Toast CTO: ‘My role covers two of my great loves – tech and restaurants’

19 May 2023

Debra Chrapaty. Image: Toast

Debra Chrapaty, chief technology officer at restaurant tech company Toast, discusses her role and the company’s digital transformation strategy.

Debra Chrapaty is the chief technology officer at restaurant technology company Toast, which recently launched a new digital technology platform designed to support restaurants across Ireland. Chrapaty has an extensive 35-year career in tech leadership, having previously worked for companies such as Amazon, Cisco and Microsoft.

‘The challenge, in this ever-evolving industry, is ensuring our teams are up to date on the latest technology and trends within digital transformation’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

My role at Toast covers two of my great loves – tech and restaurants. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in my dad’s restaurant, the Tyson Grille in the US city of Philadelphia, waiting tables, slicing meat and running down to the freezer to bring something out for my dad. The stairs of the restaurant even went right up to the kitchen of our house. My upbringing, married with my 35-year career in tech, gives me unique insight into what it takes to drive the tech strategy at Toast for our customers and brilliant team, some of whom are based in Ireland.

Prior to my arrival, there were two technical areas of the business that partnered to support our product development initiatives. One was the chief technology officer organisation I oversee, including architecture, infrastructure and a technical strategy, which consisted of the fundamentals that all teams would use to build, deploy and engineer products and data. The other side of this was our Product team, which was divided into smaller subsets of Toast’s verticals (eg commerce, fintech, team management products). I have now forged these groups together with the plan to build these wonderful, scalable horizontal services that enable our vertical product lines of business to build faster with higher quality.

My role supports a larger plan aligned to the recent rollout of working groups that combines multiple roles from engineering, product and design. Each working group is uniquely focused on a specific product and experience in order to eliminate friction, enhance internal collaboration and increase transparency in all that we build for our customers.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape and how are you addressing them?

For the team at Toast, we focus on the challenges that our customers are facing, and how we can help to solve them. The issues facing the hospitality industry in Ireland are well documented – rising energy costs, higher produce costs and a decline in the number of staff across the industry.

Our goal is to help to address some of these issues through a combination of technology and restaurant expertise.

Our hardware and software, which is rolling out in Ireland more widely this month, is built by world-class technologists with a laser focus on restaurants. Our sole aim is to help our restaurant partners to increase their efficiency, meaning faster sales, happier staff, streamlined finances, faster service and delighted customers.

With regards to the IT industry, I think equity is still a huge challenge. I believe that we need to keep encouraging women to embrace STEM careers in school, colleges and universities. I’m answering this question not long after International Women’s Day, a fantastic celebration of women around the world. The IT industry has made great strides over the last number of years, but we still have work to do to ensure equity is front of mind for tech leaders.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry?

The challenge, in this ever-evolving industry, is ensuring our teams are up to date on the latest technology and trends within digital transformation. For me, growing your team in the right way, while making sure they’re getting opportunities to train and develop, is key.

When I think about growing our own tech teams, I think it’s a balance of promoting from within, recruiting externally and making sure we’re raising the bar on what great looks like because we’re definitely in rare air and we really need to be looking around corners. Our opportunities are only going to grow and we have to be ready for those technically, from a regulatory lens, reliability, predictability and scale.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

One of the reasons I joined Toast is because of the company’s dedication not only to sustainability, but environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) as a whole. And I am part of Toast’s ESG executive leadership team. Caring for the environment, being a good neighbour in our communities and a drive towards greater equity are some of the things that fuel me personally and our company professionally.

Last year, Toast released its first ESG Overview, which featured a raft of initiatives I am proud to support. Among those goals, and something I particularly loved, was a commitment to the environment.

We want to become a steward for the environment by conducting our first greenhouse gas inventory as we start to build a path to net zero carbon emissions, and that’s something that really excites me. We’re also aiming to have a positive impact on our local communities.

Our work through, including our recent inaugural round of Social Impact grants —which included a grant to Ireland’s FoodCloud—is also meaningful to me.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Right now, I would have to say the power of data and generative artificial intelligence (AI) is front and centre. In terms of industry trends, it’s not that AI (deep learning algorithms, machine learning) are new. At Toast, data insights are already an important part of the value proposition we offer our customers and we are focused on surfacing industry trends as well as guest and supplier insights. And we have well-trained AI models around fraud detection and other parts of our business.

But I think generative AI has unleashed new ways to harness the power of AI. For example, Chat GPT (the GPT stands for generative pretrained transformer) is getting a lot of attention because it’s a chatbot that can generate an answer to almost any question. Things like ChatGPT offer many interesting use cases and we are exploring them in areas like customer support. And we are also very sensitive to the legal and ethical issues around AI that have been long standing to ensure the highest integrity as we continue to explore use cases that will benefit our customers.

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