As an international business with annual earnings in the billions, Domino's Pizza needed a software solution to support a large number of users and a constant influx of data. Although the pizza franchise has made record profits since 1994 (more than $3.1 billion in 1997 alone), it also faced problems associated with rapid worldwide growth. Improving corporate- and franchise-wide communication, collaboration, and coordination has become a high priority.
Founded in 1960, Domino's Pizza is headquartered on a 300-acre campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company's operations include 1250 franchises and more than 6000 stores worldwide. "Domino's Pizza is spread out geographically," said Paul Messink, director of intranet development. "Because franchises are independent businesses, tying them directly to our internal systems is difficult. Consequently, communication has always been a challenge for us."
Domino's Pizza already uses computers for order entry, inventory, and billing systems at its distribution centers, and the company maintains a corporate dial-up bulletin board system (BBS) for product information. However, most systems are centrally located, and remote users can't access them. In addition, communication links to headquarters in Ann Arbor are weak, and franchises can't access data directly.
|Domino's Pizza implemented an NT-based extranet to securely distribute information and provide applications at a low cost.|
To improve business operations, Domino's Pizza decided to implement a Windows NT-based extranet. In the short term, the company will use this new system to provide current business information (e.g., product data, policy changes, and sales promotions) and online resources (e.g., a corporate telephone book, a document library, and discussion forums) to remote users. Over the long term, Domino's Pizza wants to develop and integrate line-of-business applications, such as systems for collecting and analyzing financial data from stores and distribution centers.
According to Messink, Domino's Pizza needed a manageable, scalable, and secure system to integrate with legacy systems that wouldn't require labor- and time-intensive HTML coding tasks. The heterogeneous computer systems that franchises use presented another problem. "Each franchisee is independent and can choose its hardware platform and accounting software, which makes data transfer difficult," Messink said.
Before planning began, Messink considered several Web server solutions, including Novell NetWare, UNIX, and NT. After evaluating solutions involving HTTP servers from vendors such as Netscape Communications and Microsoft, the company chose Lotus Development's Lotus Domino for NT Server 4.0 because it supports several network protocols and has a reputation as a solid server platform. Domino's Pizza originally used Lotus Domino 4.5 and then upgraded to 4.6a. (For an overview of Lotus Domino, see Carlos Bernal, "Lotus Domino 4.5 Server and Notes 4.5 Client," July 1997.)
Using Lotus Domino, Domino's Pizza information managers will create and manage Web site content. Users can then use Web browsers to access this information after logging on with a password. "We never envisioned separate internal and external intranets," Messink continued. "We began using Lotus Domino to develop one system that we could expand from our headquarters to regional offices, remote small office/home office users, and distribution centers, and then to franchises and suppliers. Ultimately, the system will be global. The extranet lets us distribute more information and provide more applications to a larger number of people more securely and at a lower cost."
Domino's Pizza's rapid growth worldwide necessitated an efficient system of distributing information to remote users. This need to improve communication, collaboration, and coordination throughout the company resulted in the implementation of an NT extranet based on Lotus Development's Lotus Domino. Lotus Domino runs on an NT server and integrates legacy systems and a data warehouse. Without coding HTML, about 20 information managers use Lotus Domino applications to create and maintain online directories, newsletters, discussion forums, and document libraries that headquarter personnel, distribution centers, and traveling employees can securely access. Fry Multimedia (providing Web site design) of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and MicroAge (providing Lotus Notes expertise) of Novi, Michigan, teamed up with the pizza company to implement a solution.
Domino's Pizza teamed up with Fry Multimedia in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and MicroAge, in Novi, Michigan, to implement Lotus Domino. Fry provided Web site design, and MicroAge provided Lotus Notes expertise. After Fry overcame the Lotus Notes learning curve, Domino's Pizza phased out MicroAge's involvement, but continues to use MicroAge on other Notes development projects.
"The biggest challenge was getting Lotus Domino to run as a Web development tool," said Lawrence Lazare, chief of intranet design at Fry. "When we began, the software was in prerelease, and we received little documentation with it."
Lazare also pointed out a long-term challenge--preserving ease of use and efficient navigation. "The importance of look and feel as well as easy navigation were put on par with the data the system needed to deliver. Too often, data is perceived to be the only priority without regard to how the average user will access the information," Lazare said.
Messink concurred, adding that Fry rewrote the navigation system based on initial user feedback so that it was easier to use and more intuitive. "Currently, the Java applet that Fry wrote provides navigation controls for our system. The applet presents menu buttons based on the specific applications each user can access. A Notes database stores all menu and security information. The applet reads this information in realtime and determines which buttons to present to the user," he said.
Lotus Domino is an integrated system, containing dynamic information. "We see the extranet, which collects and distributes corporate data as needed, partly as an extension of our data warehouse," Messink said. "This warehouse contains most of the operational information users need." Currently, the data warehouse holds about 270GB of information in Informix database structures.
