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Keeping Pace with Innovation is Challenging and Carries a Cost
Ames B. Flynn, SVP & CIO, Extended Stay America Hotels
The Cloud certainly brings economies of scale, the flexibility to change as business requirements dictate and allows hospitality IT organizations to focus more on business applications and empowering the business vs. managing infrastructure. Extended Stay America has been an early adopter of Cloud in many ways. We have very little software developed in-house. Instead, we have primarily relied on third party software providers and hosted applications in the Cloud. Our IT organization is as Gartner terms “a broker of services”. Today, major systems such as central reservations, revenue management, financial systems, Microsoft Outlook and Sharepoint, sales leads, property audit, human resources/payroll and purchasing applications all operate in the cloud and are supported by third party vendor partners. While having so much in the cloud can have integration management and information security complexities, it does allow Extended Stay America to get new functionality implemented faster and financially match cash expenditures closer to realizing value.
A major technology challenge facing the travel and hospitality industry is replacing older technologies with updated versions, especially the big platforms such as property management, central reservations, web/mobile platforms, and repair, maintenance, work order, and asset systems. All these require a lot of time and resources for evaluation, planning and coordination across the organization. Secondly, customer expectations are growing rapidly for technology provided on-line and via mobile interfaces at our properties. Keeping pace with innovation is challenging and carries a cost, especially with the speed of change. No longer is basic in-room WiFi enough, but now mobile check in, room locks and TV/entertainment remote control are becoming more in demand.
We have primarily relied on third party software providers and hosted applications in the Cloud
With the OTA’s continuing to invest heavily in on-line and mobile experiences, it raises the bar for customer expectations of owner/operator Websites and mobile. Also, as more booking business is shifting to on-line vs. at property and call center, it becomes more critical to improve web and mobile partner skills and capabilities, leverage agile development and improve business processes, as well as strengthen on-line availability and failover. Finally, there is so much competition and demand for technology talent. In particular, the travel and hospitality industry appears fragmented due to frequent reorganization. As a result, the segment has to work at demonstrating stability and attractiveness to the best technology engineers, analysts and leaders.
Wish List for 2015
Lowering costs, especially on next generation cloud-based property management and central reservations systems. “The outlook for Extended Stay America in 2015 is bright and I’m hoping the Information Technology team can deliver on the many initiatives that support our company strategy,” said Ames B. Flynn, SVP & CIO of Extended Stay America Hotels.
Advice for Fellow CIOs
• Continually ask your Board and CEO about goals and expectations
• Build a strong service culture; set the example
• Focus a large percent of time getting out of the IT department and being with your business leaders to understand their objectives and challenges.
• Become more knowledgeable of your industry.
• Spend time with the front lines that directly service customers; learn their challenges and the business.
• Always be learning and growing; promote this culture in the IT Department
• Over communicate internally and externally. Become a master at marketing ideas and influencing people.
• Recognize and grow talent. Always be recruiting, including for future needs; continually upgrade talent and try hard to develop from within.
• Build a strong and broad network of colleagues, consultants and vendors. Always be networking.
• Get smaller deliverables to market faster. The days of the big, long drawn out waterfall projects are behind us.
• Can’t afford big surprises and misses. Quick failures are good.
• Plan, plan and get commitment from your peers to plan. Good IT is always out ahead of the business and needs to be highly organized to be efficient with these big investments.
• Challenge your vendor partners to help, including bringing suggestions, making improvements and generating legitimate cost savings.
• Always have something in the works that is innovative to inspire both IT and business partners.