With IT playing such a critical role in distribution and sales and marketing, there is the real danger of compliancy and processes becoming usurped by well-meaning but “rogue” elements and the desire to move faster toward profit than common sense might suggest.
LONDON—Technological advances and benefits for the bottom line need to be placed in front of every hotel employee if the industry is to keep up to date with the speed of change, according to sources.
Care, though, needs to be taken that increased expertise is not used in any rogue fashion, however well intentioned, sources added.
While moderating the “How technology needs to catch up with business transformation needs” panel at the recent Hotel Distribution Event, Jeremy Ward, cloud strategist at business consultancy Cloudreach, a division of U.S. private-equity firm Blackstone Group, said industrial performance in general has been degraded by technological legacy, under-investment, commercial arrangements and outdated capability.
“There is the infinite resources of the public cloud and massive demand from business, but the ability of IT to keep up is just not there,” he said.
“Now we want to be in a space that is being called ‘business freedom,’” he added, referring to the ease of putting into place initiatives and strategies in individual firms.
Mark Campbell, chief information officer, Dorchester Collection, said he feels trepidation concerning this.
“Just seeing that part of business freedom scares me, as I do not want to lose control. Data and security being that agile is a hard thing to accept. That is a hard challenge when it is you that is responsible for those things,” Campbell said, adding that he realized that if a hotel firm wants to do interesting things, it requires hiring a lot of enablers.
Bryan Hammer, VP of information technology, Belmond, said he is nervous of what he calls “shadow IT.”
“As distribution increased, IT had to be involved, but shadow IT is now becoming more prevalent and dangerous. Sign up with a vendor, and bypass IT, and if it is within their budget, go for it. Of course (the principal IT division) could be blamed for errors, especially in this era of compliance,” he said.
“It might be slower to go through (the principal IT division), but it is safer,” Hammer added.
Panelists said the usual hotel sales strategy is comprised of various parcels:
- organization and governance;
- people and skills;
- capabilities, services and processes;
- performance management;
- technology; and
- a delivery ecosystem.
Where IT sits in that structure and what it reports can have real ramifications as to how effective it can be and how compliant, panelists said.
“Technology is usually hierarchy or network, which is what most startups are,” Hammer said.
“It is about budget and compliance,” he said. “I report to finance, so I have to ingratiate into finance as I know they are the ones who can make things happen, and we can have a different point of view from those responsible for the (customer-relationship management system), who understand the need to make things simple and clean.”
IT can be an inhibitor, too, as other departments are not so ready to test and learn, the Dorchester Collection’s Campbell said.
Hammer said there is pressure on IT to innovate in ways that are perhaps at odds with other requirements.
“The hotel business has come to IT and said, ‘How can we be more like Amazon?’” Hammer said. “Agility must be a management mind set, not an impulse.”
The answer, panelists said, was not to adopt kneejerk reactions but to “reskill employees to merge business and tech thinking,” in Campbell’s words.
“It’s the space in the middle in which we want to play, not the specialized stuff like data for which specialized companies have spent a lot of money on, or the simple back-of-house items. It is the middle space that will lead to better guest experiences,” Hammer said.
Hammer said his focus in on producing apps that support business processes.
Ward said “headless architecture along with new data and integration technology mean that leveraging data directly is now possible. … Its exploitation can be kept ‘loosely coupled’ allowing differentiating data insight along with much more adaptable channels of delivery and customer experience.”
According to a blog entry by tech consultancy IT Consultis, “headless architecture facilitates content workflows and collaboration between content creators as it stores content in the pure format, which can be published to different channels.”
“Give us an 18-month program where data is put in front of every customer-facing employee, and you will have a much more anticipatory environment,” Campbell said.
Campbell and Hammer said that still relatively new technology such as the Internet of Things, cloud-based processes and edge computing, where data processed where it is generated, not where it is centrally stored, should not be seen just as IT astuteness but as strategy leading right down into guests’ pockets.
“Although perhaps the most important thing about (Belmond’s) integration is how to get discounted prices on handbags,” Hammer said, jokingly referring to the hotel firm last December being bought for $2.6 billion by French luxury goods firm LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE.