Why IT Projects Get Shelved: Securing Executive Buy-In for Tech Implementations in Enterprise Food Service Operations

Why IT Projects Get Shelved

Securing executive buy-in for digitalisation projects in large foodservice companies requires more than a solid business case.

Over the years, I have worked alongside some of the best IT project leads in the restaurant industry. These are the individuals who spearhead tech projects within companies, from burger chains to corporate catering businesses. I have been involved in their processes and witnessed firsthand how they garnered executive support to implement Apicbase.

In this article, I’ll share these insights and show you how to engage with your restaurant’s top decision-makers effectively.

Manage Emotions, Mitigate Risk, Align Expectations 

Let me give you a peek behind the curtain at Apicbase. Before signing a deal with a new client, we collaborate intensely with one or two key people from their side. We delve into everything—product demos, ROI discussions, support processes, and answering technical questions. Through this process, they get to know us, and we get to know them.

These people have a tough job. On one hand, they’re diligently searching for the right software to meet their company’s needs. On the other, they have to convince their colleagues and executives of their choice. It’s a balancing act: finding the best solution externally while building internal support

It isn’t just about presenting the facts and figures. It’s about understanding the deeper, often unspoken concerns and expectations of decision-makers at your company. 

Carl Jacobs
CEO & Co-Founder Apicbase

In the beginning, I often wondered how they did it. Now, I understand. These project leaders know that securing buy-in for tech investments isn’t just about presenting the facts and figures. It’s about understanding the deeper, often unspoken concerns and expectations of decision-makers. 

A strong business case is crucial, but addressing the emotional and other underlying aspects is equally important. Stakeholders need to feel confident and secure in their choices. Managing these emotions and mitigating perceived risks are just as crucial as the technical details.

What follows are the lessons I’ve learned from seeing these experienced project leaders in action.

Informal talks

An early lesson was that we don’t always make the decisions that matter in formal meetings. 

Call it a rule of thumb. It applies to politics, sports, business, and gaining support for tech implementation. While spending enough time preparing your presentation for the board is essential, an informal chat at the coffee machine can be just as effective.

Informal conversations are powerful. They allow you to connect with your colleagues on a personal level, which is where real buy-in begins, and it puts you in control of the situation. 

They allow you to connect with your colleagues on a personal level, which is where real buy-in begins, and it puts you in control of the situation. 

People tend to be more relaxed outside the meeting room. They are more likely to open up and share their genuine concerns and what they hope to achieve, which is valuable information for tailoring your project to meet their needs.

Also, people will voice their doubts when it’s just the two of you and ask questions they wouldn’t ask in a big meeting. This way, you can clear up misunderstandings early on in the project. 

Tailor your pitch

If you want people to agree on a solution, they must first agree on the challenges ahead. You need to make everyone aware of the problems and how they affect their departments. 

The difficulty is that stakeholders in big companies often have wildly different priorities and perspectives, even though they share the same goal of building a healthy and sustainable company. Consequently, a one-size-fits-all pitch is rarely effective. 

Each stakeholder group, from senior executives to operations staff, has distinct priorities based on their roles and responsibilities. Understanding these interests is crucial for the success of your project (It also makes each stakeholder feel valued and part of the decision-making process).

To give you an idea, senior executives, such as CEOs, CFOs, and COOs, typically focus on profitability, growth, and strategic alignment. CTOs and IT leaders care about the technical details, ensuring the system is secure and works well with the existing infrastructure. Operations staff want to see that the new tech makes their work easier, error-proof, and reduces costs. Similarly, marketing gets excited by deeper customer insights.  

A one-size-fits-all pitch doesn’t address these specific interests, leaving vital concerns unmet. It can slow your project’s momentum or worse, get it shelved. 

I’ve seen it before. An operations manager pushed for a new tech system to improve efficiency on the work floor. Despite her strong case, she initially struggled to get the rest of the company excited. This shifted when she began engaging stakeholders individually. She learned about their concerns and departmental goals. These conversations allowed her to tailor her approach, addressing objections more effectively. Her adapted strategy gained widespread support, ultimately green-lighting the project.

Keep it simple

This may sound obvious to those in communications, but I like to bring it up because it makes a difference: jargon and abstract ideas. They are easy traps to fall into. 

Tech talk can be overwhelming, and abstract ideas can sound far-fetched. So, keep things simple. Don’t talk at a high level, but be concrete and practical. And don’t use words you wouldn’t use at the kitchen table at home. 

