Vision 2010

By Reid A. Paul, Editor-in-Chief | May 01, 2005

2010 may not be that far off, but in the world of hospitality it can seem like a lifetime. Still, technologists need to know what is in store five, ten or even twenty years from now. Designing a new restaurant or hotel facility now requires a keen sense of the infrastructure needs that may span twenty years or more into the future.

While Hospitality Technology does not as a rule try to predict the future very often (See Ã.‚¬Å"The Vision Thing,Ã.‚¬ page 4, for my own suggestions), we do recognize the importance of building for the future. For that reason we felt the time was ripe to talk to some truly visionary individuals who understand the intricacies of the restaurant and hotel industries.

Who better to articulate a strategic vision for the future of our industry than widely respected restaurant and hotel operators? Each of the 10 Hospitality Technology Visionaries were nominated by HT readers for taking an active role leading their companies, mentoring others in the industry and pushing the industry to appreciate the strategic value of technology. While it was difficult to narrow the field down to only 10, the selected operators truly stand out.

We asked each of the honorees to provide their personal thoughts on the future of technology in the hospitality industry and we would like to thank all of them for their time, effort and careful consideration of our request. To their credit, the 10 vision statements reflect a broad range of hopes and concerns, from the specific to the broadly strategic. Each deserves careful consideration. It will be difficult for next yearÃ.‚¬™s visionaries to stand up to the high standard theyÃ.‚¬™ve set.

Jim Sappington, Vice President Information Technology, McDonaldÃ.‚¬™s

At McDonaldÃ.‚¬™s, itÃ.‚¬™s all about the customer. A half century ago, Ray KrocÃ.‚¬™s dream began with providing customers quality, cleanliness, and value, in other words, the optimum hospitality. Our success is rooted in a collaborative partnership with our suppliers and our McDonaldÃ.‚¬™s owner operators, whose leadership is present on our Technology Board.

Over the years, technology has moved from the back office to the front counter, and, in the case of our new McDonaldÃ.‚¬™s Gift Cards, literally into our customersÃ.‚¬™ hands. However, with more than 13,600 U.S. restaurants, consistent execution and standardization is as valuable in our restaurants today, as it was 50 years ago. Standardization and a planned migration path have truly proven to be a competitive advantage. As rapidly as technology and our business changes, McDonaldÃ.‚¬™s is always exploring new ways to better serve our customers today, tomorrow, and for years to come. That is our challenge and our heritage.

Gebhard Rainer VP Finance and Strategy Hyatt International

In the last five to seven years we have experienced a major shift in expectations. Our customers are demanding a technology infrastructure that they have become accustomed to at home and in business. More than ever, technology must be a service enabler, a decision support tool or an efficiency accelerator.

Hyatt is already working on a fully integrated application architecture to allow Ã.‚¬Å"one to many and many to oneÃ.‚¬ data flow/communication throughout our infrastructure. A seamless integration of mobile and portable devices into our infrastructure to ensure that information transfer enhances services. Hotels need forecasting and planning tools for better decision support. Real-time updates will improve short- and medium-term forecasting with a long-term impact on profitability. Finally, full integration between front-of-house and back-of-house systems is an efficiency accelerating technology. All three areas are crucially important to the success of a hotel. Customers today are more demanding and much more versed in using technology then ever before and these demands--if not fulfilled--result in losses of revenue and profit.

Mark Hedley, EVP CIO Wyndham International

We always tend to focus so much on technology and forget that we as CIOs are leaders of a very strategic business unit within the organization. Our ability to make a difference through technology will be challenged by our ability to be truly effective leaders. I often think that our focus on technology dilutes our focus on becoming better leaders with better business skills. Leaders with integrity and power who remain realistic and authentic without making excuses will shape our industry. These leaders will create the breakthroughs that differentiate our brands while the lodging industry overcomes the threat of commoditization, tight budgets, increasing information systems security concerns and legislative controls.

The development of better distribution integration, more powerful booking engines with more flexible search/availability capabilities, and in-room technologies will be key issues for us to focus on as a company and an industry. As consumer technologies in the home proliferate, consumers will demand similar technologies while traveling. Although we are still in the early adoption phase, plasma televisions, TiVo, surround sound, VoIP phones, high-speed Internet access and other technologies are becoming more commonplace in our industry.

Tim Harvey, VP IT Hilton Hotels

The economy will continue to grow over the coming years with a population that is increasingly global and mobile. Individual travelers are beginning to spend more disposable income on leisure trips and companies are increasing spending on business travel. Guest expectations are being shaped by emerging consumer technology trends such as Ã.‚¬Å"Digital TVÃ.‚¬, digital video recorders, and portable media devices. Guest in-room technology that is currently viewed as a Ã.‚¬Å"noveltyÃ.‚¬ will soon become a Ã.‚¬Å"requirement.Ã.‚¬ The technology that people have in the office, at home and on-the-go will be expect in hotel guest rooms.

