Loews started the process of adopting employee alert devices two years before it became an industrywide push. One of the company’s top IT officials described the process of finding the right solution.
PARK CITY, Utah—While the AHLA-driven “Five-Star Promise” formalized various large hotel companies’ commitment to providing employees emergency alert devices in late 2018, Loews Hotels had committed to adopting the devices two years prior.
Speaking at Hospitality Technology Next Generation’s 2019 Insight Summit, Barry Phillips, director of operations systems for Loews, said the challenge of living up to that promise was that it simply hadn’t been done before.
“There was no manual, and no other company was really doing it,” he said. “So we had to figure out how.”
Phillips noted his company first was spurred on to adopt the devices by a growing push in collective bargaining agreements and state and municipal regulations to mandate such devices.
The process of coming up with how the program would work was complicated, he said, because it touched so many different departments within the company, from IT to security to legal. Loews simplified that process by breaking it into four distinct steps—procurement, deployment, on-site operations and maintenance—and deciding who the stakeholders were in each stage.
Phillips said in the initial procurement stage, there were many vendors pitching possible solutions, but Loews had a significant amount of legwork to do given they wanted someone with a proven track record, even if they were the first hotel company to employ these devices.
“Some (vendors) didn’t know where they wanted to be in a year or two because they didn’t know where the space was going,” he said.
The ultimate solution to that conundrum was to work with a company that developed alert devices for hospitals and prisons and was interested in entering the hospitality space.
“Our thinking was if it worked in a prison or a hospital, it will work in a hotel,” Phillips said.
That included doing a site visit to a jail to see the technology in action.
Inking a deal was slowed in part of the newness of the technology, and the instance on behalf of Loews’ legal department that the vendor would carry all liability, he said. That meant the solution would have to send the alert off-property, so no one on staff would be individually responsible for answering emergency calls and potentially liable if something bad happened.
“And (the device) can’t notify the home office, because that makes us liable if we don’t respond,” he said.
Loews also insisted that their vendor provide 24-hour support for their alert devices, which they didn’t previously offer.
“We paid for and built their support department for them,” he said.
Phillips said Loews also made sure to secure a five-year contract with the vendor to guarantee long-term support for the devices.
Phillips noted his company will have 16 hotels with live alert systems by the end of 2019, and all 29 Loews properties should have the devices implemented by mid-2020. That means his company is firmly in the deployment stage in the process, and IT officials have been very careful to retain ownership of the training process.
“We Loews-ify all of our training, so we needed to deploy it ourselves in an effective and efficient way,” he said.
Phillips said it was also important to set up the alert device systems on-property to have their own individual architectures and not be dependent on the existing hotel systems. That included developing online training modules and videos and integrating them into new employee orientation processes.
He said the devices have been tested thoroughly on-property, continue to be on regular intervals and have been deployed in real-life situations where they functioned properly.
“We had a couple employees who were injured and used their devices,” he said. “And they worked exactly as they were supposed to, fortunately.”