Landmark Convergence

By Bradley Schmidt | November 01, 2007

The addition of The Cove Atlantis resort to parent company Kerzner International's portfolio of properties on Paradise Island, Bahamas in March 2007 made number six, and construction has since been completed on The Reef Atlantis, Kerzner International's first condo hotel property. The company also operates water parks, and a Marina and Marina Village on the island. The "Lost City's" footprint looms large and further still are closelyguarded plans for expansion in the future. Kerzner's executive leadership, however, is well aware of the fact that they can't continue to expand forever. Paradise Island -- being, well, an island -- presents Kerzner with the reality that they must plan for life after real estate limitations end the possibility of physical growth. In one effort to increase the bottom line without new construction, Kerzner is embracing Internet Protocol (IP)-based converged network technology, a system that Kerzner leadership sees as the future of hotel operations technology.

FUTURE THINKING
When development plans for The Cove were laid, the Kerzner team had approximately three years from the construction start date until opening, a significant chunk of time from a technological standpoint. This caused the team to think long-term.

"A lot of the design work and thinking was done as a result of team members asking, -If we're going to land this system three years from now, what technology do we believe the world will be conforming to?'" recalls Bernard Gay, chief information officer of Kerzner International Bahamas. Being that the 600 suites in The Cove's 22- story tower would eventually comprise the hospitality industry's largest single IP converged technology network installation, it is apparent that this was a weighty decision, one on which Kerzner was staking much of its future.

Through considerable discussion and research, IP-based systems continued to demonstrate the most potential for instant cost-reduction as well as efficient, cost effective system integration down the road. By converging voice, data and video systems onto a single, managed network, Kerzner was able to operate at a lower cost-of-ownership while reducing maintenance expenses, network administration and carrier charges, and non- or inefficientlyintegrated systems of equipment.

Kerzner was able to eliminate proprietary cabling systems for all in-room services including phones, Internet, Video on Demand (VoD) and the bar and time-locking systems. "Having all of these systems on one converged wire, from a cabling, maintenance and management perspective, reduces costs immensely," says Gay.

Because it is the hospitality industry's largest converged network, it is likely that others in the industry will be looking to Kerzner's example for guidance. Gay credits The Cove's successes to the vision it shares with its vendor partners. "Once we decided upon the platform, we asked ourselves who the players were that were driving these strategies," Gay recalls. The complete converged solution, and its myriad applications, is the result of contributions from numerous vendors.

THE CONVERGED SOLUTION
Each suite in the hotel contains an inroom switch, monitored by the IT department, through which all in-room systems -- the television, door locks, temperature controls, phone system, mini bar and more -- are prioritized and connected to the IP network. This allows for centralization that fosters immediate alerts to problems and quick remediation for minimal downtime and top notch guest service.

TECHTOOLBOX
  • POS hardware/software: MICROS Systems
  • Property management system: Lodging Management System (LMS) from Agilysys
  • Digital signage: Keywest Technology
  • Locking: TimeLox
  • In-room energy management system: INNCOM
  • In-room interactive TV: NxTV
  • Phones (analog and IP): Nortel
  • Infrastructure: Cisco Systems
  •  

    In a typical scenario, a guest will interface with the converged network at nearly every touch point in the room. Access to the room is granted by the front desk through a TimeLox (www.timelox.com) system while climate control is routed through the INNCOM (www.inncom.com) energy management system. The Bartech (www.my-bartech.com) minibar is connected to the network, allowing for real-time folio adjustments for consumed items.

    Phone calls are placed on a networked Nortel handset ( www.nortel.com) while an extensive selection of hi-def content is pumped from VoD provider NxTV ( www.nxtv.com) into LG plasma screens (www.lge.com). The televisions are further equipped with the LG Jack Pack multi-media interface. This all-in-one hub for multiple audio/video inputs allows guests to interface with the television and external portable devices such as DVD/CD players, laptop PCs, video game players, MP3 players and camcorders. A USB connection is also available for future applications. The LG units are further networked to a Bose 3-2-1 entertainment system (www.bose.com).

    The only in-room service not on the IP network is the cable television service, which still runs on a coaxial cablebased network. Gay indicates that the switchover to an IP-based television network has yet to occur because of a need to maintain a positive guest experience. "Switching away fully from this hybrid system is tempered by the fact that as we go through this, we don't want to spoil the guest experience."

