The featured IT leader in this installment of 'How I Landed My CIO Job' is JP Hurtado, who joined Dave & Busters in May 2018.

Steve Rovniak: Can you provide some background on your career prior to joining Dave & Busters?

JP Hurtado: I spent the first five years of my career at Ernst & Young and Capgemini in technology consulting. Then I spent 14 years with Royal Caribbean in various roles in IT, including Director of Customer Technology, Regional CIO, China, and AVP, Shipboard Technology and Global Infrastructure. I had the opportunity to see different functions of technology from product development to engineering to infrastructure. I also experienced an overseas assignment in Shanghai China for two years. The opportunity to perform all these different roles across so many areas of technology, for a global brand, I feel, shaped my readiness to move on to the CIO role at Dave & Busters.

Is this your first CIO position?


Were you actively looking for a CIO role?

I was not actively looking. I had a very solid role and a great career trajectory at Royal Caribbean, and I was quite happy there helping shape a massive technology transformation. But opportunities always pop up that you hear about or you get a call from a recruiter, and when they do, you take a quick look and see if you want to learn more about it.

How did you hear about this one?

I was contacted about this job by Katie Ross at Heller Search Associates.

Was a CIO opportunity what piqued your interest in this case?

JP Hurtado CIO Dave and BustersThe opportunity to move to a CIO role definitely sparked my interest. It was also the strong Dave & Busters brand, and the industry. That night, I went straight to a local Dave & Busters. I had visited them before, but now I wanted to look at it through the lens of what I could do in a leadership position to drive better experiences for guests and employees.

What else were you seeking?

I wanted to keep influencing amazing guest experiences, driving revenue, and improving operations, marketing and sales execution. For me to leave Royal Caribbean and move to a new brand, they would have to provide a solid product and service offering, and one that its guests are passionate about.

What was Dave & Busters looking for in their new CIO?

From the outset, it was clear that technology strategy was a top priority. Up to that point, the IT organizational and operating model was about bringing stability to the operations. It was a “run organization”, and a very good one. But the leadership felt it was time to pivot IT to become more strategic. The leadership team envisioned opportunities to deploy technology with the goal of improving the guest experience and employee experience, drive incremental revenue, and improve cost structures through automation.

They were ready to invest in technology, but first needed a leader to come in and develop a new technology strategy with experience executing large scale transformation programs.

About Dave & Busters:
Dave & Buster's is a family friendly restaurant and entertainment business headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Each Dave & Buster's has a full-service restaurant and a video arcade. The publicly traded company has over 17,000 employees and 126 locations in the United States and Canada.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

This all happened so fast! I believe that from the first conversation I had with Katie Ross to the first interview with Dave & Busters’ COO was three days. I didn’t have time to think or prepare a lot, other than going out to experience the brand and doing some online research.

When you interview, you have to be able to provide some context about how your past professional experiences translate to the new role. So I thought about how the experiences I had had at Royal Caribbean would help me drive better experiences with the Dave & Busters brand, and ultimately have a positive impact on revenue, costs, and operations.

Other than that, I was just true to myself. I was quite confident that what I was able to accomplish through all my years at Royal Caribbean had really set me up for this CIO opportunity.

How did you prepare to start your new role?

I took a week-long cruise, of course! I think it was important, particularly in my scenario, having worked at one brand for 14 years, to take some time off to unwind and clear my head. I wanted downtime, to refresh and then come up with a clear action plan for the first three months. There is validity to all the focus for executives on the first 90 or 100 days. I made a list of the first 10 things, and only 10, that I wanted to accomplish, and organized it into 30-day increments.

Who do you report to?

The CEO, Brian Jenkins.

What is the headcount in IT?

50+ employees and a variety of third party vendors.

Since starting your CIO role, what have you been working on, and what has gotten done so far?

The first thing we did was create a technology strategy. What are the things we will be focusing on as a company? It ended up being a five pillar strategy; Digital, Operating Model, Security, Insights and Operational Excellence. 

Driving buy-in on the strategy wasn’t only about getting the IT team behind it. It was about getting broad organizational alignment behind the tech strategy.

I think of it as two tracks. The first track is keeping things in motion. There were several things in motion before I arrived that were critical to the brand. I wanted to make sure we didn’t slow things down while trying to define the future path.   