Implementing Lotus Domino
Initial planning and development for the project began in 1997. Headquarters and three distribution centers held pilot tests later that year. When the phased rollout began, Domino's Pizza used Lotus Domino to place the company directory online.
"So far in our primary applications, we have about 4000 pages of information. Of these, 2300 are related to our company directory, which is automatically synchronized to our PeopleSoft Human Resources system. The other 1700 pages include user-maintained information," Messink said.
According to Messink, the first phase of the rollout included a document library containing policies, procedures, announcements, training and marketing information, forms, and awards. The project also featured online discussion forums for users to share information informally.
Domino's Pizza will train users and information managers. User training will emphasize browser skills and site content familiarization and navigation. Information manager training will be more extensive. "We help our managers understand their responsibilities. These responsibilities include preparing content in standard form by following our style sheet, managing the data and keeping it fresh, updating the home page for a particular area, and monitoring for inappropriate postings," Messink said. "On the technical side, we teach basic Lotus Notes skills, such as how to create and update documents and navigate databases. We also provide tips on how to effectively use Notes."
Messink said, "NT reduces our training and administration burden. Finding and developing NT technical resources is easy. The Notes industry in particular seems to be developing new products for NT faster than for other platforms. Microsoft and Netscape both offer great HTTP servers for NT. However, we chose Lotus Domino because it includes an applications development environment." He continued, "Lotus Domino treats all data as database entries, not as HTML pages, which gives us great data manipulation capabilities. The database focus simplifies integrating Domino databases with our legacy systems, especially our data warehouse. We use standard tools for synchronizing Domino databases with external data sources. High granularity controls Domino's superior security, down to specific sections on a page. Because the information managers use a Notes client that provides a good document preparation and management tool, they don't need to use HTML."
Not a Shrink-Wrapped Solution
According to Lotus Development's Web site, Lotus Domino is a server that features integrated services for creating secure, interactive applications and messaging. The program emphasizes collaborative applications for corporate intranets and extranets. Screen 1 shows a Domino's Pizza online newsletter and Screen 2 shows a company directory page, both of which Domino's Pizza created using a Lotus Domino application.
"Lotus Domino is an application development platform, not a shrink-wrapped intranet solution. We could have purchased shrink-wrapped applications that ran on Domino, but we didn't believe such a solution would effectively meet our requirements," Messink explained.
Workers at the company's distribution centers, which provide stores with more than 150 products, have already provided positive feedback. "Responses from distribution centers and other internal users have been very enthusiastic," Messink said. "Users like the content, the graphical interface, and the fact that they can get what they need."
Vance Dover, manager of Domino's Pizza's North Carolina distribution center, said, "I think we're in the infant stages of using the extranet for our business. I'm looking forward to having financial information, profit and loss statements, and benchmarking data at my fingertips at all times."
Scott Miller, general manager of the Tennessee distribution center, remarked, "Product lists, quality assurance updates, and even telephone lists are current now. We receive everything in a timely manner. Also, people understand information better when it's presented visually."
Approximately 800 remote users connect to the Lotus Domino NT server over Domino's Pizza's WAN through 56Kbps to 256Kbps links. The company uses a standard T1 line to connect to the Internet. Messink estimates that the number of users will increase to nearly 2000 by the end of the year. If administrators assign separate logon IDs to store managers and franchises, Messink projects that the number of users might reach between 5000 and 10,000.
In 1998, Domino's Pizza plans to implement Lotus Domino in all Ann Arbor divisions and in the remaining distribution centers. The company will integrate the program with remote users in five regional and four zone offices and on the laptop computers of traveling employees. In May, Domino's Pizza kicked off the rollout to franchises at its annual convention. In 1999, the company plans to move its suppliers online.
In the future, Domino's Pizza plans to develop approximately 50 Lotus Domino applications for store and franchisee directories, sales and other financial reporting, royalty and food invoice processing, quality evaluation analysis, and other line-of-business tasks. Getting these solutions online is key so that franchises will be able to electronically transmit data and obtain operational, marketing, and financial data. "NT is the platform on which all of this is based," said Messink. Currently, franchises send financial and operational data to headquarters via voice mail, fax, email, or surface mail. Messink said, "We anticipate adding some applications that Lotus Domino can't provide services for, such as geographical mapping and analysis, online analytical processing, report scheduling, production and distribution, and video and audio streaming. We will add NT servers to host these applications."
Messink predicts that the support load will grow but will remain fairly light because of the nature of NT and the intuitive character of the Web. Domino's Pizza hasn't dedicated any support personnel to the extranet, Messink explained. Instead, about 15 Help desk personnel and network administrators provide support for the extranet and all internal systems Monday through Friday, 13 hours per day.
"The NT extranet won't immediately and directly affect how we make or deliver our product," Messink said. "As we move toward online ordering, some customers will find this option preferable to telephone ordering. Quantifying the benefits of this NT extranet solution for our customers is difficult. Regardless, if we can help franchises improve operations, marketing, and financial management, the result should be better pizzas and better service for our customers."
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