The mainland China licensee of Yum! Brands, Yum China Holdings, has opened its Digital research and development (R&D) Center to boost digital capabilities.

The Digital R&D Center opened with three sites at Shanghai, Nanjing and Xi’an.

The opening of the facility is aligned with Yum China’s larger strategy to develop a digital ecosystem that will also include joint venturing and third party collaborations to support further development of its brand, fuel expansion and enable it to tap new market opportunities.

Yum China CEO Joey Wat said: “Digitalisation is one of the key enablers behind Yum China’s resiliency and long-term development as we move toward our next milestone of 20,000 stores.

“The Digital R&D Center is an important part of our investment strategy as we apply cutting-edge technologies to digitally transform stores and drive operational excellence.”

The new R&D centre will leverage advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, middle office and digital SaaS to develop new solutions and services.

It will also help Yum China strengthen its in-house digital capabilities. These will include improving super apps as well as mini and membership programmes to offer better experiences to customers.

The Digital R&D Center will also help to enhance operational efficiency in stores by upgrading systems and tools.

Furthermore, it will have a focus for optimising delivery order queuing, trade zones and rider routing, as well as working to enhance food safety and streamline supply chain operations.

Yum China chief technology officer Leila Zhang said: “Evolving consumer behaviour, such as increased off-premise dining, and the company’s accelerated development, place more demand on our R&D capabilities.

“We believe the establishment of the Digital R&D Center will significantly strengthen Yum China’s internal digital capabilities and support sustainable business growth by using advanced technology for real life applications.”

Notably, Yum China has earmarked $1bn to $1.5bn of investment over the next five years for digital and technology. It will invest around $100m to $200m and employ up to 500 staff in the Digital R&D Center.