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McDonald's CIO on why it's supporting Apple Pay on Launch Day

Bill Snyder | Oct. 17, 2014
Deborah Hall-Lefevre is making the biggest bet of her 23-year IT career.

Deborah Hall-Lefevre is making the biggest bet of her 23-year IT career.

On Monday, Oct. 20, Hall-Lefevre, McDonald's vice president and CIO of U.S. Information Technology, is going to flip a switch and all of the fast food chain's roughly 14,000 domestic outlets and drive-thrus will go live with Apple Pay. (Apple Pay is Apple's new contactless, NFC-based mobile payment system. For more details, read, "What You Need to Know About Apple Pay.")

If it anything goes wrong with the Apple Pay rollout, someone is going to take the hit, and it won't be Ronald McDonald. But Hall-Lefevre isn't losing sleep. "It's really not that much of a rollout. We already have NFC terminals in more than 14,000 locations. We don't have to change anything and there's nothing new to test," she said during an exclusive interview with

That's not entirely true. McDonald's tested Apple Pay at its Point of Sale (PoS) lab in Oak Brook, Ill., and the results earned a green light. "We've done full end-to-end testing that included folks from McDonald's and Apple," Hall-Lefevre says. "We've closed the loop and feel very confident."

Hall-Lefevre is responsible for the development and execution of the company's technology strategy in the United States and is the point person for the Apple Pay deployment. Getting corporate signoff for it was not difficult, she says. It was a coordinated effort that included IT and marketing, along with senior level executives including Atif Rafiq, McDonald's global digital officer; the company's global CIO, Jim Sappington; and CEO Don Thompson.

McDonald's has had NFC-enabled PoS terminals in its stores for more than two years, so the company is no stranger to mobile payment technology. Customers can already use the terminals to pay with Google Wallet, MasterCard's PayPass, Visa payWave and other contactless payment systems. The existing hardware and software will now support Apple Pay.

"Standardization is a big plus for us," Hall-Lefevre says. Not having to support multiple hardware and software platforms means employee training is easier, IT's job is much simpler, and there's less to go wrong when Apple Pay goes live, she says.

"Apple Pay is riding on our existing rails. When the customer decides to use [another] mobile wallet or Apple Pay, it works like any other cashless transaction," Hall-Lefevre says. The terminals sit next to cash registers at the restaurants, and employees hold them out to customers at drive-thru windows. Apple Pay users just link their credit cards to the iOS Passbook app, then hold their phones up to a terminal to pay while touching the fingerprint reader for authentication. A vibration and a beep let customers know when transactions are complete.


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