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The Changing Role of the CIO

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October 01, 2014
Role of the CIO
Jeremy Rock

It’s hard to believe that it has been close to 10 years since we last took a detailed look at the role of the CIO in the hospitality industry. There have been tremendous changes in technology over that timeframe, and for this reason we thought it would be interesting to circle back and see how this role has evolved. With the recent HU CIO Summit in Milwaukee this past September, it provided the perfect backdrop to connect with more than 60 executive IT professionals from a variety of hospitality companies to obtain their perspectives on the industry and how their roles are changing.

The prevailing theme at this conference was the relevance of the role of the CIO/IT leadership position within organizations and how in many cases it has evolved from simply an operational position to one of strategic importance across all aspects of the organization. Speaking with a number of the attendees, the common sentiment was that the CIO now is an important part of the executive team and is involved in high-level decisions affecting the company’s operations and growth.

Bernard Gay, CIO of Brookfield Hospitality, said, “The CIO has a seat at the executive table. Companies have placed a lot of the business’s future stake in the hands of IT. We are all able to sit down and focus on the strategic nature of the direction of the business which involves IT.”

However, there are still some IT executives whose positions have not progressed to this level and who still are not included to this extent. To some executive teams, IT can still be considered an expense, and in a number of cases the CIO still reports to the CFO or financial arm of the company. This seems to be correlated with the size of the company and the number of staff members within the IT department. With resources being constrained, many smaller companies do not have large teams in the IT organization and as such the predominant role of the IT director is still very much focused on the day-to-day operations of the business and hotels. A few of the IT leaders still felt hampered or trapped with the operational role that requires them to be focused on ensuring that systems are maintained and functional. In these cases they feel that they have not really progressed from the break/fix role to that of a strategic decision maker.

The New Skillset to be a CIO
As part of the evolution of the IT leadership, it has become apparent that the skillset required for the position has also had to evolve. In the past the primary requirements for the position were a solid understanding of information systems and how they operate and work. However, the new responsibilities require far more diverse capabilities and the primary requirement of being able to communicate effectively.

Many CIOs that we spoke with also had a solid financial background, which in some cases included being a CPA. Others said they were confident they had effective leadership skills and certainly understood the concept of ROI. In many cases they said they possessed a strong understanding of sales as they had to sell their concepts and IT needs for funding requirements. They also understood the concept of growth and the need to continue to cultivate the business. Finally they felt that one of the most important skills was communication and this was the skill that needed to evolve the most. The bottom line is that the IT leadership position has changed and requires a far more rounded set of skills in order to be effective at the executive and strategic level.
While the majority of CIO and IT leadership positions are still filled from within the industry, it was noted that there are a number of positions that have recently been filled with experienced technology professionals from outside of hospitality. An example of this was the recent hiring of Martha Poulter as EVP and CIO at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, who came from the financial services industry and was the vice president and CIO at GE Capital.

The Hybrid Concept – Crossing Over into Other Roles in the Organization
The concept of a changing CIO role is also highlighted by the recent changes at Hyatt. Jeff Bzdawka was the vice president – global property solutions and field services in charge of property applications and services. However he has since taken on a new role within Hyatt. Now, as the senior VP of global hotel operations he will effectively bridge the gap between operations and IT. “Too often there is a tendency to try and cram technology into the business operation without first looking at the business needs and requirements,” he said. “There is a need to have someone on the operational side of the table to find the requirements and use cases. (In a number of instances we are outsourcing solutions and integration.) My role will be to make sure that the technology is relevant.”

Information and Innovation
It has also been said that the role of CIO is changing from chief information officer to that of chief innovation officer. We asked a number of the CIO’s whether they thought that this statement was an accurate assessment of the requirement for innovation within their role as the CIO. 

While most felt that this was an accurate statement, many qualified their responses stating that their roles required that they have aptitudes for both. The most common view was that CIOs are generally the best to address change management and as such it makes the most sense for innovation to come from them.

Peter Chambers of the Viceroy Hotel Group agreed that the role has become more innovative and believes that as the role of CIO continues to evolve in line with ever-changing trends, he would “make a strong case that the role is now one of chief transformation officer.” This is due to the fact that the position is uniquely qualified to understand the impact on the business unit as a whole and therefore is in a key position to manage and drive the implementation and transformation process. He further believes that “as a modern CIO it is our responsibility to not only bring innovation to all parts of the business but also to ensure that innovation is always coupled with action and meaning. That powerful combination helps to transform the way that we do business.”

