Influencing Value-Added IT

By Luke Mellors Guest Contributor | January 08, 2005

This is the first of a series of articles describing how hotel information technology (IT) departments can change the way in which their departments are perceived, the value they give to their organization and the processes that should be adopted to further provide service to the business. This will be followed by articles on application of additional resources, centralizing the IT function (defining what IT should manage), the benefit of process standards such as enforceable service level agreements (SLAs) and contracts, and the development of business cases leading to IT implementation.

Is IT a necessary evil?
Lodging companies often view the IT department as a necessary evil, or as a cost center that serves the single purpose of fixing broken technology systems. Because of this attitude, it is understandable that hotels and hotel managers see the IT department as a burden.

In addition to this approach, there are other elements that fuel the necessary evil perception and minimize the effectiveness that IT can have on adding value to the business. These elements include hiring inappropriate staff either through lack of experience and knowledge or through hiring technical individuals without service or hotel experience as well as ineffective compensation that is well below norms of the IT industry as a whole.
Couple this with a general lack of respect for what IT can bring to the business and you have what is apparent in most hotels: a department without the skills to add value. Obviously, such an IT department can't contribute to the success of the hotel through effective systems management.
Hotel companies see devoting more resources to information technology as an unacceptable cost and draw comparisons to other properties that do not have the luxury of appropriate resources. This is their benchmark. The frustrating lack of vision means that because the industry has been managing technology ineffectively for many years, that it is okay to continue to do so for the future.

It is this attitude that needs to be progressively changed. IT can grow to become a mainstay of hotel success. IT can allow businesses to assess and realize value in the way (processes) they do things and the tools (systems) that they utilize. What many people don't realize is that the relative cost of failureÃ.‚¬"or even the cost of not establishing the parameters of a successful IT projectÃ.‚¬"can be three times the labor costs to have the right people in the right positions managing IT.

Finding the keys to successful IT
The key to successful systems implementation is managing expectations. There are two questions that should be asked before discussing cost or even selecting a vendor for a system or solution:

- What is it that we want to achieve?
- How can we ensure and measure that the solution was a success?

Traditionally, these elements have not been considered in the IT remit yet the perception of the systems success reflects directly on the performance or perceived performance of IT departments. Do IT departments respond to requests or actively participate in the process of system design or development? Unless IT can do so at a high level there will always be a gap in understanding, control and effectiveness of managing or leading IT development within the business.

Taking an active role
The fundamental change that needs to occur is the active role of leading IT deployment and design as opposed to simply managing IT support. The biggest impact any hotel IT department can have is in ensuring that systems meet the requirements of the business and add value to the business through effective implementation. Without this they will always be seen as a reactive, non-essential element of the business.
Outsourcing can easily achieve what many IT departments are asked to do currently and yet outsourcing will never add value to the business through effective system design.

The development of business cases, specifications, and key success factors should be managed by IT because they are both a stakeholder and an objective participant. Operational managers may not want to believe that current processes may be impacting the success of an operation. It requires an objective perspective to ask essential questions on how a system as a tool will work with existing practices and to encourage the business managers to review the way in which they perform their processes. Bad practice must be isolated and addressed if new systems are to have a value oriented and effective impact on the business.

Adding value to the company
In short by focusing energy on the processes and development of forward thinking, effective IT managers can begin to add greater value to their operations. Support is an instrument that can be managed through many different means yet system design and deployment has to be managed with the business in mind and sets the landscape of how the system will be maintained over time.

This means that managers of IT need to shift their focus away from support to development, from fixers to planners, from followers to initiators and from reactive to proactive management of their departments. Through this, IT managers can provide a real value to their business and be acknowledged for it. This will help in being given access to the right tools and resources to further this goal.

It is much easier to support a system that has been designed and implemented with the hotel in mind and managed effectively by IT than to manage a legacy system that exists simply to have its users constantly complain about the way it works.

Luke Mellors is the head of IT at The Dorchester Hotel, London.

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