World Panel
Viewpoint19 December 2019

Does IT provide a strategic advantage?

2020 C-SUITE World Panel

— 13 C-Suite executives shared their view

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This viewpoint was created by
Lyle Worthington, Technology Executive and Consultant & Past President of HFTP Global
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Federico J. González
President & CEO, Radisson Hospitality AB

IT is one of the most critical departments of our company as information technology is where the business, innovation and technology come together to create a competitive advantage. Our entire business is customer-centric. And our IT structure and architecture are there to bring meaningful value to all our customers, be it either families who are on holiday and want to enjoy the experience of staying in a hotel, business travelers, the owners of our hotels, travel agencies or even our employees. see more

In order to make sure every moment matters for all the involved stakeholders, it is important to have a very close connection with them. And part of that connection lies in data management. So our service, the experience we can offer our customers and our competitive advantage lies in the information we have about them: what are their needs and expectations, how can we fulfill and exceed them? This helps our employees at the hotels to delight our customers before, during and after their stay.

As this is such a critical part of our entire organization, we are constantly on the look-out for new technologies. And the IT organization balances a deep knowledge on the technology and the business background to deliver game changing technologies that the RHG organization can leverage and exploit to release the value out of it. All of this is possible thanks to the great team we have in place. All of our employees have a “Yes I can” attitude and that's a crucial factor. Without that attitude it would be impossible for IT to work its magic and contribute to unforgettable experiences.

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Michael Levie
COO and Founding Partner at citizenM

Tech today enables our personal and professional lives… it allows us to be efficient, timely, data factual and more. Tech development has reached significant speed and specialization is needed to be guided or make the right calls. see more

In the hospitality, space tech has grown from being a side responsibility of our financial controller or CFO to a full-fledged independent C-level / CIO position.

The need to be guided to make the right calls deal with trusting and empowering the CIO in our organizations by all C-level members, including the CEO.

Tech goes cross-departmental and divisional and often serves various or all areas of the organization.

The hospitality industry for decades has been vendor-led, this not as a negative, but rather an observation. As an industry, we have not been able to articulate our specific needs or understand the true (inter)dependencies of our systems.

As a result, the PMS still is the central system of record, being a room centric. The rest of the World and therefore all other systems are guest-centric…

Connectivity and data flow stand not at the base of PMS functionality and there are simply too many systems being connected through to prevent a true spaghetti of wiring. API's a novelty, interfaces still the norm… Networks new and expensive, not seen as a means to a solution.

If you would start completely anew, the desired architecture has to provide the base, everything else builds from there. 

Taking our legacy troubles, possibly the best is to start with a complete shadow architectural structure and shift system by system till all have transferred.

Taking our thinking from room centric and restrictions to data analyses and possibilities launches us to be competitive and our CIO's as be key to our organizations.

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Sem Schuurkes
Founder and Partner of CityHub

At the moment, IT in hospitality is still in its early stages of development. Tech products are increasingly considered to be at the basis of a guest-oriented and modern hotel experience. Due to the high demand of specific tech products for the hospitality industry, a growing number of tech service providers are offering ways to directly increase revenue or create a more seamless experience. Many hotels are slowly starting to implement these systems, which has begun to bear fruit. see more

In the short term, though, as other hotels will follow, the competitive advantage created will fade away. Also, a limitation to these service providers is that their services are mostly the same package deal for all hotels. It proves hard to implement solutions in such a way that the guest journey is fully enhanced and that there is a 100% match with your product. Even just for the necessity of implementing new solutions continuously, to maintain them and keep them up to date, the IT department has become a core asset of a modern hotel chain.

The IT department at CityHub is at the core of our concept development. Future development aims towards making sure that the operations of hotels is fully automated and allows us to run and control the hotels centrally. Our second aim is to enhance the travel experience in several different ways. As it represents one of the core aspects of our brand, I personally take part in the IT development team.

We continuously innovate other departments such as operations, marketing and finance with the help of our IT team. In fact, our IT systems allow us to receive both qualitative and quantitative feedback from the departments, which allows us to update the systems that enable further automation. This way, the departments can be leaner and can focus on quality control and improvementgun to bear fruit. 

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Anil Goel
Group Chief Technology and Product Officer, OYO Hotels & Homes

The Hospitality Industry is betting big on technology right from enhancing the customer experience to efficient operations, cost-effective budgets, improved services and more. The role of Information Technology in enabling the identification of breakthroughs and setting of benchmarks in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry over the last decade is tremendous. see more

At OYO Hotels & Homes, technology is deeply embedded in our DNA. It is core to OYO's growth and is a competitive advantage for us in the global hospitality industry. We are the first hospitality company in the world to invest in innovative and advanced technology to offer excellent customer experience and drive a sustainable business for asset owners. Technology enables us in taking ownership of the end-to-end customer experience, right from the search and booking process to in-room amenities, service-delivery and check-out. We map the customer journey to the smallest detail and provide moments of delight at each step.