Additionally most of the respondents said that with new technologies coming to the forefront of business it’s no surprise that innovation is becoming a key requirement for the IT leadership position. However some CIOs like Laurent Idrac with Accor qualified this by stating, “Innovation is becoming more prominent but this comes on top of the other roles of the CIO.” He further added that “innovation should not be ‘owned’ by a single function in the organization. It may be led (or not) by IT but it is transversal to the organization.” 

Monika Nerger agreed and said, “There are many new opportunities to innovate quickly – whether that innovation or thought creation comes from within IT or from the business in general. Being able to collaborate and bring to fruition new technologies which engage customers, bring insight into data, or help our growing company collaborate are strategic objectives overall. It is technology-enablement across the enterprise for these opportunities which matters.”

Todd Davis with Choice Hotels added, “The role is more strategic and the innovation comes from our sense of urgency, culture of collaboration, diversity of thought, openness to try new approaches and accept risk. Technology is a key enabler of our business delivery and the CIO must clearly understand the enterprise operations of the global company, (and) then set the direction of technology which will help open new opportunities, resulting in competitive advantage.”

A number of the CIOs pointed out that innovation does not necessarily mean using the latest technology. IT leaders such as Darrin Pinkham with Highgate Hotels and Jeff Linden with Red Roof Inns also mentioned the fact that innovation also can be defined as streamlining operations to “do more with less.”

Ultimately most respondents liked the idea of the new title and pointed to the fact that the CIO or IT leadership position inherently requires the CIO to be an innovator. Perhaps Merrie Bird with Canyon Ranch summed things up best when she stated, “but isn’t technology inherently innovative?”

Recent Accomplishments or Key Initiatives
Several of the CIOs were more than glad to discuss their team’s latest accomplishments. These ranged from some more common initiatives like mobility and cloud-based solutions to unique new satellite network to the development of an innovation lab.

Many of the IT executives said their focus over the past few years was on centralization of systems. A number of respondents said that the centralization of most of their functions was allowing them to streamline operations and build upon the foundation for the future.

Moving systems into the cloud along with the adoption of cloud-based solutions appeared to be another common directive for many companies. Jim Lamb with Interstate Hotels & Resorts mentioned that his company was focused on the migration of critical infrastructure to the cloud in order to support the doubling in size of his company. Some of the cloud-based initiatives that Lamb’s team has focused on include its business intelligence platform with a new mobile app, email and an email archive, its financial system and company Intranet. John Edwards with Dolce Hotels & Resorts has been focused on provisioning a full-service conference hotel with 100 percent of the systems in the cloud.

With the focus on strategic alignment, there are a number of organizations that aim their attention on implementing tools to manage their day-to-day operations in a more effective manner so that they can implement new technologies and manage their systems strategically. Mark McBeth said that the North American Division of Starwood has focused on the deployment of a property technology tool kit and services. This included a set of solutions designed to manage security, software standards, remote support and data backup for 150 hotels, more than 15,000 desktops, more than 1,100 servers, more than 1,200 pieces of network hardware, and the backup of approximately 100 terabytes of critical data.

Bill Martin with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) indicated that his team has been focused on bringing “truly fiber-like high-speed connectivity to the cruise industry.” RCCL is unrolling a revolutionary Internet bandwidth initiative (see the sidebar on the next page).

Pillar Hotels and Resorts has placed an increased focus on its hotels’ high-speed infrastructure and circuit bandwidth to meet the demands of the brands and guest expectations. Lance Kobza’s team has performed wireless upgrades to nearly all of the more than 200 properties that Pillar manages over the past 12 months to 24 months.

While Charles Bureau with Groupe Germain in Canada indicated that his company has been very busy with PCI compliance and data security issues, Mark McBeth and Starwood Hotels & Resorts has as well. His team rolled out a sophisticated vulnerability scanning program in 2013. They are now scanning approximately 40,000 devices and remediating vulnerabilities on the devices for PCI compliance reporting. Seth Cenac and his team at Trust Hospitality have implemented a security program called SECURE in 70 percent of its operational properties and 100 percent of its new builds and renovations started within past 24 months.

