Lightning fast changes in social media, cloud computing, and data mining capabilities of “big data” applications are blurring the lines between conventional IT, marketing, operations, human resource, and finance departments, said speakers and attendees of FSTEC NexGen, a technology show for the foodservice industry. More than 600 executives from leading restaurant chains and technology providers gathered here for a three-day exchange on the latest trends in foodservice technology and digital marketing.

It was a transformational year for FSTEC. Coupled with the Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit for the first time, the inclusive show provided an insightful look at the quick-changing rules on how foodservice companies are taking a more collaborative approach than ever before to leverage new technology with customers and employees.

“Whether you’re in finance or operations, marketing or human resources, technology is not just the IT department’s job any more,” says Rob Grimes, chairman and founder of FSTEC. “Staying competitive in today’s environment means being willing to rethink how we used to do things and finding new ways to embrace tools and data throughout an organization.”

"This year marked an amazing moment in restaurant and hospitality with the convergence of technology and marketing,” says Paul Barron, organizer and host of the Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit. “I have been amazed how the industry is embracing this new model of education and can see the future as being very bright and revealing around consumer insights, competitive analysis, and technology advancement for the restaurant business.”

Just one year after relaunching FSTEC as a more interactive, networking focused conference featuring topical educational sessions and a showcase featuring the latest solutions from leading technology vendors, FSTEC buzzed with renewed energy and excitement.

“FSTEC is back in a big way,” says John Doyle, VP of IT corporate and restaurant systems for Ruby Tuesday Inc. “The changes the FSTEC team has made by including the Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit and expanding the program to add tech content valuable to executives throughout a company have completely reenergized this conference.”

While a wide range of topics was covered during FSTEC NexGen, discussion frequently came back to the new world of cross-functional ownership of technology within restaurant companies.

“Generating revenue is where we now collaborate between marketing and IT,” says Kim Kelly-Bartley, VP of marketing and menu development at White Castle.

“We can’t be in silos. Now, IT and marketing are all working together at the same table in real time,” says Taco Bell’s Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social marketing. “We have a newsroom in the office where we meet every morning to see what’s going on.”

Adds Doug Reifschneider, vice president of marketing services at Firehouse Subs: “It’s a collaborative effort today where we’ve merged different functions and do not even have a CIO.”

Even celebrity chef Robert Irvine weighed in on the importance of technology in the restaurant business going forward. “If you’re not thinking of technology as a business necessity, you won’t be around,” says Irvine, star of top-rated television show Restaurant Impossible and keynote speaker at the event.

Several conference sponsors hosted exciting drawings during the showcase, with Red Book Connect even giving away a motorcycle to a lucky conference attendee. Sponsors of FSTEC NexGen and the Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit included:

Diamond Sponsors—Altametrics, Cognizant, Comcast Business, FohBoh, iGATE, MICROS Systems, Inc., NCR Corporation, Panasonic, ParTech, Inc., Red Book Connect and SinglePlatform from Constant Contact; Platinum—Aronson LLC, Black Box Intelligence, CohnReznick, CrunchTime! Information Systems, Inc., HyperActive Technologies, People Report, QSR Automations and Technomic; Gold—AirWatch, Fishbowl, Fortinet, Isis, Kronos, LS Retail, Posiflex, Vivonet and XPIENT Solutions, LLC.

Sponsors of the Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit included: Beta—newBrandAnalytics; Alpha—LevelUp, Punchh, Sagenet, and SinglePlatform from Constant Contact.

Media & Association Partners included: Hospitality Finance and Technology Professionals (HFTP), Parquet Public Affairs, RAMP, Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA), DigitalCoCo, Foodservice Director, Restaurant Business, MonkeyDish, Foodable Network, TechAdvisor Media, Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality, Food Management, QSR, and FSR.

Education Partners included: Johnson & Wales University, Michigan State University, The Pennsylvania State University, University of Delaware, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee.

Plans are already underway for FSTEC NexGen 2014 to be held in New Orleans.

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