The Pizza Chain That Became an AI Front-Runner

What’s the first company that comes to mind when you hear the term artificial intelligence (AI)? DeepMind? OpenAI? Boston Dynamics? Well, whatever it is, it’s most likely not Domino’s Pizza. But this international pizza chain is a fascinating case study on AI.

Domino’s adoption of AI is quite remarkable, mostly due to the fact that the company is in the category of companies least likely to adopt AI. Yes, it’s a multinational non-tech company founded in the 1960s with a streamlined value chain and a dominating position on the market. Companies with these traits tend to be late to the digitization party, if you know what I mean.

For large companies with optimized value chains, adopting AI can be a colossal challenge, as processes often need to be fundamentally reworked. That’s why it’s crucial to adopt AI solutions incrementally and to use the appropriate AI strategy for each activity.

I recently posted an article on AI business strategies. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend checking it out, but let me give you an executive summary regardless.

AI can improve any activity through either automation or augmentation. Automation is the removal of humans from an activity, while augmentation is the empowering of humans in an activity. Automation and augmentation is a scale that houses four AI strategies. Every AI solution in the world can be placed within one or more of these four AI strategies:

  1. The efficiency strategy, in which activities are optimized through automation.
  2. The effectiveness strategy, in which activities are made seamless, enabling easier communication.
  3. The expert strategy, in which AI empowers decision-making.
  4. The innovation strategy, in which AI enables creativity.

As we’ll find out, Domino’s has adopted at least three of these four AI strategies. Let me walk you through three AI implementations made by the company, and then towards the end, we’ll look at the bigger picture.

Delivering pizza with self-driving vehicles

It’s quite well-known that taxi, bus, and truck drivers will be affected by self-driving cars, but autonomous vehicles will also affect many other industries. For Domino’s, it may affect how pizza is delivered.

That’s why Domino’s began a self-driving pizza delivery pilot program in 2019. The company partnered up with autonomous-vehicle startup Nuro, which supplied self-driving electric vehicles that came equipped with doors locked behind a PIN code. The PIN code was given only to the person who ordered the pizza, so would-be pizza thieves couldn’t grab pizzas that didn’t belong to them. The program started in Houston, though Domino’s Pizza intends to do a full roll-out in the coming years.

Ordering pizza through an AI assistant

How do you order a pizza? Well, these days, if you want to get in contact with a pizzeria, you have quite a lot of options. To name a few, you could:

  1. Call the restaurant.
  2. Download a dedicated food delivery app to your phone and place an order from there.
  3. Visit a food delivery website (or, if they have one, the pizzeria’s own website) on your web browser.
  4. Physically visit the pizzeria and place the order there.
  5. Use an AI-powered chatbot.

Out of these five options, number five is the most recently invented. What more, it’s the fastest.

See, by messaging or talking to a company’s chatbot on one of the apps you already have downloaded (such as Facebook or Twitter), you could order a pizza in just a few words, such as “send me my favorite.” Users can order products faster than ever before, without having to download any additional apps. In some chatbots, the bot can remember where you live and even your credit card details, so you never need to provide those details either.

You can probably see where this is going. Domino’s has indeed implemented AI chatbots for pizza ordering. Quite astonishingly, the corporation has placed its AI ordering assistant on virtually every platform imaginable. Users can order pizza through Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Slack, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, text messages, smartwatches, or even Ford Sync and Samsung Smart TV. The customers do not need to interact with any human when placing the order, as the AI takes the orders fully autonomously. Users can save their favorite order and thus make a complete order by uttering a mere two or three words.

Ensuring the quality of pizzas with expert AI

Domino’s is also using AI to augment its chef to consistently cook excellent pizza. Domino’s noticed that customers were sharing photos of bad-looking pizzas on social media, with inconsistent or even incorrect toppings.

To combat this, the company started using a machine learning AI they call DOM Pizza Checker. The AI takes a photo of every pizza the restaurant’s chefs cook and analyzes it, grading the pizza based on various criteria. For example, DOM Pizza Checker examines if the toppings and cheese are spread evenly and if the selected ingredients are correct for the pizza type.

If the pizza isn’t up to standards, the AI asks the chef to remake it. After a satisfactory pizza has been made, the photo is sent to the customer. This way, Domino’s ensures that there are no unwanted surprises for the customer when the pizza arrives.

Domino’s teamed up with Dragontail Systems in developing the AI. It took two years to launch the first version of the system, which is now self-improving, as it scans pizzas every single day and learns from each and every one of them.

Domino’s three AI implementations applied to an AI strategy framework.

AI Across The Organization

These three different AI applications are examples of three different AI strategies in action.

The efficiency strategy: Delivering pizzas with self-driving vehicles is an example of fully automating an activity in the value chain.

The effectiveness strategy: Using AI assistants to take orders makes an activity seamless. It streamlines communication and automates the process.

The expert strategy: Augmenting chefs through image recognition AI that scans every pizza is a perfect example of leveraging expertise.

Three different processes in their value chain have been improved with artificial intelligence, with three different strategies, each optimized for the purpose of the activity.

  1. A customer orders a pizza through an AI assistant.
  2. The pizza is cooked through human-AI-collaboration.
  3. It is finally delivered with an autonomous AI-driven vehicle.

Domino’s has rolled out AI initiatives and trials without replacing old processes entirely. They have adopted AI onto various business activities in different regions, worked across their entire enterprise, and realized the value of selecting the right AI strategy for the right business process.

An excellent approach to implement AI is to look at processes in the value chain, analyze how AI could improve each particular activity, and then incrementally implement AI one activity at a time.

Hey, if a 60-year-old pizza chain can do it, then so can you.

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