Mobile initiatives and guest-facing technology also are a big focus. Vivek Shaiva of La Quinta Inns & Suites said his team’s most recent accomplishments included the adoption of a new TV and mobility platform. Predrag Krstajic with Karisma Hotels & Resorts has been focused on developing a company mobile app and digital wine lists for restaurants. His team has also been working on business analytics models, integrations of worldwide locations on a unique VoIP platform, changing some key business applications (PMS, ERP), hotels constructions and opening projects. Peter Chambers with Viceroy Hotel Group developed a new in-room guest-facing technology called Viceroy Connect, which is a mobile solution installed on a software-secured 5-inch Android-based device in the guestroom. Viceroy Connect not only allows for essential functionality such as compendium information, in-room dining ordering, hotel information and more, but also provides an enhanced TV remote control, replaces a traditional phone, controls lighting, temperature and drapes, allows for text communication with hotel employees and much more. Viceroy Connect is being continually developed to add more functionality and will be enabled on guest devices in 2015.

Ken Barnes of White Lodging mentioned his company’s setup and migration to a data warehouse, while Sam Selim of First Hospitality described his team’s key focus on virtualization.

John Wimmer with Xanterra Parks & Resorts has been focused on product standardization across the portfolio (focusing on property management, F&B POS and retail POS/merchandising) to help the organization improve by running on standard platforms.

Laurent Idrac, CIO of Accor and his team have implemented Salesforce.com in a timebox approach. “The pressure of time and sense of urgency are very powerful drivers,” he said. “We just finished the rollout of our worldwide social network and intranet 2.0; it is a great tool for all our employees and can be accessed from any device – corporate owned or personal.”

David Thomson with Pineapple Hospitality has been focused on a paperless front desk initiative. The company wanted to reduce the night audit packet to a digital version, and has stopped all paper registration cards.

Canyon Ranch has actually dipped into the spa management realm. Merrie Bird said her team has deployed a new ERP solution and has taken over and launched spas on 10 cruise ships in six weeks.
“One of our biggest recent accomplishments was building a global Technology Innovation Lab, which has enabled us to test new and emerging technologies,” said Monika Nerger, global CIO of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. Her company won the 2014 Hotel Visionary Award for this initiative. But accomplishments are not just about the systems. Nerger added, “For me personally, the biggest accomplishment is being able to work with the finest IT team in the industry. I’m extremely proud of our collective contribution to both Mandarin Oriental as well as the hospitality industry.”

Does Your Company Have Any Significant IT Projects Planned?
With technology evolving at a rapid rate it is often challenging to target specific initiatives. The question as to where to invest is often one of the hardest decisions to make. It usually comes down to the must haves vs. the proverbial wish list. Then there is also the question of being the first to market with a concept or idea. With most of the industry looking to be leading edge vs. bleeding edge, a few of the CIOs weighed in on the future.

While Bernard Gay said that Brookfield Hospitality is going through a transformation effort to bring everything including the reservation system and ERP back in house as part of the move away from its management company (Kerzner International, outsourcing is another initiative for some. Darrin Pinkham of Highgate Hotels is focused on the outsourcing of all PBX, services delivery and reservation calls away from the property taking them directly. Additionally he is targeting a new mobile digital media platform for seamless guest experience for remote mobile check-in where a mobile phone is the guestroom key.

Standardization is also a goal for some. Jim Lamb’s team at Interstate Hotels & Resorts is focused on deploying a standardized platform for HR, payroll and timekeeping using SaaS and managed service models. Once complete, he said all of the company’s critical systems will be operating on a world-class infrastructure and managed by best-in-class suppliers, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

John Edwards’ team at Dolce Hotels & Resorts is targeting a new CRM system and a new ERP system, while Ken Barnes of White Lodging is focused on more cloud-based environments for the enterprise, email and possibly ERP.

Even though she is still new at her position as CIO with Omni Hotels & Resorts, Kris Singleton is looking at a strategy around mobile networks and also business intelligence and dash boarding. Additionally, Laurent Bortoluzzi of WHM LLC – Luxury Resorts is focused on updating his company’s IT governance, control and some security projects.

