McDonald’s became a global powerhouse on the strength (and deliciousness) of its burgers, fries and frozen treats. While the company’s menu continues to be a key driver of its success and growth, technology is increasingly playing a larger part in its efforts to both stay ahead of competitors and delight customers around the world.
“We have been on a journey to make significant, bold investments in technology so that we can transform the customer and crew experience and outpace the competition,” said VP of Global Technology, Architecture and Data, Thilina Gunasinghe.
We recently spoke with Gunasinghe and two other members of McDonald’s technology team to learn more about that journey and the technology they’re developing.
EMPLOYEES: Around 2,000
WHAT THEY DO: McDonald’s is a global foodservice retailer with over 37,000 locations in more than 100 countries around the world.
WHERE THEY DO IT: West Loop
TAKE SOME TIME: Eligible employees can take a 40-day sabbatical after their first 10 years of working at McDonald’s.
BACK TO SCHOOL: McDonald’s covers up to $12,000 of educational expenses per year for eligible full-time employees and up to $4,500 per year for part-time employees.
Thilina Gunasinghe, VP of Global Technology, Architecture and Data
Thilina leads McDonald’s global technology architecture and data team. In addition to ensuring the delivery of mission-critical business initiatives, he also sets the strategic agenda for his team.
THE FAST LANE: Thilina loves driving fast cars, especially in Las Vegas where some of the fastest cars in the world are available to rent. When he’s not chasing lap times, Thilina also enjoys jet skiing on Lake Michigan.
What are your goals for your team and for McDonald’s?
We’re focused on continuous transformation. We have transitioned to a microservices architecture and are working to establish even more granular services to release applications and services faster. We’re continuously working to modernize our data platform with machine learning for real-time use and insights. We’ve brought our global architecture and data teams together to increase collaboration and elevate talent. Technology is in everything we do at McDonald’s and is a core part of our growth strategy. Our goal is to build a better McDonald’s through technology.
It’s interesting you mention growth because while McDonald’s is a global company, there’s still room to expand your reach. What role is technology playing in these growth plans?
We have been on a journey to make significant, bold investments in technology so that we can transform the customer and crew experience and outpace the competition. The transformation we have completed will give us the ability to release technology even quicker and of a higher quality for our customers. We’re looking at concepts like massively scalable microservices, federated development, continuous delivery and Scaled Agile, and are working to ensure that the development and deployment of our technology and solutions continues to evolve.
Technology is in everything we do at McDonald’s and is a core part of our growth strategy. Our goal is to build a better McDonald’s through technology.”
McDonald’s is known for being customer focused. How do you ensure the tech you’re creating meets the needs of your customers?
Customer expectations have changed, and we’ve made significant investments in digital and technology to deliver added convenience, value and entertainment. However, when you deal with the volume of transactions we do, getting the technology right for our customers at our scale is a challenge. We have teams that are solely dedicated to understanding the customer journey, needs and expectations. They work closely with our architecture, data and development teams to translate that into real technology requirements. Creating technology our customers want to use is the key to growth.
Allison Cuca, Director, Global Mobile Apps
Allison’s team is responsible for crafting the product vision and roadmap of McDonald’s mobile app, which features mobile ordering, a loyalty program, a digital punch card for McCafé items and exclusive offers.
ONE MORE SONG: When the workday ends, you can catch Allison at venues around Chicago taking in live music.
McDonald’s takes a global focus when it comes to technology. How do you ensure the products you design will scale to a point where they can be used by people around the world?
It’s both fun and challenging to work on things like mobile ordering that need to be great experiences in all of our key global markets. Markets vary greatly in terms of the menu items they serve, the share of cash-only customers, the popularity of drive-thru, the physical size of the stores and so much more. Because of this, we invest heavily in global market research and operations testing. We also partner closely with digital leads in each market to ensure we incorporate their requirements and unique market factors into our product design and development without creating a unique “snowflake” for each market.
Our digital transformation is allowing us to improve our speed and quality to stay ahead of the curve.”
Building products with such a reach means giving team members the ability to move fast. How do you ensure your team members are able to create and innovate quickly?
Innovation starts with an empowered and creative product team. We have made changes to ensure that our product managers have the critical headspace they need to do discovery work, such as getting out of the office to talk to customers or deep-diving into our data. The other critical piece to innovation is high-functioning engineering squads who work together with product to swiftly bring those ideas to fruition with high-quality code. Our digital transformation is allowing us to improve our speed and quality to stay ahead of the curve.
McDonald’s recently acquired Dynamic Yield, whose AI-powered technology enables companies to offer more personalization to customers. What impact has this acquisition had on your team?
Dynamic Yield opens up a plethora of opportunities to build incredibly smart experiences for our customers. From marketing content based on individual preferences to menu merchandising based on weather and offers based on purchase history and real-time profitability, there is an unlimited amount of use cases that Dynamic Yield can enable.
Adam Enright, Sr. Manager, Development
Adam leads the innovation development team at McDonald’s Innovation Center in Romeoville. His team is responsible for developing innovative technology to streamline operations and the customer experience at McDonald’s restaurants.
THE AVIATOR: When he’s not spending time with his wife and three young sons, Adam enjoys building and flying first-person view racing drones, which can reach speeds of over 80 mph.
You joined McDonald’s as a store crew member at 16 and rejoined the company after graduating college. Can you tell us more about that?
My growth journey at McDonald’s has been amazing! I spent a summer interning as a junior analyst, and I extended the internship into my senior year and accepted a full-time offer after graduation. One great thing about McDonald’s is that there is the flexibility to pursue challenges on new teams. After four years with my first team, I shifted to our point-of-sale and kiosk development team. I worked on new features development, market deployments and innovation projects and was promoted to senior business technical analyst and then project manager. In the last two years, I have received opportunities to manage our core restaurant capabilities team as well as manage the technology innovation team in Romeoville.
Every time I get to dive into a new area of the business, I am always fascinated by the level of thought and purpose that goes into everything we do.”
Your team is based at McDonald’s Innovation Center. What does your work involve, and are there any projects that you’re particularly excited about?
My team defines, designs and develops technology-based solutions that look to solve areas of opportunities in our business. These solutions range from “quick wins,” such as a simple change to how products display on our kiosks, to large-scale initiatives. We’re working on several super exciting projects, and one in particular that has me really excited involves evaluating technologies to streamline processes for customers. I love these types of projects, as we get to cast a wide net and the output benefits our customers with a better experience, our crew with a simplified process and the company with increased efficiency.
What about working at McDonald’s, and your work specifically, inspires you?
I’m inspired by the scale at which we operate and how many facets of the business there are. When I first joined the company, I was coached to be a student of the business. This means learning how our crew cooks and serve our customers, how our grills and fryers work, how our supply chain operates and how the company and franchisees make money. Every time I get to dive into a new area of the business, I am always fascinated by the level of thought and purpose that goes into everything we do. The innovation space just reinforces that feeling more and keeps it fresh.