The second track focused on all of the things we need to do in order to improve technology experiences at Dave & Busters. There is a roadmap of approximately 10 initiatives we are focusing on as a team, which we vetted and prioritized with the executive team. We are really focused on executing on just those 10 initiatives.

Can you give a few examples?

We are working on a new mobile experience, a new kiosk experience, upgrading our email platform into a broader collaboration platform to improve employee productivity. We assessed our data footprint for gaps in insights, and started creating new structures to allow the enterprise better access to data and visualization tools. 

We are pursuing an enterprise wide infrastructure uplift. We asked, “What is causing the most pain in terms of depreciating assets? What is keeping us from delivering the best possible customer experience?” This led to investments in bandwidth and wifi networks for a better in-store technology infrastructure. 

Have you made any changes to your IT operating model?

We are looking hard at what it means to deliver operational excellence, and how to change the operating model to achieve it. We are still working through how to structure that.

Relatively speaking, this is a lean IT operation in terms of resources, which I knew coming in. I have a commitment from the leadership team to scale IT, but smartly. We want to right-size based on our objectives. We have been, and will continue to be, very deliberate about the roles we add, and what they are intended to drive.

What else?

One of the first things I started talking about was a pivot to Agile for product development. We have become more agile, but it is a work in progress. We have daily standups, weekly scrums, and we plan in sprints. We are making inroads into a new delivery model.

What does digital transformation mean at Dave & Busters?

I was part of the digital transformation at Royal Caribbean, and our mantra here is very similar: digital transformation is about looking for opportunities to digitize the guest and team member experience. That is core to digital transformation, digitizing every aspect of the experience, removing friction, enabling self-service, and allowing our guests to consume the experience how, when and where they want – not dictating that.

Then there is data, which is a two-fold question. 1. How do you capture better data? and 2. How do you leverage the data to generate more demand? We want to leverage our data to provide the right content to the right guest at the right time in the right channel, based on the data we have.

Digital transformation is about the end result – a better guest and team member experience. The net result must be higher overall satisfaction and revenue lift. 

That said, it’s important to be sure you have the architecture in place to deliver transformational experiences. This is where I feel a lot of companies fall short. In order to be able to drive adoption and have meaningful business impact, there has to be a huge focus on architecture and infrastructure.

In this market, how do you attract and retain top IT talent?

This is a big challenge for every CIO. One of the things I really like about Agile delivery is that you empower the employee – you give the employee a voice, allowing them to be part of something special, thereby driving their engagement level. It is critical today to have a high level of engagement, which means an understanding of the end purpose, the individual and team objectives. Making sure there is a clear line of sight between everyone’s role and what we are doing as an organization is critical. I worry less about roles and hierarchy, and more about whether my teams know what they are trying to do, and why. That is critical in today’s environment.

Giving employees a sense that this is a culture of innovation here, and that we are investing in new technologies is massive. I have the benefit of being able to borrow from Royal Caribbean’s culture of innovation. It is in their DNA. As team member, you always feel pride in the fact that what you are doing is cutting edge and relevant. Part of what I want to bring to Dave & Busters is making sure there is innovation in our DNA.

We see taking risks with new technology as just part of moving ahead, part of getting and staying in front of the competition.  

How do you know when your IT organization is succeeding?

Traditional IT KPIs and compliance metrics are important, but they don’t necessarily mean we have helped the brand drive meaningful business outcomes. The end game is creating value that has meaningful results for the brand. Attaining senior leadership alignment on measurable metrics/KPI’s is step one. In addition, I want to get a pulse on how the rest of the organization sees the department and how much we help them achieve their own KPIs.

What is your favorite game to play at Dave & Busters?

I have two. One is Halo. I love being able to sit down and have that totally immersive experience until my fingers just can’t do it anymore. The other is a new game we just introduced called Connect 4 Hoops. It’s a combination of Connect 4 and basketball. I can play it with my kids and its fun for the entire family.

About JP Hurtado

JP Hurtado is SVP & CIO of Dave & Buster’s Entertainment, Inc. which owns and operates 126 venues in North America that combine entertainment and dining. Prior to Dave & Busters, JP held a progression of IT leadership roles during his 14 years at Royal Caribbean Cruises, including most recently, AVP, Shipboard Technology & Global Infrastructure. He earned a B.S.B.A. in Decision Information Sciences from the University of Florida.

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