Currently the most significant IT project for Mark McBeth of Starwood Hotels & Resorts involves moving the company’s POS to the cloud. His team began the initiative in early 2014 and estimates that it will take at least 2.5 years to complete the transition. It is a global project that involves many disciplines within Starwood and is much more than an IT project as it brings significant benefits to Starwood’s food and beverage operations.

Merrie Bird said the Canyon Ranch IT team is focused on mobile applications, online activity booking and reservations, upgrading TVs and content in guestrooms, and opening new properties in new markets. Predrag Krstajic of Karisma Hotels & Resorts is also focused on in-room technology as well as infrastructure improvements. Some examples include in-room entertainment relying on smart TV technologies, the expansion of mobile functionalities like augmented reality and personalization of events, infrastructure improvements to adopt new standards (803.11ac), and new builds and openings.

Peter Chambers of Viceroy Hotel Group mentioned that his company is embarking on two big data initiatives “which will bring meaningful insight to the huge amount of daily generated information. One initiative is the development of a business intelligence tool that aggregates data from the PMSs, enabling us to investigate patterns across all business lines (rooms, F&B, spa, retail) and generate insights that will empower sales, marketing and revenue and guest experiences.” The second big data initiative for Viceroy will enable data aggregation from all sources that the company uses to measure its KPIs. “This will result in an automated KPI delivery system that will empower us to make sound decisions based on real-time and historical performance data across every facet of our business,” Chambers said.

Rick Warner of InTown Suites is targeting data warehouse, central reservations and PMS enhancements, while Sam C Selim of First Hospitality Group is looking to implement a hybrid cloud solution.

Seth Cenac of Trust Hospitality continues to be concerned about security and is focused on the implementation of increased PCI compliance. In addition, he is looking at a distributed team collaboration portal for active construction and renovation projects and operational properties. Lastly he is targeting property participation in a VDI pilot.

Todd Davis of Choice Hotels International said his team continues to work on advancements in mobile capabilities, Choicehotels.com, global distribution and rate/revenue management, which all provide value to their franchisees.

Vivek Shaiva of La Quinta Inns & Suites and his team anticipates further expansion of mobile-enabled technology to other areas of the business for improved efficiency and will evaluate any innovations that generate an ROI.

Biggest Issues for CIOs in the Industry
There is no question that security is the primary area of focus for most CIOs. While this predominantly concerns data security, it is important to note that this covers physical security as well.

Monika Nerger, global CIO for Mandarin Oriental pointed to the challenges of innovation as it relates to security. “Perhaps less of an issue and more of an opportunity, the role of the CIO is undergoing transition through the sheer velocity of technological developments in cloud, mobile and social technologies,” she said. “The complexity of this transition requires a collaborative mindset to both drive and support fluid business opportunities.”

However, with this innovation comes greater risks, particularly surrounding data privacy and security. “The ongoing headlines concerning massive breaches of credit card and personal information are ongoing evidence of the need for CIOs to remain diligent and focused in this area,” said Nerger.

Bernard Gay with Kerzner added that the ability to balance the spend against the budget is key. He said, “This does not necessarily mean that we are trying to reduce the overall dollars spent on IT but show the value of the spend to the business entities.” John Edwards with Dolce Hotels & Resorts said he is concerned with scope creep and its effect on already stretched resources.

Jeff Linden with Red Roof Inns expressed concern with the pace of change and increasing demands from business units without a commensurate increase in staffing and funding, keeping guests’ information secure, and keeping technology from being a hindrance.
Predrag Krstajic with Karisma Hotels & Resorts is concerned about the loss of strategic IT resources within the industry due to the hours/responsibilities and associated wages. He said, “Keeping talents motivated with constrained budgets related to their salaries is a challenge.”

Peter Chambers with the Viceroy Hotel Group agreed with the sentiment and added that attracting and retaining talent is an ongoing issue. Nevertheless, he suggested that this also represented an opportunity to think differently about recruitment and retention practices.

Keeping Pace with New Technology
Vivek Shaiva of La Quinta Inns & Suites said, “Technology has been evolving at such a rapid pace that it can be challenging to incorporate newer technologies’ benefits into the business as quickly as possible while remaining focused on ROI.”

