Hungry Lion’s IT evolution under Shalendra Singh’s stewardship

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Shalendra Singh, head of IT at Hungry Lion, is propelling the brand into an exciting phase.

Throughout his career, Shalendra Singh, head of IT at Hungry Lion, has been drawn to the realm of development. Despite initially diving into electronic engineering and computer systems, his passion for development remained undeterred.

“Studying web development was a turning point, allowing me to delve deep into the coding world,” he says. “It was a fulfilling experience, even more so because it brought me back to the technology realm after a brief hiatus.”

Shalendra’s journey intertwined with Shoprite’s trajectory. Since 2012 he has spent significant time within the Shoprite group, including a critical role in the development and enhancement of the Sixty60 application. This role presented both challenges and opportunities, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Sixty60 venture was a high-stakes project,” he explains. “I was brought in to fix critical issues and enhance the infrastructure supporting the app. The pandemic brought about an unforeseen spike in demand, but our team persevered and ensured the application not only coped with the demand but thrived, solidifying its place in the market."

Hungry Lion was previously part of Shoprite, which Shalendra says was an advantage. “Being part of Shoprite provided a unique vantage point. It allowed us to explore and test new technologies within the Hungry Lion set-up, benefitting both brands. However, the transition to independence marked a pivotal moment, necessitating the overhaul of systems and processes.”

At present, Hungry Lion boasts a network of nearly 300 stores, with a notable presence in Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, and the UK. This African footprint poses unique challenges from a technical standpoint, but it has also been a significant differentiator for Hungry Lion in the corporate-owned fast-food industry.

“The goal is not just about opening stores. It’s about creating employment opportunities across diverse regions, including smaller towns often overlooked by larger franchises.”

Integrating and innovating

Shalendra says Hungry Lion is currently undertaking the “Hungry Lion Simplification Project”, a comprehensive initiative aimed at streamlining operations and empowering store managers. The project leverages technology to simplify store operations, reduce human capital costs, and improve efficiency.

“Our focus is on empowering store managers to engage with customers and focus on core operational aspects,” explains Shalendra, highlighting the importance of efficient store management in Hungry Lion’s expansion strategy.

Data forms the backbone of Hungry Lion’s strategy, and the brand has embraced cutting-edge technology solutions like Google Workspace and BigQuery to gather insights and drive informed decisions. Advanced analytics and machine learning models, including the Servios bot, enable proactive management of stores by providing valuable nudges to address potential operational challenges.

“Data-driven decisions are crucial for our growth. They enable us to anticipate challenges and act swiftly,” says Shalendra. Hungry Lion employs advanced forecasting models to optimise labour scheduling, ensuring that staff availability aligns with customer demand. This strategic approach not only enhances customer service but also controls labour costs effectively. “Our goal is to create a win-win situation – providing excellent customer service while effectively managing operational costs.”

Embracing innovation

He adds that he is excited about the latest technology and that the real game-changer lies in the early adopters and those who grasp its full potential. “I’ve been an early adopter myself in the past, and it’s clear that while technology can assist, it still requires human guidance and expertise. That’s where our focus lies – making the most of AI to enhance efficiency and scalability. It’s all about optimising effort at every stage of our projects, from background work to implementation.

“At the moment, we have an AI forum at Hungry Lion that’s quite intriguing,” he says, adding that their marketing team has seen a significant boost in productivity thanks to Firefly. “Meanwhile, my IT team can’t get enough of ChatGPT – it’s become a go-to resource for tasks ranging from scripting to automation.”

His team is always on the lookout for ways to streamline their operations and save time, given the constraints they face, especially with a relatively small team. “Automation is a key focus for us. For instance, we’ve revamped our approach to Google Sheets. Instead of sharing them broadly, we’ve locked down a standardised sheet that everyone agrees upon. This minimises confusion and ensures we receive high-quality data, sparing us from repeated inquiries.

“We’re investing time in creating efficient scripts, like purging old users from TILs, a task that used to require manual effort. ChatGPT has proven invaluable for these purposes, including email composition. Having such a tool and not using it would be a missed opportunity.”

Fun outside work

Outside of work, family is a top priority, especially since both he and his wife have demanding jobs. He says, “We cherish weekends, dedicating quality time to our two kids. As for hobbies, I’m into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, holding a purple belt.”

He explains that it’s a highly technical and disciplined sport, emphasising technique and conserving energy. Moreover, jiu-jitsu fosters a strong sense of camaraderie among its practitioners, he says. “When you become part of this tight-knit community, you join a brotherhood of like-minded individuals. It’s truly remarkable how, when the topic of boxing arises, everyone instinctively dons their gloves and starts pounding the bag. However, as a trainee, you quickly realise the immense effort required to keep your hands up, even without stepping into the ring. The swinging and impact on the bag leave you utterly drained.”

He says jiu-jitsu serves as incredible stress relief, providing him with the opportunity to let go of any burdens weighing on his mind. “The physical exertion during training helps release any pent-up tension, leaving me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.”

He also has a passion for DIY projects, often collaborating with his artistic wife, and says, “We recently completed a cabinet together, and it’s immensely satisfying to see our combined creativity come to life.”

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