Social business "gets out of the hierarchy and works the network," Laping says. "To me, it's the essence of fast companies and next generation companies."
When Red Robin introduced a new Tavern Burger product line in April, social collaboration technology Yammer proved to be an important part of refining the product and its delivery.
"The way we thought we'd get feedback was we thought the guests would get on Facebook," Laping says. "What they did was they talked to the servers, the servers talked to the managers and the managers got on Yammer."
Using those store manager discussions on the enterprise social network, internally branded Yummer, Red Robin was able to refine the recipes and the operational processes in the restaurants in about four weeks -- a process Laping estimates would have taken six to 18 months in the past. Without it, operations leaders would have been "scratching their heads" wondering why the product wasn't performing as expected, he says.
[ Red Robin CIO Chris Laping will join an onstage discussion of The BrainYard's Social Business Leaders at E2 Innovate, Nov. 12-15, Santa Clara Convention Center. ]
Laping was among the business and technology executives nominated for The BrainYard's Social Business Leaders feature, and we picked him as our Social Business Technology Leader. The rest of our choices, and the lessons we learned from them, will be highlighted in the November 12 edition of InformationWeek.
As it happens, Laping's role is actually broader than technology leadership. When CEO Steve Carley joined the company in 2010, he elevated Laping's role by giving him the additional title of senior VP of business transformation. That means he also oversees training and development, as well as an operations services group responsible for the implementation of new processes in restaurants. At a time when too much of the leadership team was working at cross purposes "going in different directions, dazed and confused and very unproductive," Carley says Laping "was very forthright and very open and honest" about what needed to change.
Organizational change requires a combination of people, process and technology, Laping says. "How do we drive these game-changing innovations into our organizations? We're not going to drive them if we're a passive IT organization that sits around and waits for someone to give us the requirements."
Formerly a principal of technology and business consultancy Stratera, Laping became Red Robin's CIO in 2007. He says it was his job to jolt the IT organization out of being a pure "keep the lights on" organization. He firmly believes that IT leaders have the opportunity to be business leaders, if they just think about more broadly applying skills like project management and change management. "We can have impact across marketing initiatives and operations initiatives by consistently and constantly aligning our technologies to the strategy," he says.
"Social is the biggest tool in our toolbox around effecting change in our organization," Laping says. In adopting Yammer, "part of the argument I made was 'I need this tool, my team needs this tool. I need a tool that will let me get out a message and get feedback immediately if assumptions aren't playing out right and we need to make modifications.'" The IT team also plans to introduce a social project management application later this year, he says.