While everyone has an opinion on what they believe are the latest, most interesting emerging technologies for the industry, it’s beneficial to gain an understanding of what the IT leadership for the industry are targeting.

The Internet is still the center of many of the latest technologies and innovative ideas.
Mobility is probably one of the most targeted areas of focus for most hoteliers. Given the changes in mobile technology and the continued drive to invite guests to use their mobile devices for everything from booking their hotel rooms to controlling the in-room technology, it is no wonder that most IT executives are monitoring the latest mobile technological advancements with great interest.

Jeff Linden with Red Roof Inns believes that mobile will provide new avenues in finding ways to have guests be “sticky” with the brand that is trying to increase distribution and revenues by making the brand relevant. Seth Cenac with Trust Hospitality is interested in mobile apps to assist with internal marketing programs and is looking to provide additional functionality such as check-in/checkout and door lock functionality.

Michael St-Laurent of Gemstone Hotels & Resorts is actually concerned that people may not be interested in apps and is trying a different approach. “We’re not trying to focus on an app but rather an HTML 5 based solution,” he said. “Guests don’t like to download an app at each at every hotel they go to. We’re trying to create something in a browser based solution that is GPS located.”

In taking a look at this innovative technology, Brian Garavuso with Diamond Resorts International believes that facial recognition could provide a way to improve customer service.

In-room technology is still a big focus for many hotels and Predrag Krstajic with Karisma Hotels & Resorts is looking into smart televisions, wearables and relevant apps for such devices applied in hospitality. As he noted, they could make a difference in guest experience, and on the HR end, using smartphones and wearable devices can improve the employee experience and processes. Also focused in part on the guestroom, Merrie Bird of Canyon Ranch said her team is interested in content delivery options for guestrooms, cellular signal boosters, mobile and updates to guest Wi-Fi.

David Thomson, CIO of Pineapple Hospitality, is interested in social media, learning to engage with customers in the different social channels. “(We are) looking to see if we will have a slowdown in this space in the next few years or if it will be a constantly evolving target,” he said. “As mobile takes over and the traditional search traffic is replaced with social traffic, this becomes more and more relevant for us to master.”

Jim Lamb of Interstate Hotels & Resorts said the constant downward pressure on cost should provide an opportunity for increased expenditure on innovation/emerging technology on a cost-neutral basis for his company’s properties and owners.

Not every property can be in the middle of a major city. “Because of the remote nature of many of our locations and the extreme shortage of bandwidth for both guest Internet services as well as our corporate network, I’m keeping an eye on alternative communication technology such as microwave and satellite,” John Wimmer, CIO of Xanterra Parks & Resorts said. “I’m hoping to find alternatives to traditional land-based communication providers since we are in locations where there is no ROI for the communication provider to upgrade their facilities but our need for improved communications continues to grow at an exponential rate.”

On one side of security, Ken Barnes, VP of IT for White Lodging, is interested in door systems, specifically the major operational impact and major security/safety concerns as the industry moves to opening doors with guest-owned devices. In a different security focus, Seth Cenac and his team at Trust Hospitality will continue to educate disparate owners on mandated PCI compliance requirements and intelligent risk assessment practices. Another interesting development that Vivek Shaiva from La Quinta Inns & Suites said he is closely watching is newer mechanisms for payments that also improve data security.

Predictive Analytics
Peter Chambers of Viceroy Hotel Group said his interest lies in the prediction of guest behavior. “One (technology) which I believe holds great promise for our industry is quantified self and predictive analytics,” he said. “Solutions that are able to accurately predict our behavior and desires based on numerous previous interactions with all sorts of technology sources (e.g., smartphones, TVs, browsers etc.) could provide us as hoteliers with a tremendous opportunity to innovate based more on fact and less on assumption.”

Monika Nerger is looking at existing technology and finding new ways to use it with little cost. “This will unleash an unprecedented cycle of creativity and innovation.” She is watching developments in wearables technology and robotics as well which she believes will alter our thinking about hotel security, housekeeping and a number of behind the scenes services.
Data Security and PCI Compliance: It’s not a Matter of if but When
Far from being an issue that has been beaten to death over the past few years, most CIOs and IT directors mentioned the fact that security was still very much a primary focus of their responsibilities. Mark McBeth the VP of IT North America for Starwood said, “My role and the role of my team are now more than 50 percent focused on security. It’s a big deal!”

