A Glorious Buffet

By Reid A. Paul, Editor-in-Chief | April 01, 2005

Having a coherent technology strategy requires more than just planning and a deep knowledge of the systems--it also requires communication skills. A true CIO or CTO, after all, is more than a technologist. An IT leader must be able to communicate how systems should work together and be able to convince a CEO, franchisees, management companies, investors and others that the strategy is coherent and will work. That's where an apt metaphor can really come in handy.

How important is an apt metaphor? In 1908 a little-known playwright, Israel Zangwill, had a hit on Broadway with a play called the "Melting Pot." While the play is one of the few not to see a revival recently on Broadway (just wait), the play does live on as one of the most enduring metaphors in American history. Zangwill hit upon a strong and descriptive phrase that was less useful for its ability to describe what was going on than its ability to offer an idealized version of events.

In this issue's cover story, "Rules of the Road," Barry Shuler, Marriott's senior vice president and chief technology officer explains how important his consulting skills are for selling technology to his company, partners and management companies. According to Shuler, Marriott's IT systems are currently designed to fit together like Legos or Tinker Toys. Many people can say they want to develop technology "building blocks," but the CIO that walks into a room with a set of Legos and a vision for interchangeable technology components is likely to win the day.

Of course, not every hotel or restaurant company is going to be able to boil down its systems to children's toys. In our ongoing effort to be helpful, Hospitality Technology would like to offer a few other metaphors for your use:

  • Buffet. With the multitude of technology solutions available to hospitality companies, the buffet is a natural. While many companies might say they like "best-of-breed" solutions, the buffet concept is much meatier.
  • "The Glorious Mosaic." We can thank David Dinkins, New York's former mayor, for this alternative to the buffet that will play better at fine-dining restaurant and luxury hotel companies. Each system shines in its own way, but all of them should work together to make a coherent picture. Of course Dinkins had a hard time selling this metaphor during his re-election campaign•
  • Melting Pot. Why waste a good metaphor? When trying to convince your company and your technology vendors that you need better systems integration, try rolling this out: All systems should work as though they came out of the same pot and were poured from the same mold, regardless of where they came from.

The specific metaphor you select matters less than your ability to communicate it and bring your constituents along. For too long IT directors have been left out of the boardroom. But as you get more time in front of your CEO, owners and partners, think a little bit not just about what you want to say, but how you are going to say it. The right phrase will take you a long way.

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