Foundations in service
When Patrick McDermott started working in a five-star hotel in Dublin straight out of school, he had no idea how hospitality would impact his life and career.
Patrick quickly grew to love the buzz of hotels and the service mentality that is so central to the industry and honed his skills further in prestigious hotels and restaurants, whilst putting himself through college to gain the necessary qualifications to progress in the industry.
After a brief break to go travelling, Patrick returned to hospitality via cruise ships where he spent five years seeing the world and working with a team of food and service professionals. When he had the opportunity to work on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary II cruise ship, he jumped at the chance; working with people from over a hundred different nationalities to provide an exquisite experience to customers onboard this iconic vessel.
As well as the memories gained from this once in a lifetime journey, Patrick also saw how vital the nuts and bolts of catering and hospitality were to the overall success of the ship. The important but often mundane tasks like stock taking and inventory control that nobody wanted to do, but that were crucial to the whole operation. He also quickly spotted that these tasks were frequently taking customer-facing teams away from their core roles and that this could be time better spent.
Fast forward a few years and in 2004, after a weekend trip to Galway and a meeting with an old colleague from cruise ships who’d been a Provisions Master, Patrick became an entrepreneur by accident, setting up his first business – Stocktaking.ie.
Initially a service-based business, Stocktaking.ie focused on putting physical teams on the ground to count stock that had barcodes. But of course, there was a gap. Patrick could see that there were hundreds of products that didn’t have a barcode and hundreds of businesses that needed to be able to take control of them better, analyse their usage, and make smarter decisions to drive profitability. The rest, as they say, was history and in 2016 DigiTally was born.
Developed on the simple premise that what can’t be measured can’t be managed, from a one-person operation with a laptop, Patrick and DigiTally’s CTO, Andrew Leonowicz, developed a seamless and sophisticated digital platform that enables organisations to count, report on, analyse, and manage its inventory as well as its food waste.
Whilst Patrick quickly understood that technology was always going to give them and their clients the edge, he knew that there was more to it than that. He recognised that at the very core of hospitality and foodservice was a passion for exceptional service and with this, came a focus on the industry’s most important asset: its people.
And it was the people on the ground in these businesses that were still doing everything manually: some with pen and paper and others with overly complex excel sheets. This was a massively time-consuming process for everyone and left huge room for error.
In addition, the ability to extrapolate the data, analyse it and make changes to purchasing and stock control was difficult. Reports would take ages to complete, comparisons were hard to make, and the ability to make timely decisions that could positively impact margin was virtually impossible.
So Patrick and Andrew decided to change all this. They digitised the counting and reporting process, and recognising the transient nature of people within an operation, created a super simple platform that could be used by any team member – permanent or temporary – to do this.
As Patrick says, “Life is difficult enough without us making it more complicated. Because we knew the inventory and stocktaking process, we could see what would and wouldn’t work and how to make life simpler for our customers.”
Tasks that were taking teams half a day a week are now taking 40 minutes, hours are being saved on updating pricing, and people hired to be customer-facing can finally focus on their roles.
Across 100 companies, the reported margin improvement is on average, 1.1 per cent: a significant increase in an industry with very tight margins. Astoundingly, one smaller site increased its margin by 7.7 per cent, showing the impact that a lack of accurate data and inventory management can have on a company’s profit.
Yet DigiTally provides more than just data. It provides knowledge:
- Of historic processes that aren’t working and can now be fixed
- Of the true margin being achieved, in turn driving margin performance
- Of the performance of each site on a consistent basis, so businesses can hone in on the areas or locations they need to focus on
- Of the unnecessary time being spent on manual tasks where better tech is the answer
With this knowledge comes the power to make the right changes that will have a lasting impact on profit and productivity as well as the intangibles that we sometimes forgot: time spent correcting errors for example, or printing off reams of paper for a manual stock take.
As the business continued to grow in Ireland, DigiTally was called upon to build on its offering, add more solutions and move into new markets. Yet it kept on coming back to its roots. “When we started out, it was tempting to offer a platform to everyone that was interested,” says Patrick. “But we quickly saw that just because someone can use our business, it didn’t mean they were our target market. We had to be ultra-focused. We didn’t want to create a piece of software that was cumbersome. If something isn’t simple, people won’t use it. Simplicity is key.”
Rather than diverting from its original path, the team continued to listen to what its customers wanted and enhance the software offering already available. Different contract types have been built into the system to account for the varied contract models within foodservice; creating a dynamic environment where decisions can be made and solutions to problems found based on accurate, relevant, and consistent data.
A food waste problem = a profitability problem
With margin control at the core of DigiTally’s offering, the team saw that as well as paying for poor stock management, its clients were paying for food waste too: it was a pain in the side of these businesses and a pain that was impacting the planet.
“We wanted to be the painkiller, says Patrick. “Not the warm, fuzzy platform that makes you feel better about what you’re doing, but a solution to a problem that can deliver long-term tangible results in terms of productivity, profit, and the planet.”
And so DigiTally now enables businesses to measure products and ingredients that come in, as well as the actual meals that go out, completing the whole life cycle by adding plate waste and over-production to the list of elements that can now be measured and managed.
By drawing on its knowledge of the industry, Patrick and the DigiTally team understood that one set report wasn’t enough. They knew that what a chef needed was different from that of a general manager or a finance manager. They also saw that sustainability teams would have different requirements, so they’ve created specific reports to meet this need and that can be shared with clients eager to understand how its foodservice providers are managing operations and tackling food waste.
What has always been essential for Patrick, is that people on the ground can see the platform’s benefits. That it makes things easier and better for the teams in the kitchens, the operations managers overseeing individual or multi-sites, and the central teams that need the data to report on their ESG targets.
People-focused rather than tech-led, DigiTally has won over the technophobes, the sceptics, and those resistant to change. Teams are working together to make the most out of the platform and are seeing the real impact that accurate inventory and food waste management can deliver in their day-to-day roles as well as the wider environment. One chef reported for example, that on day one of using the system, it had saved them two days of labour.
When you can save time, grow your margin and make the planet healthier it’s hard not to get involved.
The path ahead
With its industry heritage, combined with an agile mindset, what’s next on the horizon for DigiTally is always a reflection of what its clients need: the next painkiller that DigiTally can provide to make things better and simpler.
Across hospitality and foodservice, we see many innovations come and go. The ones that last are those that can make a genuine difference to the efficiency of an operation, can help solve the key challenges faced and ultimately help deliver the ultimate customer experience. DigiTally is a brilliant example of this.
As organisations grapple with the impact of both food and labour inflation, DigiTally is working with a number of foodservice businesses in the UK and Ireland to help save time, margin, and waste.