What has changed during the past few years is the overall support from the executive committees of various hotel companies with regard to their CIOs efforts to help implement security efforts.

Ken Barnes of White Lodging positioned the seriousness of data security. “It is front and center with me daily.” He mentioned that he was fortunate to have a great team of executives who have supported him throughout his efforts to manage his company’s security challenges.
A number of CIOs mentioned how the data security issue had really changed their positions over time. For Bill Martin with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, it really comes down to risk management and that issue has caused his role to morph over time as the nature of security threats change.

One of the key differences with regards to data security over the past few years is the emergence of strategic data security initiatives and the dedication of resources to specifically address the problems at hand. Companies are hiring dedicated chief information security officers (CISOs) and other key network security personnel. They are also outsourcing their network security requirements to some of the big data security companies.

Education is also a key requirement that is often overlooked. Bernard Gay with Kerzner International mentioned that as an industry, we can do a better job making sure that the business partners understand the risk of the security issue.

For many of the IT leaders the issue boils down to minimizing exposure by limiting the amount of sensitive data that is stored in the networks. A move to tokenization and removing credit card data from the network was a no-brainer to most. As Jeff Linden the CIO for Red Roof Inns said, “If you don’t store it, they can’t steal it.” 

Martin Thell, the company’s director of IT/CIO for Scandic Hotels, said security is extremely important and his team is also working on PCI compliance. Being a company located in Europe, he has seen some initiatives that seem to be working. “We always talk about the U.S. and wonder why they haven’t implemented chip and pin yet,” he said. “We have had it for several years. From what I know the fraud has been going down quite a bit.”

It’s has become clear that while many people focused on new technologies, the issue of data security is front and foremost on the minds of the CIOs and IT leadership. While many of the group would not come right out and say it, it certainly appears that this could have a bearing on job security.

Relationship with the CMO
The lines between IT and marketing appear to be very blurred in this age of digital marketing. It's more important than ever for CMOs and CIOs to communicate consistently and effectively. There have been reports where the relationship between the CMO and CIO/IT leadership has been contentious and this can for obvious reasons be disruptive to the organization. Based on the growing need for interaction between IT and the CMO we asked the respondents to comment on their relationship with the CMO.

In general, the CIOs reported having a good relationship with CMOs and mentioned that their responsibilities are very much linked. The predominant response revolved around constant and effective communication between the parties is an absolute prerequisite. Kris Singleton with Omni mentioned that this actually was “part of the evolution of the CIO. In order to become a successful CIO it takes having good communications will all members of the executive team. You need to have a positive relationship with the CMO and not be afraid to go into their office to talk to them. Brainstorming is what it’s about and the end goal is to make the company profitable.” Most CIOs have constant communications with their CMOs and in fact schedule regular meetings on a weekly if not more frequent basis.

Having a great relationship certainly improves the chances of a successful partnership and collaboration on initiatives and goals. John Edwards with Dolce Hotels & Resorts said that his VP of marketing is one of his closest friends and they talk at least every other day. He said, “We work on projects together constantly and combine to help push innovation along.” It was pointed out that good relationships should also exist between the CIO and the other C-level leaders. A number of respondents indicated that they were “joined at the hip” with some of their contemporaries to deliver the most optimal solutions for the business.

Blurred Lines
There are often blurred lines as to where the CIO’s and CMO’s responsibilities are concerned. A number of the CIOs referenced that it’s important that both parties work closely together so that the various initiatives and projects are successful

Someone who does have a unique perspective on the role is Brian Garavuso with Diamond Resorts International. Brian mentioned that from mid-2009 to the end of 2010 he was both the CIO and CMO for his company and that in some organizations the lines are blurred.
While there are those organizations where the roles may be blurred, others point to the fact that there is a clear delineation with regards to roles and responsibilities. Mark McBeth said, “We have IT resources that are directly connected to our brand teams and our CIO and CMO both report to the CEO,” he said. “We are actively engaged in our marketing efforts and with our brands in creating standards and strategy.” 