This is the best advice I can give you for getting buy-in for your project. If you break down the technical details and big-picture ideas into bite-sized, relatable benefits, you’ll be halfway through getting the support you need. 

Break down technical details and big ideas into bite-sized, relatable benefits, and you’ll be halfway to getting the support you need.

For example, we have a client whose company runs more than 500 outlets. Some are unique restaurants, some are part of a chain, and some are corporate catering. The number of stakeholders he had to get on his side was staggering. I wondered a few times if he could pull it off, but he did. He understood that no one had expertise in digitalisation and that lack of knowledge would create resistance; as the old wisdom says, ‘one fears what one does not understand’. So he stripped the project down to its primal form—a straightforward, practical narrative that the executive chef, the CFO, and everyone in between immediately understood.

Today, hundreds of employees in that company work with our software, and millions of euros’ worth of F&B are purchased through Apicbase every week. I hold this partnership dear, and I owe it not only to the quality of our software but also to the communication skills of that company’s CIO. 

Social proof

Providing social proof is part of the business case. But that is not the kind of ‘social proof’ I want to discuss.

By demonstrating that an implementation was successful at other companies, you prove that the technology of your choice is adequate and the tech partner is reliable.

However, traditional social proof mitigates only part of the risk. Just because an implementation was a success at a competitor doesn’t mean it is a meaningful investment for your company. That requires a different kind of proof. You need to highlight broader industry adoption trends. In which direction is the industry as a whole moving?

I spoke to Peter Schimpl about this on The Food Service Growth Show. Peter is VP of IT and Digital at L’Osteria, a restaurant with over 175 locations. He said: 

“If McDonald’s does something, it’s innovation. They are five years ahead of us. Other restaurant chains don’t necessarily have to be forerunners in innovation. However, some innovations become the standard. In that case, not having specific tech becomes a disadvantage. In QSR, for example, customers expect kiosks. If you don’t have them, you miss out on sales.” 

I thought this was a very sensible approach. It adds a crucial dimension to the discussion about innovation, namely that of timing. In recent years, I have often heard restaurant leaders say, ‘The choices we make today will determine whether our company will still be here a decade from now.’ The question is not just if technology works, but also whether it is timely and essential for your company’s future success

Your business case needs to reflect that sense of urgency; otherwise, it is likely to be postponed in favour of another project.  

Start small

Change will always make people uncomfortable. This, of course, applies to implementing new software, too. Even when executives fully believe in your project, there’s always that little voice in the back of their heads saying, ‘What if it doesn’t work?

A phased rollout can be very effective in addressing this concern. Many of Apicbase’s biggest projects started out super small. 

For example, the other week, a catering client started using Apicbase in one location: a stadium. They were hosting an event, which thousands of people attended. Even before company leadership had finished evaluating the event, the on-site staff had already asked if they could also use Apicbase at the next event. Trust in the technology trickled upward. 

Starting small is always a good idea. It’s low risk, high reward. The financial investment is negligible, and the ROI is quick. Implementation at one location is straightforward and provides best practices that you can use to roll out the software across more outlets later on. 

Showcase early successes

If people don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. I once heard someone say this in a PR meeting and there is truth in it. To keep the momentum going, you have to keep everyone excited about your project. Don’t assume all stakeholders know what you are doing. Talk about your successes. Keep everyone informed. Be your own best ambassador. 

Don’t assume all stakeholders know what you are doing. Talk about your successes. Be your own best ambassador.

By showcasing the successes of new technology, you raise awareness and interest across the company. It gets everyone excited about its benefits and helps you gain support from executives, even those not directly involved in the project.

You could argue that good technology doesn’t need an internal ambassador. The results should speak for themselves. I’m not going to disprove that statement, but when it comes to getting buy-in from stakeholders, a winning buzz goes a long way. It pushes the project forward and keeps it on everyone’s radar. I wouldn’t underestimate the effect of success stories. 

Conclusion: What you should know about gaining internal support for digitalisation projects 

The key to securing executive buy-in for tech projects lies in recognising that it’s not just about having a solid business case but also understanding the underlying human factors that affect decision-making in your restaurants and at the head office.

Successful leaders navigate these challenges by engaging with individual stakeholders early in the project, addressing their concerns, and demonstrating how the new technology aligns with the company’s broader goals.

Remember to start small to mitigate risks, communicate clearly, and build momentum through early successes. 

Learn more about Apicbase. 👇

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