The pursuit to excel in delivering customer happiness in the hospitality segment has a direct correlation these days to the IT infrastructure that enables the hotel’s services and processes. It is no wonder then that Mövenpick, a globally leading group of hotels, has strived to be at the forefront in adoption of the latest technologies including cloud based services
IT infrastructure in the frontend services and backend operations is quite crucial in the hospitality segment. It has the ability to make the hotel stand out in terms of guest services. In the GCC region and especially in the UAE, the sheer scale of rising competition in the dynamic hospitality space demands that hotels looking to command a good market share, need to step up in terms of their facilities and services. IT definitely forms a significant part of how the hotel is able to position itself with its guests.
Tariq Valani, Vice President - IT Infrastructure & Operations, Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts Management says, “As with every business vertical today, the reliance on Cloud services, industry applications and apps is increasing every day. These services in turn demand more from the infrastructure on premise, as well as in the data centre. With the above-mentioned services comes the expectation of mobility from both guests and colleagues, speed and ease of doing business. As such, as with any other business segment, IT infrastructure has always been, and continues to be, a crucial part of the hospitality business.”
A great example of how things have changed and how the reliance on IT infrastructure has increased is the Property Management System (PMS).
“From a paper-based system to the use of computers, we are now in an era where not only is the PMS in the Cloud, but also the check-in process has moved to mobile devices such as iPads, allowing the process to be carried out not only at the front desk, but also anywhere in the hotel, and in turn reducing waiting time for our guests.”
With the PMS located in the Cloud, it is imperative to operations that the application always be available, and this requires the IT infrastructure layer to have the correct redundancies built in and to have a stable and reliable internet connection.
From a guest’s perspective, wireless has become one of the most important factors when it comes to guest satisfaction. It can literally be the difference between retaining a customer and losing one.
“Secure, fast and reliable wireless connectivity with an acceptable amount of bandwidth has become a commodity as important as electricity and water. With this in mind, a significant amount of investment and attention is given to the wireless infrastructure in a hotel.”
Towards a centralized model
The Mövenpick hotels have moved over the past couple of years towards a centralized model of IT environment.
“With the complexity of hospitality technology increasing, as well as the improvement of connectivity worldwide and its move to Cloud solutions, over the last couple of years we made the transition from a decentralised environment to a centralised once. The increase of complexity in a decentralised environment meant that we had to have a lot more expertise in order to keep up with the technology, which has become an expectation from today’s guests.”
With this centralisation comes the standardisation of company-wide applications and solutions. In addition, to support these solutions, the hotel set up a centralised 24/7 helpdesk and formed a second line support to its IT managers at the hotels. Some of the corporate-wide applications that were centralised included email, PMS, procurement and revenue management solutions etc.
Pioneering moves to the cloud
The hotel group also made an early move to the cloud and it has been further prioritizing consolidation by moving more workloads to cloud infrastructure.
“Over the last couple of years, there has been a huge shift to the Cloud. Some companies have taken to it, while others have not. Our mandate was clear – eliminate company data centres and move to the Cloud. Keeping in line with that strategy, we started our journey by adopting Microsoft Office 365 and migrating our email environment. From there, we were the first hotel company in the world to move to Oracle’s Opera version 9, which is a Cloud-only PMS solution. With this came the selection of Oracle’s CX CRM, which would lead us to another first and that is a fully Cloud-based interface between a CRM and PMS platform. Our current Cloud initiative is to move as much of our server workloads from on-property to Microsoft Azure, starting with our company website.”
The group’s Cloud strategy didn’t stop with the management side of the hotel. They have also made a shift in the guest-facing technology, starting with a High-Speed Internet Access (HSIA) solution.
“Partnering with Airangel gave us a Cloud platform that allowed us to make wireless roaming between our hotels an easy task. Today, our guests only need to sign up once using their email or social login and from there, they would be automatically recognised in any Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts property across the globe and have access to the internet.”
Until recently, the global network strategy for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts’ corporate network was to have a centralised approach. This centralised design had three internet breakouts globally in Zurich, Dubai and Singapore, which all hotels would connect to and be able to access the internet.
“This strategy worked for several years, but with the shift to Cloud solutions, the latency overhead of hotel to the data centre to the internet was too high, and as such we decided to change. We moved forward by deploying Next Generation Firewalls and other network perimeter solutions to enable local breakouts at each hotel. With this change, we had a massive improvement in internet performance on the corporate network and as such, the opposition to Cloud solutions that existed before were no longer there.”
Even though the group went with a decentralised approach for internet access, they however retained centralised management and monitoring of all devices.
Wi-Fi connectivity is a high priority focus and one of the Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts Brand Signatures is “Wi-Fi Everywhere”, which underline the importance the group places on Wi-Fi, given that a technology-driven signature is used to define the brand experience.
“With the Wi-Fi Everywhere brand signature came a set of requirements that had to be followed by all hotels in order to offer a seamless experience globally. The first of these requirements was that our cloud HSIA solution, provided by Airangel, had to be implemented at every hotel globally. Second, we set forth a requirement that stated that all hotels had to have 100% wireless coverage in guest areas, offering a signal strength of -65dB, which is sufficient for voice calls. Lastly, we revised our IT brand standards and selected vendors such as Ruckus and Aruba to be our wireless infrastructure partners of choice, in order to ensure that the latest technology was being used.”
While the move to the cloud has been a pioneering one in the hotel segment, it has not been without accompanying challenges. The major challenge is that the in-house team has had to give away some of the control it had to the cloud services provider via-a-vis the era when applications and all systems were on premise.
Tariq elaborates, “As much as we love the move to the Cloud, some of the greatest challenges today are a by-product of that move. In the past, when most of the technology was on premise, the role of IT was to maintain, manage and when required, fix systems and solutions. With the move to the Cloud, the role of IT has changed from being the “fixer” to more of a service provider manager. To elaborate, in the past, systems and applications were in the control of the IT team, whereas today the IT team needs to run tests, provide information and follow up with Cloud providers to ensure that the solutions and fixes are delivered in a timely manner.
Tariq opines that even against the changing scenario of more cloud services being used, IT teams in hotels today need to be technical and on the contrary, the standards have been raised.
He elaborates, “Hotel IT now has to be technical to understand the solutions and systems we use, as well as manage the remaining on-premise solutions, but at the same time need to have improved communication and management skills to ensure that service providers deliver as per SLA and contractual agreements.”