Excellence comes in many sizes and sometimes from unexpected places. In recognition of the variety of hotel and restaurant operators and their diverse and inventive technology, this year Hospitality Technology magazine expanded the Edge Awards categories to recognize operators, both big and small, lodging and restaurant. In a competitive field, the six Edge Award winners stood out, not only for their commitment to information technology, but also the creativity. We congratulate Hilton and Ruby Tuesday as the 2004 Operators of the Year for the comprehensive approach toward technology and Wyndham, WestCoast Hotels, IPC and Woodland Group for innovation and true business intelligence.
Lodging Operator of the Year Hilton is passionate about taking care of customers, explains Tim Harvey, vice president technology at Hilton. With the launch of its OnQ self-service kiosk, Hilton now offers customers a choice between the traditional front desk experience and automated self-service kiosk. Guests love to have choices, because up to 30 percent of arrivals are choosing to use the kiosks for check-in.
The kiosks were developed, tested and deployed in three months by working closely with Cisco engineers to create a wireless "cloud" that is shared by both guests and hotel operations. The project, which concluded its pilot earlier this year with the testing of five kiosks at the Hilton New York, has since deployed 63 kiosks at 21 North American hotels.
Another first for the OnQ self-service kiosk was an installation at the Honolulu International Airport, which allows guests to check in to their room before leaving the airport. By year's end, Hilton plans to deploy kiosks at another 24 hotels-primarily company owned and managed metropolitan and airport hotels. As a result of the overwhelming success of Hilton's kiosk project, there is an increasing demand from its brands and owners to expand the OnQ kiosk that will leverage the existing application and provide a lower cost alternative for our smaller hotels.
"Within IT we believe Hilton's mission, 'To be the first choice of the world's travelers,' and we know the technology products and services we provide truly make a difference for our guests," explains Harvey. "It is gratifying to be chosen by Hospitality Technology magazine as this year's winner of Lodging IT Operator of the year."
Restaurant Operator of the Year When Ruby Tuesday first started looking into upgrading its back-office system it quickly became apparent that none of the pre-packaged solutions offered a centrally hosted back office. That's when Nick Ibrahim, senior vice president and CTO, offered the idea of developing a revolutionary, hybrid, centrally-hosted/distributed-processing, restaurant back-office system.
"Ruby Tuesday is growing by 100 restaurants per year so our solution must be flexible," Ibrahim explains. "We developed a system from the ground up to utilize the power of the state-of-the-art infrastructure that the IT team had just deployed."
Ibrahim envisioned a very simple hybrid design, and believed in the potential benefits of standardizing system-wide with a new, technologically advanced platform. He was able to rally the full support of the executive committee and operations for both the expense and the culture change, convincing them to bring the project in-house.
The back-office solution, affectionately called "BOSS," was completed in October 2003. Built on Microsoft .NET architecture, BOSS was designed to centrally host all non-critical applications, manage data movement to unit's local databases. It has a central security model for all back-office components utilizing cookies for Web applications and Web services for local in-store application, and is now being used in 712 restaurants. "It's our second year winning Hospitality Technology's Edge Award and I think it's about time we let someone else win, but each year we find ourselves implementing new technology developments," boasts Ibrahim.
Small Lodging IT Project When WestCoast Hospitality Corporation (WHC) purchased the Red Lion Hotel chain from Hilton, its existing central-reservations system could not scale to a level necessary to support the combined portfolio. That's when WHC turned the problem into an opportunity to invest in a progressive CRS system that would scale well beyond the company's current needs, deliver seamless GDS/ADS connectivity, superior distribution, and deep reporting capabilities. Not only did Micros step in with its Opera Reservation System, but the project yielded one of the most high-capacity, feature-rich CRS systems.
David Barbieri, vice president and CIO, WHC, says, "We wanted new technology that would not be obsolete in the near future. ORS is built on the Oracle platform and scales very easily." Barbieri boasts, "The two systems have been benchmarked with live data and our Intel-based system runs about four times faster and probably cost half as much."
Large Lodging IT Project Owing to the success of the Wyndham ByRequest guest recognition program, the hotel company's proprietary hardware and software platform was rapidly approaching capacity limits. Wyndham decided to take a bold new approach by discarding the conventional Web and application servers in favor of a more flexible, less expensive hardware platform powering a combination of open source and custom-built utilities.
The hardware platform had to provide significant performance improvements and maximize system uptime while providing rapid scalability to accommodate both traffic peaks from special offers, and the sustained growth of the Wyndham ByRequest program. "The project yielded a system that not only provides substantial savings in capital equipment and operating costs, but delivers vastly improved performance and scalability," reveals John Jeske, R&D Technologist for Wyndham.
Large Restaurant IT Project Food quality, safety and freshness are top priorities for Subway and its franchisee's IPC purchasing cooperative. As a result, many initiatives are in place to ensure that food products are closely monitored through the supply chain. Until recently many of these initiatives were paper-based and at times cumbersome and inefficient, explains George Labelle, director of information systems at IPC.
"The answer to this challenge was to develop an information system that would better collect, track, warehouse and report data relative to food safety and quality in the supply chain, specifically data about food and site audits as well as information about defective/inferior product," Labelle reveals.
The solution, dubbed IPCnet Phase 3, allows trading partners within a supply chain to collaborate to drive food quality and safety, to review their performance against their competition, and to easily respond to corrective action requests as the result of audits. "As a Web-based information system, all trading partners have portable access to the system," adds Labelle.
Small Restaurant IT Project Waiting 25 seconds per dial-up transaction was slowing down business for the Woodland Group, a 21 unit Applebee's franchise. With the addition of bulk gift cards and occasionally dysfunctional phone lines, a solution was necessary to improve guest satisfaction with faster payment transactions.
The trick was getting the Squirrel DOS-based POS, serial-based software, to communicate via IP for both the credit card and gift-card processor. By using a Squirrel driver and Southern Datacom's Protobase software with additional help from Cybera, Woodland Group was able to achieve 100 percent connectivity with a mix of DSL and frame relay.
"Southern Data Comm worked with us to make all the details come together using their Async Gateway," explains John Lynn, senior MIS, Woodland Group. "We also wanted to have dial up backup. With the Protobase software we were able to configure it to be switched on the fly from either dial-up or IP. I also needed a monitored network with tight security so we could achieve this goal."
Tech Tool Box
Citizens Bank Park Systems:
POS Software: Micros, RetailPro
Wireless Handheld: Symbol
Business Intelligence: Micros, proprietary
Data Warehouse/Mining: Clarity, Hyperion
Systems Architecture: Microsoft .Net