How Long is Too Long? A Look into the QSR Technology Life Cycle

How to Decide When to Invest in New Technology or Refresh Existing Solutions

It’s no secret that leading in today’s QSR landscape requires more than great food. For today’s QSRs, technology is a key ingredient of delivering more engaging customer experiences, maximizing efficiencies, and making more proactive, data-driven decisions.

The industry has responded by paying homage to technological innovators in reports like the L2 Digital IQ Index1. Reports like L2 underscore just how integral to QSR differentiation technology adoption has become. And while we may be biased, QSR technologies have never been more exciting. With the proliferation of cloud-based solutions, omni-channel commerce, IoT breakthroughs, and more—the sky is the limit for QSR-centered innovation.

But putting leading edge technologies into practice isn’t always that simple. Obstacles to innovation still persist in the QSR environment—most notably the cost and practicality of acquiring new solutions.  

With that in mind, the question becomes: when should franchisees invest in new technology? And, equally important: when should they refresh their existing solutions?

Analyzing market movements can help us answer these questions. Consider digital menu boards, for example. Today, indoor DMBs have become widespread, with those still relying on static signage now in the minority. In fact, in 2016, 1 in 2 restaurant operators were switching or planning to switch to DMBs2. Flash back five years, and those implementing DMBs were stand-outs—early adopters that had embraced the technology’s power to better communicate and engage with their consumers. Today, these brands are ahead, having already reaped the benefits of indoor DMBs for several years.

We are starting to see this movement repeat itself with outdoor digital menu boards as early adopters get onboard, setting themselves apart through uniquely engaging drive thru experiences.

When Waiting It Out Doesn’t Pay Off

Cost sensitive and ROI-focused, the QSR franchise community as a whole is largely risk adverse. To minimize the risk affiliated with acquiring and implementing new technologies, a franchisee’s natural inclination is often to wait for a solution to be widely established before taking the leap—but this isn’t always the right way to go. As a technology becomes more widespread, it gradually transitions from a source of differentiation to a requirement for operation—leaving many late adopters to miss out on a powerful opportunity to set their restaurants apart.

When should a QSR adopt early? Following are some questions to help you evaluate the value of a new technology:

  • Does It Fill a Gap? When evaluating a new technology, it’s important to understand what added functionality or benefit the new solution offers. If the solution fills an area that current technologies don’t adequately address or don’t address at all, it’s likely a promising investment.
  • Does It Work? Before bringing a new technology into your restaurants, you need to be sure it will perform as planned. Has the solution been fully vetted and proven to function in the QSR environment?
  • Does It Integrate? Today’s QSRs use an increasingly diverse array of technological solutions. When evaluating a new investment, consider its ability to tie into your existing technology landscape.
  • Is It Data-Driven? Ultimately, every technology in the restaurant, from digital signage to kitchen automation, should unleash and utilize data to drive more informed, proactive decisions.
  • Is It Designed for Longevity? Technologies are constantly changing. A solution designed to extend shelf life through automated updates and expert-led support will empower your QSR to keep ahead of advancements and maximize your ROI in the long run.
  • Can It Help You Reach Your Goals? It is critical that a technology be more than the sum of its capabilities. In order to deliver true value, it should bring you closer to your strategic goals—from optimizing the guest experience, to improving food quality, enhancing speed of service, and increasing order accuracy.

Time for A Refresh?

Research tells us that business class technology lasts, on average, 4.5 years3. But a 4.5-year lifespan doesn’t sound too appealing for some franchisees when technology updates require a significant investment. But when the potential benefits of updated technologies far outweigh the cash outlay to acquire them, it might be time for a refresh.

How can you tell it’s time to refresh a technology investment? Here are some questions that will help you determine the answer:

  • Has Technology Advanced? Have major technological advancements been made since the last time you implemented a solution? As a technology evolves, the performance, reliability, and cost effectiveness of newer solutions also improves.
  • Are Your Existing Solutions Slowing You Down? Is your existing hardware on its last leg, or your software sluggish? When considering a refresh, it’s important to consider the quantitative and qualitative costs of operating antiquated solutions.
  • Are You Leaving Benefits on the Table? Don’t let the sunk cost of your prior investment keep you from tapping into powerful business benefits. For example, forward-thinking QSR brands can add technology that serves consumers in new ways and opens up new revenue opportunities, including mobile ordering and delivery services such as Uber Eats.
  • Is There ROI? Over the long run, your investment in the new solution should more than pay for itself through powerful improvements to customer engagement, efficiency, and profitability. Sometimes a solution’s impact is qualitative—but even then, its value should be clear.
  • How Long Will This Solution Last? Last, but most certainly not least, will this investment keep your QSR ahead in the future? The lifespan of each solution is a critical consideration in making a refresh decision.

It’s Time for A True Partner

Technology purchases are more than just product acquisitions—they are partnerships with the providers that deliver them. So, when you consider making any technology purchase, it is critical to remember that the quality of the provider is just as important as the functionality of the solution. Look for a partner that is set apart by a distinct industry focus, a highly capable team, exemplary support, a commitment to innovation, and end-to-end technology solutions.

It’s Time to Partner with SICOM

SICOM is the partner that forward-thinking franchisees need to navigate the complexities of the restaurant technology life cycle. Our technologies offer automated updates to extend the lifespan of your systems. Furthermore, our dynamic SICOMSERV team provides round-the-clock support, so technical questions never get in the way of profitability. With a dedicated center for innovation and testing, we put the leg work into validating solutions so technology can be a true point of differentiation, not experimentation, for your QSR.

[2] 2016 QSR State of the Industry,

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Jennifer Doan
February 13, 2018

As head of product management at SICOM, Jen is on the bleeding edge of restaurant innovation in practice, lending her expertise to help shape practical and powerful solutions for our customers.

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