    MERGING OF THE GUARD
    Although the IT department controls nearly all in-room systems via the converged network, the same can not be said of all of the property's systems. Progress to this end is being made, however, and as a result Gay indicates that he has witnessed the development of convergence in another form -- the slow merging of IT and engineering.

    "Prior to putting these high-end technologies in the room -- Internet, phone, television -- nothing was integrated, so an engineer was called to support these systems," Gay recalls. "However, with this evolution, everything is piped in through a switch running over IP. Now you're out of the engineering space."

    Such a shift can create tension, Gay notes, as IT slowly encroaches upon areas traditionally occupied by engineering. "In the spaces where we have to join hands, we're finding that it can be a little tenuous," Gay notes.

    For example, the digital signs, powered by Keywest Technology (www.keywesttechnology.com), that are used for way-finding and information services at The Cove have replaced static signs that were traditionally set up and arranged by a facilities manager. Now IT handles the content that is displayed. The Cove is also being retrofitted with a time-locking system from VingCard (www.vingcard.com). In the past, IT would have little to do with locking systems, but because the new installation is IP-based, IT is leading the charge while engineers will play a role in helping to reprogram the locks.

    Despite any staff reservations, Gay believes that the merging of worlds, while tricky, can (and should) be a positive experience. "It's actually a good place to be in terms of having conversations. We either train new engineers to be able to support the new systems or we cooperatively work together in light of driving a good experience around those products."

    FUTURE POTENTIAL
    In the end, that is what is ideally sought -- a good experience. A good experience for the employee means that they will buy into the new system and in turn work smartly and efficiently, ensuring the effectiveness of the system. And when a system works effectively, guests are satisfied.

    But that, according to Gay, is not nearly enough. He believes that a hotel's work doesn't stop because the network has been fully implemented, and all systems are plugged in and integrated. When a hotel gets to that point, he says, they've only just begun.

    Gay indicates that Kerzner is working with vendors such as NxTV and Nortel to leverage the solutions beyond their current roles. "If we just want to stop at VoD, we've not taken full advantage of the value on which we've sold the business," he says.

    Thinking forward, Gay sees that IPbased phones and large screen televisions offer real opportunities from a marketing perspective, such as promoting current events and replacing paper compendiums which have a tendency to go stale. The potential of the converged network could also be realized through future integration of the television and/or phone to the hotel's point-of-sale system. The Cove is currently exploring such an option for reservations to their Dolphin Cay experience.

    Much of the converged network's potential hinges, according to Gay, on the hospitality industry's conversion to Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) standards. "If our vendors hold true to their predictions about the hospitality industry and HTNG standards, then we should see some of those benefits crop out right away."

    The anticipated advantages of a converged network are based upon the premise that, because the system has an open architecture, a hotel will basically be able to plug-and-play their applications in a fully-integrated operations system. Likewise, HTNG standards seek to enable vendors to collaboratively produce software products that advance integration and interoperability with the goal that both cost and complexity are reduced while reliability and scalability are improved.

    It is at the confluence of these standards and this system that The Cove's investment will truly start to pay dividends.

    "In our environment, we're selling this on the premise that going to a converged network is going to make integration easier, cheaper and faster," Gay explains. "The sooner vendors can fix their HTNG standards, the easier integration will be for us. The combination of both our vendors delivering and our business organizing around that will allow us to deliver even more extreme value." HT

    FUTURE UPGRADES
    With real estate at a premium, Kerzner is banking on the converged network to increase revenue streams at existing properties. Logically, it follows that Kerzner has committed to strong plans for revenue management in the coming year with a Rainmaker (www.letitrain.com) solution. "We have an aggressive path for putting in a revenue management tool," says Bernard Gay, chief information officer of Kerzner International Bahamas. "Before the end of this year, we want to have at least the first phase of everything completed."

    This also catapults business intelligence (BI) to a position of extreme importance within the operational structure. "BI is a big item on our list right now. We use MicroStrategy (www.microstrat egy.com) and SQL Server (www.microsoft.com) as our tools. The good news in all of this is that the converged network interfaces rather easily with our corporate offices around the world," says Gay. "We can look at our data more holistically and not only manage revenue better, but also deliver a better experience."

    The converged network will benefit guests more directly when plans are finalized for location-based guest services. "With such a massive property, we get a lot of complaints of people not being able to find each other, so we're looking at RFID technology that will allow guests to work with and communicate with each other," Gay explains.

    Kiosk technology is also being explored. Guests would use the kiosks to communicate with one another by leaving messages on the kiosks. The kiosks, along with digital signage, would aid in directional way-finding. BS

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