When There is no CMO
So how are things coordinated and managed in this case? David Thomson with Pineapple Hospitality had one explanation that seems to be working for his company. “We currently have no CMO and our Internet marketing team currently reports to me,” he said. “The interpretation of data patterns and their relationship to business objectives seem like a great place for the CIO to be involved. Who else is going to be technical enough to understand the digital marketing landscape and force accountability of performance while also able to feed the marketing team with relevant tools and information to become more effective.”

Not all Sunshine and Roses
There are a few CIOs who pointed to a slightly contentious relationship with their marketing counterparts. This is especially true where an initiative has just started and they feel that they have a long road ahead of them. Comments such as “Marketing… has the belief that it all begins and ends with them.” Clearly in these instances this relationship will need to be developed in order for a collaborative effort to work.
Monika Nerger said, “(We are) peers, collaborators, and in the trenches together. Most importantly we are mutually respectful that it will take the effort of our respective teams working in new and imaginative ways to succeed.”

This Brings Us Back to the Evolution of the Role of CIO Itself
We all know that technology is changing at an incredible rate and this has had a major impact on the way that we all live and interact as a society. It’s a challenge to keep up with known and proven technology let alone the impact of new emerging trends. If one were to take a look at the technology changes over the past 10 years and how they have affected the hospitality industry, I think we would see that the primary change has been that the role of the CIO has evolved to that of an innovator having strategic importance to the overall growth and success of the company. As the position continues to evolve it will be interesting to see if it can lead to other key leadership opportunities within many of these companies.

Brian Garavuso with Diamond Resorts and Predrag Krstajic with Karisma Hotels & Resorts both believe that every day is definitely a learning opportunity. As Krstajic said, “Every day there is an experience that I take lessons from. I try to share it with my team so that we can do things better when next opportunity presents itself.”

- Collaboration by Jeremy Rock, HU's Kris Burnett and HU's Geneva Rinehart
Jeremy Rock is the president of RockIT Group, a technology consulting firm specializing in new development and refurbishment projects. He can be reached at
JRock@RockITgroup.com .

©2014 Hospitality Upgrade
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent.
For permission requests, call 678.802.5302 or email info@hospitalityupgrade.com.

Some industry accomplishments and key initiatives

Dolce Hotels and Resorts
John Edwards with Dolce Hotels and Resorts has been focused on some new mobile applications, and Dolce was the first to implement Mobile Opera 9 PMS.

Diamond Resorts International
Brian Garavuso with Diamond Resorts International has primarily been busy with the deployment of a new central reservations module that has streamlined many of the business processes for his company’s sales and marketing efforts, and has aided in significant increases in revenue.

La Quinta Inns and Suites
Vivek Shaiva said La Quinta has upgraded its Internet bandwidth (up to five times the properties’ previous download speeds) at most of its company-owned hotels to provide guests significantly faster speeds.

Viceroy Hotel Group
Peter Chambers with Viceroy Hotel Group developed a new in-room guest-facing technology called Viceroy Connect, which is a mobile solution installed on a software-secured 5-inch Android-based device in the guestroom.


High Tech on the High Seas
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas

Three years ago the CIO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Bill Martin and his team undertook a project to connect with their younger customers and their desire to be connected no matter where they are. “Internally we started talking about the changing landscape of our guests and how the Millennials were some of our prime customers,” Martin said.

The RCCL team were faced with the connectivity challenge and devised a three-phased approach.  “Phase I was to provide a pervasive Wi-Fi infrastructure onboard for complete coverage around the ship. Phase II was to ensure that once on the ship you need to gain access to the Internet. Phase III, the last step, is to provide coverage off the ship,” he said.

Most ships have between 1 MB to 2 MB of download capacity with a latency of about 800 milliseconds. Due to the limited amount of bandwidth, traditionally the only way to control demand and manage capacity was by price.

Martin’s team initially engaged a company out of Florida called Harris CapRock to assist in increasing capacity. “We’ve had this in place for two years and it allowed us to increase the capacity by eight fold. We sold daily and weekly packages but the prices were still high, as effectively we had to share 8 MB between 3,000 people.”

