support our plans to establish approximately 200 Pollo Compero franchise units throughout the western U.S. in the next five years. This includes bringing MenuLink Back Office in-house from a hosted solution, a project that is currently in the works. We are also exploring loyalty card programs. Other projects are on the drawing board; it is too early to discuss them.

What do you feel is the greatest value of technology to a restaurant organization, and why?

Technology can speed up normally slow processes and provide good, real-time information for quick decision making. As a consultant, I sold a point-of-sale and back-office system to a restaurant that did $5 million per year in sales, with 26 servers on a Friday night who were all writing manual checks. The system and set-up cost $150,000, but the efficiency it allowed the operation to achieve meant it paid for itself in five months and increased the bottom line by $300,000 per year.

What tech innovations have been under-hyped?

DSL broadband capabilities provide a much faster, more effective way of getting information.

How about over-hyped technologies?

Hand-held ordering devices are just not practical for use in most quick-service restaurant and fast-casual concepts.

What are some of the toughest IT-related challenges you've faced in your career, and how did you address them?

The most difficult has been system integration. If it's not done right, it can be costly and very time consuming. I've been lucky that the management I've worked with has been patient with the process. Dealing with aspects of technology that are somewhat out of my control, such as unreliable DSL in bad "areas," is also a challenge. We've addressed [the DSL situation] with new satellite technology, which provides a good "backup" plan in the event of unreliable connections. Another challenge is [getting end-user] buy-in. The best strategy here is to bring them in on the decision process early and, consequently, get them to help "own" the decision.

What technology requirements will you place on your subfranchisees when you begin that phase of your operation?

"Operators to whom we subfranchise Pollo Campero outlets will be required to use systems that interface with MenuLink, in order for us to easily access data from their stores and help us to help them."

What type of innovation would you like to see for the industry going forward?

We definitely need easier integration standards — a sort of USB for software.