Hyatt's CIO on Cloud Computing

By Abigail A. Lorden, Editor-in-Chief | December 20, 2010

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts (www.hyatt.com) recently announced a migration to Microsoft’s cloud-based Business Productivity Online Suite (www.microsoft.com) to provide unique e-mail addresses for 17,000 tethered employees, and purchased licenses to provide e-mail to an additional 40,000 “deskless” associates (bell hops, housekeepers, front-desk associates, etc.).
 
In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Hospitality Technology talks to Mike Blake, CIO at Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, about the role that cloud technology is playing not only in this most recent announcement, but in the company’s overall strategy.
 
HT: You’re now able to provide unique e-mail addresses to 40,000 deskless workers. What was the business objective there?
 
MB: There are three reasons for why. First, we’re better able to communicate with them, and are giving them another way to communicate with us. Many people working in our hotels aren’t available full-time at their desks, but still need access to the same e-mail, instant messaging and other collaboration tools as the rest of our employees.
 
Second, we’ve invested in significant functionality in some HR systems which should be able to extend to the e-mail system. As a result, we should be able to send things like employee schedules via e-mail.
 
And third is insurance. There are a lot of things that we want to do, and giving this access creates options for the future. We are taking advantage of a low-cost solution that gives us functionality that we don’t even know about yet, but you can bet will come down the pipeline. In truth, I don’t know everything that it’s going to do, but it’s sure nice to have it rather than not.
 
HT: How does the cost of a cloud-based solution compare to traditional
e-mail?
MB: For half of the cost of what we’re paying right now, we’re able to get everyone in North America, every single employee, a unique @hyatt.com e-mail box and we’re also able to get Microsoft SharePoint. Before, we couldn’t offer e-mail to our 40,000 deskless workers.
 
HT: What’s Hyatt’s overall interest in cloud apps?
 
MB: Cloud is a direction we’re already at. We don’t have any apps or solutions that aren’t hosted by a third party or in domain-control of a third party, across the board. This migration started 16 years ago, because we cut a very large outsourcing deal with CSC (www.csc.com) for our reservations and group sales system. Or financial systems are hosted with Oracle (www.oracle.com). Our PMS, Micros Opera (www.micros.com), is hosted by AT&T (www.att.com), and a few are hosted by Micros [with the exception of Hyatt Place and Somerfield Suites, which run MSI (www.msisolutions.com) property management, hosted locally].
 
We do have a difference in that strategy between North America and international. Internationally, it’s not just a bandwidth issue but also quality of service issues. They’re not as robust in some areas, so we have to be on-site for them. Where we can, we try to take things above property.
 
HT: One of the concerns with cloud is access to data. How do you protect against downtime?
 
MB: You need a good network provider; you want to architect solutions so that they’re standard, and you don’t want single point-of-failure. I have my primary production in one facility, and a back up in another. Some of the hosted solutions are at a higher state of disaster preparedness than the ones that you internally have. If you pick the right partner, that’s their business. I go with the providers that have capability that I couldn’t otherwise afford. Hyatt has 43 people on its entire global IT staff, so this approach enables us to run very lean.
 
HT: Why is an overall cloud approach the right one for Hyatt?
 
MB: It enables us to be more nimble. If you look at a hosted system, that I can touch every front desk in North America in six hours, that’s pretty incredible. And I’m talking about structurally changing the PMS system, not just dancing around the corner and changing a font. Now, if I’m gong to change screen navigation, I’d have to do a lot of training. But the actual technology, changing that, is becoming an afterthought.
 
If you think of some of my peers, they have monolithic architecture that they have to work through. This enables me to be extremely current. We’ve strategically decided to align with the big players and help manage their development cycle. Things we want on our list, we influence the vendors’ production cycles to help us. I’m jumping on their innovation.
 
HT: Speaking of innovation, can you give a sneak peak of something
to come?

MB: A lot of people don’t think we’re going to be able to do what we’re already doing. Look at an RFID lock; who cares about an RFID lock? But I want RFID capability outside of a traditional key coder. For the first time, we’re going to be issuing a Hyatt credit card. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an RFID keycard affixed to that? All I’d have to do is give you your room number. We’re working on it now, and have stood up two hotels that have that functionality.
 
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