Just Eat CIO details how data, firm principles and Google helped its response to COVID-19

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez September 2, 2020
Takeaway services have thrived during COVID-19. However, it certainly wasn’t business as usual at Just Eat, as CIO Dave Williams explains.

Image of the Just Eat Logo
(Image sourced via Just Eat website)

The fallout from COVID-19 and the subsequent national lockdowns resulted in both winners and losers, when assessing the economic landscape. Unsurprisingly, given people were forced to stay at home for lengthy periods of time and as restaurants closed, the food delivery sector has experienced a boon. One such beneficiary from the pandemic is online food delivery platform, Just Eat Takeaway.com, which has 26 million customers and works with 155,000 restaurants around the world.

Last month the food delivery platform reported that revenues were up 44% for the first half of 2020 to €1bn. And despite lockdown restrictions being eased and restaurants reopening, Just Eat has predicted strong order growth throughout the rest of the year.

However, the changing economic and societal circumstances that would have no doubt benefitted Just Eat business regardless has not meant standing still. The organisation has used COVID-19 as an opportunity to double down on its existing principles and make use of data and technology to better serve its employees, its customers, its restaurant partners and its courier network.

Dave Williams, Just Eat Chief Information Officer (CIO), and Storm Fagan, Just Eat Chief Product Officer (CPO), have spoken about how the company is making use of Google G Suite on the one hand to ensure employees remain productive whilst working at home, whilst also taking advantage of Google's data capabilities to understand customer trends.

For Williams it became clear that some companies were seeing opportunities within the COVID-19 landscape to change their business models, reacting to the ‘new normal'. However, for Just Eat, the priority has been to double down on what it is already good at and focus on its core principles. He said:

I think for me the first thing and the key focus is do what you do and do it brilliantly. I think there will be lots of organisations looking to diversify as a result of what many businesses have been through over the last three months. Technology can be an incredible enabler for that kind of change. I think how Just Eat has succeeded is that we've focused in on those things that we already do brilliantly.

We already care massively about our colleagues, our customers, our restaurant partners and our courier network - and by focusing in on those and following the principles that we set up, I think that's really helped us to succeed.

I think that's a real lesson for industry, it isn't about diversification for the sake of diversification. I think it's about how you play to the strengths of your organisation, whilst you lean into those challenges.

For Just Eat, understanding those core principles and focusing in on its stakeholders within that context, Williams argues that the business was able to make decisions quickly and adapt. For example, with colleagues shifting quickly to working from home for extended periods of time, Just Eat increased its VPN capacity by 700% just before lockdown started in the UK and carried out live scale testing. Google has also played a key role in enabling collaboration amongst a distributed team. Williams said:

That gave the organisation confidence that we had a workable solution. It gave colleagues a heads up on what they might need to make things work at home. It's amazing the way that our Just Eaters have stepped up to that challenge. Not only in the way that they've delivered for one another, but also customers, restaurant partners, couriers, NHS workers, all of those efforts.

We've seen Google Meets used for everything from water cooler drop in conversations that run for a whole day, to competitive games of Pictionary, to DJing, and everything in between. It becomes where the conversation is.

Whilst the shift to working from home en-masse was a shift for Just Eat, the organisation already worked in a globally distributed way, which Williams argues helped with getting used to collaborating remotely using Google's digital tools. Over the past three months Just Eat has seen its use of Google Meet increase by more than 200% and employees have added over a million new files to Google Drive over the period.

Understanding changing behaviour

Just Eat is also making use of Google's data segmentation tools to better understand its customers during COVID-19 and consequently help serve them better recommendations. One of the interesting trends that the platform has noticed is that customers are eating earlier than normal and are pre-ordering their meals, which is likely indicative of people spending less time commuting to and from the office.

CPO Storm Fagan explained how Just Eat is using data to help drive better use of its e-commerce platform, making it easier for customers to find what they're looking for. She said:

I think recommendations and data segmentation is probably a really good example of [how we are using Google]. What we find in ecommerce now is that the volume of choice that's available can be overwhelming for customers and can be difficult for suppliers to understand how to drive growth and build their business. We use the data segmentation and turn that into recommendations to cut down the volume and reduce that overwhelming feeling for customers.

And then connect customers and restaurants together who otherwise might not be finding each other. Really at Just Eat we are just a connection of neighbourhoods around the world. Our business is really about those small communities, those small businesses in those communities and we're really using scale of our data to help those small businesses thrive.

Given the varying government guidelines in different regions and countries, Just Eat has also had to be agile in how it manages food delivery for customers, dependent on the different requirements. Fagain said:

That's been different across the markets, as each market has reacted differently. And then we've really focused on the ecosystem itself - so, how we can put a support package in place for our restaurants. Which when we combine that with the way that we use data and how we can understand how customer behaviour is changing, how restaurant behaviour is changing, we've really been able to support small businesses and local communities.

The collaboration tooling that we have through Google has been incredibly useful. It has helped keep our productivity high, help us solve these problems in a really fast turnaround way. And has helped us make sure that that collaboration and knowledge sharing is continuing even though we are still in lockdown.

However, Just Eat has also had to adapt its collaboration style and learn new ways of sharing knowledge across the organisation, as it has shifted to distributed working. This has been enabled through the use of new tools, but has been a learning curve nonetheless. Fagan explained:

The bit that has been removed for us is the in-person workshops. We are quite a collaborative organisation and to begin with that was quite a change, even though a lot of people are used to working in a distributed way.

Whereas we were quite a visual organisation, we've moved into much more written format. That collaboration piece has become incredibly important. We've looked at different ways of knowledge sharing.

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