It is enabling us to create quality accommodation for over 3.2 billion middle-income people in the world. We have an in-house stack of proprietary technology powering 20+ applications for all our stakeholders, including customers, asset owners and employees. Backed by 400+ microservices and 2,100+ engineers and data scientists drive its proprietary technology spread across multiple locations, we are able to deliver a consistent and standardized experience to travellers.

It will be exciting to see how upcoming advancements will enable more personalized and delightful experience for the consumer.

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Heather McCrory
CEO of North & Central America at Accor

Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic. - Arthur C. Clarke (Author) - This is a great descriptor of the guest experience when technology is seamless pre, during and post the stay experience. Seamless IT capabilities have become the expectation of our industry, and this applies to both our guests and our colleagues. It could be as simple as the demand for wifi in the guest room, or a real time weekly work schedule for colleagues on their device, and it definitely applies to much more complex IT projects like global guest personalization. see more

We unlock our smartphones an average of 150X a day. Our customers want access to information immediately and in an efficient way. One way Accor is responding to this need is with the launch of our global, brand-integrated loyalty program, ALL - Accor Live Limitless. A platform of this breadth and depth requires IT systems that can process massive amounts of data to allow us to deliver exceptional personalized customer experiences thru to the accounting management of a global loyalty program. So there are two sides to this coin – IT is integral to our guest facing operations to improve the guest experience with insights to allow us to offer meaningful personalization. And internally, effective IT increases operational productivity and functionality- whether in accounting, talent and labor management, finance, or sales.

Leveraging technology is key to personalized service but this has to be delivered authentically which takes significant diligence. Hospitality is about genuinely welcoming people and providing a safe harbor. Technology helps, but cannot replace, the face to face human interaction that welcomes and serves our customers time and time and again. A majority of our technology strategy and architecture resides in our Global corporate office, while our field senior IT leaders are responsible for regional execution. In North & Central America, our senior IT person is a key member of our senior leadership team, reporting to the CEO. Technology, operations, finance, sales and marketing all carry equal weight within the Accor structure because we are interdependent and technology is the back bone of the organization creating the links for all of our stakeholders – guests, colleagues and owners.  

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Bill Walshe
CEO at Viceroy Hotel Group

Technology plays a big role in the hospitality management industry for guests, management teams and staff. Technology helps process and speed up operations, which has a direct effect on guest satisfaction. Hotel Brands need to be aware of new technological capabilities and keep up with ever-evolving customer needs. Otherwise, they will find themselves quickly outpaced by the competition. see more

The advantages of technology for the hotel industry are not just limited to the guest experience. Technology can also enhance operational efficiencies. In addition, it will improve customer service by facilitating smooth staff engagement and communication as well as improve response time for any guest requests which we have seen by introducing Voice technology and interfacing with our guest tracking software.

With today's travelers embracing a “digital-first” approach, hotels can gain a competitive advantage by implementing the right trendy technologies to exceed guest expectations. Today, the average guest staying at a hotel carries at least three mobile devices. They are used to getting information fast, reaching anything with just a click, text, or voice.

All these factors point to mobile technology as one of the most essential technological areas for hotel businesses to improve their services

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Kevork Deldelian
Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Hotels & Resorts, Middle East and Africa

The hospitality industry has been slower than many to embrace technology, but it is quickly catching up, based on the realisation that in today's digital world, IT solutions should be entrenched in every aspect of our business. In this respect, IT can no longer exist as an isolated department - savvy hospitality companies should be taking a holistic approach, with IT built into the structure of every department and seamlessly connecting each. see more

While IT experts are best equipped to take the lead, every employee should understand technology's role and what it can deliver in terms of improving efficiencies. As CEO of Millennium Hotels & Resorts MEA, I am involved in instilling a culture that is IT-led with a view to improving our commercial and service performance. We do not adopt technology for the sake of it, but to support our colleagues in delivering a flawless experience to our guests. Hospitality is a people business so technology should not replace the human touch.

We view IT as a means to enhance our service across multiple touchpoints and at the same time, play a crucial role in our commercial strategy, from distribution and revenue management to identifying guest requirements and rewarding loyalty. Our ultimate goal is to integrate IT into all that we do, but in a discreet fashion, benefitting our business partners, customers and our talent.

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Ramón Aragonés
Chief Executive Officer at NH Hotel Group

Nowadays IT is highly strategic for all industries, including hospitality – where the role of technology has grown significantly in the past decade. During the past few years, NH Hotel Group has made a relevant investment in technology, avoiding the archetypal IT approach that combines multiple systems and integrations that imply high maintenance costs, lack of flexibility, low quality of information, and inverse economies of scale. see more

Through a global transformation plan, involving a multidisciplinary team from all the areas of the company, we have implemented a “digital core platform”, a unique integrated system across all our properties and functions, which has increased our operational excellence while adding efficiency and supporting growth. Among its benefits, the Company has been able to boost revenues and reduce IT and operational costs, digitalizing processes and providing real-time information to improve decision making and time to market, for example, in the revenue management arena among others. And of course, improving customer experience throughout all their journey with us is at the heart of our IT strategy, with projects like FASTPASS that combines new customer expectations, efficiency, and innovation. I am closely involved in the sponsorship, definition and weekly follow up of our Digital Evolution Roadmap to transform NH Hotel Group in the best in class.

