Flexible digital platform paves the way for customer connection and innovation

2016 was the first year Americans spent more at eating and drinking establishments than food in the home.

That’s great news for restaurants and QSR brands like SONIC.

But the stomach wars are heating up! Food ordering platforms, new ways to order and a crop of fast-casual competition are all changing the food landscape quickly.

SONIC is a drive-in, fast-food restaurant chain with 3,500+ locations in over 45 American states. For more than 60 years, SONIC has delivered unique guest experiences centered around a menu of made-to-order American classics and fun, speedy and personalized service from SONIC’s signature Carhops.

While SONIC’s guest experience is tied to American nostalgia, they’re always looking for new ways to modernize. Just as customers are changing, technology has opened up new possibilities in how customers can order, pay and connect with SONIC. SONIC wanted to use technology to drive a more interactive, personalized experience for their customers.

Wrapping technology into the SONIC experience is a critical part of the organization’s strategic vision. They developed an Integrated Customer Engagement (ICE) initiative to increase interaction and personalization with technology throughout their customer experience.

A platform designed for flexibility and growth

However, there was a challenge. SONIC’s existing digital infrastructure could not support this strategic vision. They needed to create a rebuild of their foundation to move faster and adapt quickly. SONIC chose ThoughtWorks to design and implement an enterprise digital platform that allows them to experiment, add innovative new services quickly and evolve as fast as their customers. 

ThoughtWorks brought a team, methodology, experience, and technical know-how to quickly ramp up the initiative, helping the SONIC team establish new cultural norms while architecting the solution. We started by redefining their entire tech stack and implementing a digital platform strategy

The new platform adopts an API first strategy to expose existing business capabilities to different stakeholders, allowing them to be nimble by pulling in the best of breed applications, APIs, databases and messaging. For example, marketing can use it to create better dashboards and personalized offers and the payments team can build on top to develop innovative solutions like ordering ahead via voice.

Moving from a monolithic architecture, which wasn’t easy to scale or change, to a flexible, cloud-based architecture has allowed SONIC to plug in new services and technologies quickly. Combined with a continuous delivery approach, this significantly improves SONIC’s speed to market. 

They now have a digital menu management tool which allows SONIC to offer extensive order customization, including more than 1.3 million drink combinations. New features can be added to their mobile app in days and weeks instead of months and years.

ThoughtWorks and their technical leadership convinced us of the concept of a digital platform strategy and its ability to be used as a common set of building blocks — things that we could build upon and re-use multiple times as we move forward.
Doug Cook

Vice-President Brand Technology, SONIC

Now, SONIC can enhance the drive-in experience using new technology that allows them to communicate to guests about what they care about most, when and where they want to hear it. SONIC guests can now experience a classic drive-in experience, modernized to meet the standards they expect. 

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