Successful hotel companies recognize and harness the value of technology in order to own the customer relationship. For Hilton, that means knowing the needs and preferences of our most valued guests and matching those in order to customize their experience with us. The bottom-line is this: It is all about the guest and using technology to deliver information and amenities that will leave them with a lasting impression that strengthens loyalty to our Hilton Family of Brands.

Nick Ibrahim, CTO Ruby Tuesday

Clean environment, choice of menu items, food quality, and speed of service are the main variables allowing the success of any restaurant. Technology could affect any of those variables making them easier to implement and measure.  

The vision influencing IT strategies is our operators focus on consistently providing different menu items appealing to customers, maintaining a high-grade food quality, and a speed of service that allows our customer to manage at their leisure the amount of time spent in any of our restaurants. High-speed connectivity between corporate offices and stores is a must. POS systems should be the only system in the store. Intranet applications will change the future of restaurants by allowing fast menu-mix uploads, updating training documents, and perhaps online training using the latest in video presentations. Kitchen display system is an important process in any store to allow food quality to remain high grade and consistent in temperature and guest delivery. The least we can do for our guests is to present their orders at the same time; KDS will allow on-time food delivery. Last but not least, hostess management tools allowing guests to be properly recognized by using a loyalty card. Imagine the ability to remind our guest of their favorite appetizer, drink, menu item, etcÃ.‚¬¦..

Todd Wood, VP IS Sea Island

Sea Island ResortsÃ.‚¬™ company vision is Ã.‚¬Å"to be known as the finest resort and resort community in the world, as recognized by our employees, members, guests, and the industry.Ã.‚¬ The information services department embodies this vision with the philosophy that our internal customers deserve the same service excellence that they provide our guests. Therefore, we focus on partnership building based on mutual respect.

Technology partnerships are the key to delivering excellence in an industry as fragmented and dynamic as hospitality. Our technology providers must understand that, as a representative customer, we help to advance the usage of technology in the luxury resort market.

Our strategic plan includes delivering best of breed, integrated solutions, with the business users, on a consolidated, flexible infrastructure. By utilizing our resource base of technology providers and industry experts, we can quickly solve problems and increase capabilitiesÃ.‚¬"in some cases, leading in the industry.

Nick Price, CTO/CIO Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

The hotel industry is going through a period of profound change and we as an industry must change to keep pace. The social impact of technological change is arguably greater now than it has been for at least forty years. We are now moving from an analog society to a digital one and hotel companies must adjust to serve a new generation of guests that grew up on Napster and the iPod. We are at a tipping point and hotels will have to move far more quickly to keep up with guests in the future.

In the emerging digital age, guests expect greater individuality, mobility and portability. Changes in the hotel, especially in the guest room, will cost more, but will also offer hotels greater flexibility to offer new services and revenue generating opportunities.

At Mandarin-Oriental Hotel Group, moving to a single IP network in the guest room will give us that flexibility. With an IP-network we can think differently about the content. Our hotels will be able to deliver audio and video content that speaks to each guest as an individual that they can download onto a personal portable device.

Barry Shuler, SVP IT Strategy & CTO Marriott International

If you donÃ.‚¬™t have self-service options, youÃ.‚¬™re not offering your guests a full-service experience. Exceptional hospitality is reinforced through deep, continuous conversations with guests, whether with carefully trained service associates or through robust self-service offerings. Rich, interactive guest experience increasingly requires graceful architecting of application systems and technology infrastructure to seamlessly connect to guest electronic, computing and networking devices. Remote check-in via kiosks and hand-held devices, high resolution, interactive television for relaxing work, Web-enabled pre-arrival and virtual concierge services, and sophisticated electronic signage are just a few of the technology-enabled windows we are opening into our multi-dimensional guest service offerings.

George Labelle, CIO IPC

Perhaps no single technology holds greater promise to transform the restaurant supply chain than RFID. Thanks to the push coming from retail leaders like Target and Wal-Mart, as RFID tag costs comes down we will see real opportunities to control supply chain costs and make our restaurants more efficient. Most importantly at Subway/IPC, RFID will provide us greater corporate oversight for quality control and food safety. With RFID readers at the back door and in the restaurant refrigerator, inventory can be done in seconds rather than hours. RFID tagged food cases will allow us to track the actual product, to determine how much is left in inventory, its storage temperature and its exact location. This will give us incredibly powerful information to reduce costly product waste as well as eliminate stock outage situations. Finally, as RFID pushes down food costs and people in our industry see it working, it will drive badly needed production coding standardization.

Jeff Chasney, EVP & CIO CKE Restaurants

Business Intelligence and delivery speed will be the information technology differentiators of excellence within the restaurant industry for the next several years. The available technologies and possible innovations are relatively apparent to all such that elegance of design and rapidity with which one can develop and deploy solutions will differentiate leaders from followers. The importance of timely actionable information from business intelligence systems will guide agile restaurants companies to courses that will keep their competitors busy with Ã.‚¬Å"me tooÃ.‚¬ attempts to catch up.

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