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Thomas Willms
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deutsche Hospitality

The days when IT was a supporting actor are long gone. Technology is a decisive strategic factor at so many levels that it goes without saying that the IT department is a key player in our company. Digital touchpoints influence the way guests and potential guests experience our brands, smart solutions enable operations to be cost-effective and energy-efficient. Technology is our daily business and it keeps changing at a fast pace with new opportunities and applications offering new potentials and experiences. More than 50 percent of our bookings are made online and our guests expect the same digital convenience at every touchpoint. see more

Therefore, the heads of our digital departments are hand-picked technology and market experts and many of our strategic decisions are dependent on technologic capabilities. It is my responsibility to oversee all customer-facing digital investments as they become a part of our product. For this reason, I keep myself personally involved in new digital product releases. I make sure that technology and business stay aligned and collaborate on shaping the strategy. Regarding UX we regularly seek feedback from guests and clients as well as our associates, most of whom are very tech-savvy.

We have created a technology board with top strategists and digital experts and laid out a three-years digital initiatives plan, which we adapt whenever necessary to stay ahead of the competition. Our aim is always to set new standards and best practices in the hospitality industry. 

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Martin R. Smura
Chief Executive Officer of the Kempinski Group

The evolving technology landscape provides tremendous opportunities for companies to differentiate from its competitors, but achieving this requires a holistic approach, positioning the Information Technology department as a strategic discipline.  see more

It should no longer be seen as a department just providing support or simply a cost center, but as a discipline that drives the alignment and architecture of business processes across all departments, including commercial, operational, financial and human resource management in order to achieve the company's vision.

Furthermore, it is my belief that the IT discipline, especially in the hospitality industry, now needs to have a strong business acumen that anticipates changing guest behavior with an agile, omnichannel approach across multiple digital touchpoints from acquisition through to retention, adapted to regional requirements and market demand.

Technology investments need to be managed strategically, with a crafted balance between vendor selection and proprietary development and innovation, to ensure core data assets and know-how can be optimised and utilised as differentiators to grow the brand and company value. Data is rapidly becoming the new currency that determines the ability of a company to execute its business and guest intelligence strategies. 

It is for these reasons that I am actively engaged in our company's technology strategy, and have our Chief Information Officer reporting directly into myself as the Chairman of the Management Board and Chief Executive Officer.

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Jay Stein
Chief Executive Officer at Dream Hotel Group

Consumers today are more connected than ever, and that doesn't change when they travel. As such, information technology (IT) has certainly moved up to the forefront in our organization over the last few years. It touches almost every discipline, and elements of technology are part of every new initiative. Just the changes in PCI compliance and GDPR alone need their own legal and IT teams! Though technology is not one of my strong suits, I have forced myself to get involved and understand the issues affecting IT, especially when it affects other departments like Operations, Revenue Management, Marketing and Legal. I only see this involvement growing over the foreseeable future as information and technology continue to shape our world.

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Marloes Knippenberg
CEO of Kerten Hospitality

“Technological advancement is at the heart of the personalized journey guests and travelers demand today and is at the core of all hospitality verticals who live by Big Data. For Kerten Hospitality, adopting the next generation technology is the secret to our disruptive vision and goes beyond Big Data to bring the “soft touch” and human element back into the hospitality space by focusing on the use of data and not on the data collection.  see more

 

It's not just about hospitality tech but rather the consumer tech we need to be looking at. The technological zeitgeist allows us to take the best learnings and innovations from other sectors – such as online wallets payments, voice-enabled offerings and utilizing robots to do what they do best. Applying these in a hospitality setting with a human touch enables us to craft authentic experiences that sit equally well with Generation Z-ers, digital nomads, “promadic travelers” and bleisure tourists.

 

Our technological projects are not about collecting data for data's sake. Likewise, introducing the latest tech onto your property, co-working space or mix-use project does not necessarily mean that you are abreast of innovation. What matters is using technology to deliver authentic experiences and create a community of like-minded travelers. No robot, Big Data or Augmented Reality features will deliver this – it is about how people utilize the tools we have to create the unique and personalized journeys that resonate with communities and interest-specific target groups. This is the way ahead for technology in hospitality! “

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Ash Kapur
CEO, InTown Suites and Uptown Suites

Absolutely yes. Keep in mind, tech architecture needs to be thought through in advance and needs to be woven into the customer journey and all things in the backend that allow for seamless delivery of operations. A disjointed tech architecture will fail and increase costs. see more

At InTown Suites, we have been extremely strategic in our connected tech initiatives that has allowed us to improve revenues and implement processes to improve product quality and guest service.  

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