Martin’s team then found O3B, a company founded by a cellular network guru who was focused on providing cellular coverage in Africa. With investors such as Google, O3B  built a low orbit satellite farm. “Effectively they set up a constellation of satellites that orbit five times closer to earth at 8,000 km,” Martin said. “The solution requires that the ships be equipped with a pair of antennas that work in tandem. One tracks the satellite that is closest as it moves overhead while the second antenna is looking for the second satellite. This happens every 40 to 45 minutes as the service needs to transfer between satellites as they orbit.”

The result is that RCCL has more than 500 MB of capacity at 120 millisecond latency, which is like having fiber speed with satellite reach. Each one of the beams typically focuses on a target on the ground for a firm location. However in this case, it’s actually a spot on the ship and as such they have to compensate for motion in the water.

From a guest’s perspective, a first-time cruise guest will simply be impressed with fast Wi-Fi Internet access. “However if the guest has previously been on a ship he will be blown away by the speed,” Martin said. “Ultimately it will also be less expensive for the guest and priced similarly to that of a resort hotel.”

Guests will be provided with unlimited high-speed access and will be able to watch streaming video and other content as well as post pictures to social media outlets. “People want to post the picture as they take it,” Martin said. “It’s been proven that the likelihood of a posting is greater if the content is shared instantly. The broadband capability will allow for dynamite utilization of this capability.” The additional bandwidth allows other guest service such as streaming of Google maps for guests to identify what to do in the next port of call.

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, is scheduled to set sail in fall 2014.The ship has some unique features including a bionic bar where robots mix and serve drinks, the 1 GIG wireless network serviced by the O3B satellite network, RFID keys/bracelets for use on and off the ship, the RFID luggage tracking system called Luggage IQ, 100-inch robotic screens that create a 270-degree viewing area three stories high, virtual balconies for internal cabins, a new online check-in system, and many other features.


Protection of data is not limited to credit card security

When asked who is ultimately responsible for enterprise data security, the burden will likely fall squarely on the CIO. However, in the wake of continued movement into the cloud, some mission critical systems traditionally managed by IT are now being outsourced and CIOs may be losing visibility and control over crucial company and employee data.

Data breaches make headlines daily and organizations are working harder than ever to secure customer data. PCI Compliance has become a burdensome obsession for most CIOs, often overriding innovation opportunities, overtaxing IT staff and consuming otherwise valuable resources.     

As traditional HR and payroll systems, now commonly referred to as human capital management or talent management, quickly move from premise-based deployment to the cloud, control and security of important employee data is also moving out of the enterprise. However, the CIO is still responsible for the security of this data.   

While customer credit cards have been the primary target of hackers and represent significant financial gain, employee records can be a far more valuable and compelling target. With typical data such as social security number, bank account, birth date and address, hackers can apply for credit cards and loans, create fictitious insurance claims, and sell identities, all at profits much higher than credit card data alone. 

As far as customers are concerned, a credit card data beach undermines confidence in the brand and creates inconvenience as credit cards are canceled and credit has to be monitored. The brand may be facing steep fines and significant remediation costs.  However, credit cards can easily be replaced, but an employee Social Security card cannot.  A breach in employee records may in fact be far more damaging to the brand. Exposure of staff performance data, reviews and disciplinary records, all of which traditionally reside in HCM and talent management systems could disrupt the brand’s entire workforce and lead to a wholesale exodus of staff and an especially onerous PR nightmare.   

HR departments are becoming the de-facto support teams for these deployments but are typically not trained to the same level of systems security awareness as IT organizations. This typically includes password and user security, integration to premise-based timekeeping and ERP systems, interfaces, employee self-service portals and the like.  All of these connections are potential vectors for data loss and are likely not being properly scrutinized for security.

CIOs are intimately familiar with the PCI standard as a baseline security recommendation. HCM systems should be subjected to the same standard of security and the same practices associated with PCI card holder data.

What CIOs should do:

  • Insist on reviewing all contracts for HCM systems regardless of who may be ultimately responsible for support or management.  Clearly understand what kind of data is being stored in these systems and how it is being managed and secured. 
  • Is employee data fully encrypted at rest and in transit?
  • Is your company data sufficiently separated from other customer data and not co-mingled?
  • Will the HR team be trained properly on managing and resetting employee and admin passwords to avoid possible social engineering?

A more expanded checklist is online: http://www.hospitalityupgrade.com/HRsecuritytips.

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