Internal Communication

By Vicki Powers • Contributing Editor | May 01, 2006

While intranets and portals are nothing new to the hospitality industry, hotels are beginning to update and improve the original solutions that came to fruition in the early 2000s. Increasingly, hotels and restaurants are relying on these revamped online resources more and more for internal communication and messaging.

Central portal
Cendant Hotel Group, which will become Wyndham Hotel Group when Cendant's hospitality companies are spun off later this year, and Marriott are just two companies that have upgraded their intranet portal solutions recently. The hotel division--representing nine hotel brands---- had to remember 17 passwords to use its previous intranet. Each brand had its own website where employees had to dig for information that was not personalized for each franchise partner. Adding new technology in mid-2005 to access a single portal, dubbed MyPortal, provided a critical change for its more than 6,000 franchisees worldwide.

"One of the biggest wins is giving the hotel brands the ability to have a central portal with all the operating tools they need to access regarding their brand, located in one place with one ID," says Annmarie Fairweather, VP franchise support at Cendant Hotel Group.

The portal uses Oracle's Oblix CoreID (oracle.com/oblix) technology and allows franchise operators to move beyond fax and mail processes to update rate and inventory information. One of Cendant's larger operators, for example, used to hire staff to go to individual brand sites to run Strategic Management of Available Room Trend (SMART) reports and merge them by hand to get a consolidated report.

"Now staff can click one button and there is a consolidated report of all the properties," says Scott Lunsford, senior director, Internet services at Cendant. Lunsford says it also reduces the bulk of security administration costs that previously required a 27 minute process of calls and faxes to change a password. Today, a self-service security system allows franchisees to set their own password. The role-based, highly secure environment also makes it easier for employees to see only information that is relevant to them. As they log in, the system determines the employee position and presents the correct message for that role.

"There are great dividends in having that available to different roles across the organization when historically, some positions didn't have an online source for information," Lunsford says.

Cendant deployed a brand-staggered launch in summer 2005 that coincided with different business meetings. MyPortal currently has around 27,000 individual user IDs. In the next few months Lunsford says the organization anticipates additional cost savings and productivity enhancements.

"One of the things we didn't expect was the benefits from the internal point of view," says Cendant's Fairweather. "We're looking at how we can speak to the corporate role to communicate to a greater degree with franchisees."

Meeting tech goals
As Marriott International faced rapid global growth earlier this decade, its technology blossomed into separate brand and functional sites for its 133,000 associates at 2,700 lodging properties in 66 countries. The organization decided to pursue an aggressive approach for its new technology rather than slowly upgrade and merge these disparate sites. Marriott's new intranet, Marriott Global Source (MGS), fits into the organization's three-pronged technology focus: single enterprise-wide solution, agile design and personalized content. Marriott transformed its intranet in May 2005 to provide its associates, owners, and franchisees with access to business information and the ability to streamline communication. Marriott believes this transformation will also help enhance the experience delivered to guests.

In the design stages, Marriott surveyed 2,000 users and publishers on their user experiences and information they needed to access online.
"In years past, the trend for intranets was to be reflective of the organization," says Karla Gill, vice president, e-service delivery and intranet services at Marriott. "With MGS, we've moved from the site being organization-based to an information-based and business process-based solution."
Marriott added a suite of technology tools for its new intranet including Microsoft Content Management Server and IBM technology tools. Marriott also conducted a series of meta data focus groups to learn the most important search terms and acquired new search capability technology through Massachusetts-based Fast Search & Transfer (fastsearch.com). The centralized, multi-brand global solution provides users with navigation and search tools to access relevant brand information, business applications and key communications.

Marriott's MGS currently supports about 45,000 unique visitors each month, which is higher than its 40,000 visitor goal at launch. The total Marriott community is around 160,000 users including its 133,000 associates plus owners and franchisees.

One of the unique aspects of Marriott's intranet, according to Gill, is that it is extranet enabled. All associates can access the intranet anytime and from anywhere, whether it's a kiosk on a business trip or from home. Owners and franchisees have access from their own work locations.
Gill says Marriott's intranet launched with plenty of praise and positive feedback at the property level and above property level. To illustrate one productivity example, Gill says a general manager previously accessed one site for Standard Operating Procedures, another for corporate information with a different navigation structure, and then another for discipline-specific information. Now MGS targets certain information to specific audiences using a unique user ID-based solution determined by their role at Marriott. It also integrates best practices to help hotel leaders effectively manage operations.

"Users now go to one source to get all the information they need to do their job," Gill states. "General managers will be able to access financial information while housekeepers can learn Standard Operating Procedures on how to make a bed."

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