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Why Dominos' virtual assistant struggles to understand your orders

Clint Boulton | Aug. 25, 2016
Dominos CIO Kevin Vasconi is bullish on virtual assistant technology, but says that natural language processing and artificial intelligence technologies require more polish.

Dom, which you engage by tapping a button within the Dominos mobile app, is a snap for consumers who offer straightforward orders, such as a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. But Dom also receives orders in which people say “I want a pizza,” forcing Dom to tease the rest -- size, type, extras -- out of them. Vasconi's team, a relatively lean staff of 250, and Nuance Communications are building "logic ladders" that anticipate and respond to how people order. "The hard part is not voice to text or text to voice," Vasconi says. "The hard part is the AI and the logic.

Another hurdle is the newness of Dom's user experience. Consumers are used to speaking to a customer service representative, not an order-taking chat bot. For the uninitiated, the experience can be jarring. Halfway through the order, some consumers switch from speaking to Dom to typing in the order via the mobile app because they are having trouble ordering through Dom and fear their order won’t go through. Despite the challenges Dominos is sticking with this work in progress. “I am so bullish on voice technology,” Vasconi says. “That is the future of our interactions with computers because it’s so natural."

For a speedy delivery, dial A-G-I-L-E

Because rapid iteration to deliver new digital services requires a lot of writing and rewriting of code. Vasconi is running a 100 percent agile shop. Vasconi also places a strong emphasis on DevOps culture for continuously building, testing and revamping features. “One of our most important assets is speed,” Vasconi says. “The agile method lends itself well to incremental releases and we can learn and get better very, very quickly.”

It’s not uncommon for Dominos' developers to write code, refine it, and push changes through to the mobile app or other services in the course of a day. The approach also helps Dominos find, catch and fix mistakes quickly. “We have the ability to release features and when you get it wrong, you can fix it fast,” Vasconi says. “Agile gives you license to take calculated risks as long as you can fix what you get wrong really, really fast.”

The business lines --including marketing, human resources and finance -- love it. And as any CIO who has orchestrated agile knows, getting business managers to buy in is vital for continued success and, ultimately, innovation.

CIOs talk a lot about aligning IT with the business these days and one way Dominos gets alignment is through its digital sales targets, which executives such as Vasconi, CMO Russell Weiner and CDO Dennis Maloney share together.

Their target is discussed, reviewed and reported to the board. In the ultimate form of accountability through transparency, part of their compensation depends on meeting the target. “We’re very big on alignment and it’s worked to keep us in lockstep in driving digital sales,” Vasconi says. “When you align two objectives at that level, it permeates through the entire organization.”

 

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