A true-blue early adopter and technophile, Jacques Mangeot was knee-deep in digital systems and artificial intelligence in the late 80s, before they were topics on everyone’s tongues. It all began when he took on the role of CIO at McDonald’s in 1989.
“I was hired to manage the entire information system for McDonald’s France,” he recalls. But when a highly anticipated project to build the store of the future was cancelled, Jacques decided that he had to find a way to continue the work he had fallen in love with.
He found his answer in Acrelec, then a small business with only 10 employees. “We knew that it had great competency in hardware, and we could complement that with our knowledge in software and services.”
He and his business partner, Jalel Souissi, took a leap of faith and acquired the company in 2004. Today, Acrelec has grown to become a business of 900 employees, with presence in 18 markets worldwide.
It specialises in electronic solutions for the food and beverage industry, such as digital menu boards and signage, and self-service order kiosks. Its installations number more than 40,000 and can be found in 70 countries.
“We have never lost a customer, ever,” Jacques says with pride. “I believe it comes down to two values: proximity and agility. Proximity, being close to our customers, is the only way we can have innovation, because innovation is about finding solutions to problems and being close to our clients is how we can understand their needs.
It’s why we have set up local presence in our markets worldwide, such as Germany, the US and China. “Second, agility. It’s the reason why we decided from day one to retain control of every single process in the organisation. We edit our own software, design our own hardware, and provide our own customer service and support. This is labour intensive and requires the recruitment of many people, from software engineers and marketers to those who are in charge of the physical installation of our machines. This is how we remain close to our customers – we may not have many of them, but the ones we have are all big accounts, such as McDonald’s and Walmart.”
Jacques acknowledges that as the business continues to grow, maintaining this agility will get harder. “Remaining agile when the company is multinational is challenging because business never stops. Whichever month of the year, or day of the month, we have customers that are operating, 24/7. I like to compare the company to a champion athlete; we must always stay fit enough to be fast. We must constantly reinvent the way we organise ourselves in order to be agile and grow.”
To describe Acrelec, Jacques says that he would call the company a “smart integrator”. He believes that voice recognition will be the next big thing.
“It will require conversational artificial intelligence that can convert a customer’s spoken order into text, and then that text into something that can be interpreted by the machine,” he explains.
When this technology is in place, he intends for Acrelec to be ready to integrate it into its existing order kiosks and offer it as a complete solution to the company’s clients.
“Every opportunity should be taken to acquire data from the end user and pass it to the store so that it can review its services,” Jacques says.
“The software may eventually be able to interpret whether a customer is stressed, cold, or is hesitating. Of course, the main purpose would be to understand his spoken order, but it’s also possible to identify a lot of things related to the speech.”
We must constantly reinvent the way we organise ourselves in order to be agile and grow.
In Jacques’ vision of the future, every individual will be equipped with a private device akin to an electronic personal assistant, and for every quick service restaurant (QSR), an electronic store assistant.
The function of the former is to manage the personal life of the individual, down to the planning of their meals, while the function of the latter is to accurately manage operations such as stock taking and food production in the restaurant.
These devices will be able to interact so that the store assistant is able to ensure that the right meals are always prepared at the right time to address demand. Jacques believes that being a first mover into the realm of electronic store assistants is where Acrelec’s future lies.
“It will be a huge task of connecting different information systems and convincing QSRs to transform their existing assets. The complexity of this integration is why I am sure that Acrelec is well-positioned to become a leader in this space.”