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Interview with Scot Campbell - Vice President of MIS Business Solutions, MGM MIRAGE–CityCenter

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June 01, 2007
Face to Face
Rich Siegel - Rich@hospitalityupgrade.com

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Note from Rich: Imagine you are opening four hotels, a gigantic casino, two condo towers, a theatre, spas and many, many retail outlets. Imagine everything was opening at the same time and the amount being spent on this project was approximately $7 billion. Yes, billion. Then imagine you were one of the key players deciding what technology is going to be used and assuring the technology will be state of the art until 2015? That is the world Scott Campbell is living in today for MGM MIRAGE’s CityCenter, being built on the Las Vegas strip.

Get comfortable and enjoy one the most intriguing interviews I have ever done. There may never be anything as large as CityCenter ever built again. There is much we can learn from this. Enjoy.

Rich:  Traditionally, we start the interview with your background.  I have heard there is nothing “traditional” with yours.
Scot:  Well, I have a weird background to be in the hotel/casino business. I grew up in the Midwest and was a lover of radio.  After high school I went off to technical school and worked in radio stations. I always had a vision that radio was my career.  I worked in many different places throughout the Midwest and ended up in Las Vegas working for a few different radio stations. I realized one day that in radio you either make $40,000 or a million, and the rest of it is no man’s land. My wife and I were just about to have our first child, and as my wife would look at me, I could hear my mother saying, “When are you going to get a real job?”

The crossroads of life. What did you do?
While I was still in radio I went back and learned everything I could about computers because I was always fascinated and passionate about technology. 

What time frame was this? 
About 18 years ago (about 1989).  Shows you how old I am.  If you put those numbers together, you’ll find out I turned 50 last month. 

Happy Birthday.
Thanks. So when I stepped away from the radio business, I went to work for a consultancy. It was a small, little accounting consultancy.  The company sold accounting systems and I was their marketing director.  So, here was this radio guy who could speak and sell stuff, and I became a marketing director.  About a year and a half into that, one of the owners had Hodgkin’s disease.  Things closed down a bit for that company and I went to work as a computer trainer for a small training company here in Las Vegas.  It was a unique experience for me because I realized I could humanize software probably because I wasn’t a hard-core techie.  I was real successful and became the director of training. 

Where were you doing your training?
Our contract was with the Mirage Resorts company. At that time, The Mirage was open, and Treasure Island was just about to open.  The company got the contract, and I was training users on Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 and this brand new thing called Microsoft Word. Then one day the Mirage Resorts company said, “How come you don’t work for us?”  And I said, “Well, because nobody ever asked.” 

Simple as that, right?
Yes.  I came into the company as somewhat of a renegade because they were mini- and mainframe-based, and I was one of the first PC guys that came in the door and worked in product management.  Our CIO came in and started to revolutionize what we did by centralizing everything. I worked in system engineering by helping to build the help desk and doing project work.  Then when it was announced that Bellagio® was going to open, IT built its own project management group, and I slid into that and worked my way up.  It is sort of a weird and somewhat checkered past, but still it adds a business flavor with a technology flavor. 

Interesting. Then what?
I worked 12 years in the MGM MIRAGE IT department. Eventually I got a little bored and was looking around a bit. One day the Chief Operating Officer Jim Murren said, “We are going to build a cancer institute, a research and treatment facility. Nevada has never had one. Do you know anyone who could run the IT department?”  After thinking about it a couple of days, I decided that that was me, and I went on to become the CIO of the Nevada Cancer Institute.

How did you get back into hospitality?
The opportunity came my way to become the Chief Information Officer at another property during its opening. But unfortunately that didn’t work out for me and after a year I exited that position and was given this great opportunity to come back to MGM MIRAGE.  This time I was on the business side working in the finance group, in a group that we have developed called business solutions.

What does the business solutions group do?
What we do is we try to figure out what the business really wants and give better criteria to IT to bring those two things together. 

How many hotels have you opened? 
The first one, Bellagio, was the big one and our little group was given the job of figuring out all things IT.  About three months after we started to do the research on how Bellagio would look, the company announced that they were building a hotel in Biloxi, Miss., called Beau Rivage®.  And at one time, those two hotels were going to open three months apart. That was kind of scary. 

What happened?
There was a hurricane and Beau Rivage was pushed back eight months which made it doable.  I opened Bellagio, Beau Rivage, and spent a lot of time with our partner, Boyd Gaming, traveling back and forth to the Borgata® in New Jersey and helping them with their technology criteria because we were true partners in that property.

Interesting background. What are your responsibilities today?
When I was given this job, my job description was to do whatever I needed to do to help IT become successful at CityCenter Las Vegas.  And when I stood back and looked at this CityCenter—multiple high rise buildings, multiple brands and multiple properties—I said, ‘Well, the most productive thing we can work on is how do we work with all the business sponsors to get the right criteria into IT’s hands to make them successful?’  Because I always felt that if you don’t give IT the right criteria, then you are going to end up with a system that is mediocre at best.  Our role is to work with business, understand what they truly need, what they want and then work as a partner with IT. 

Please describe CityCenter Las Vegas.  
In the middle of the Las Vegas strip between Bellagio and Monte Carlo®, 76 acres has been named many things in the past, but today it is called CityCenter. On that plot of land, MGM MIRAGE is going to revolutionize the way that we look at Las Vegas.  We talk to people all the time and many that visit have said, ‘In Las Vegas, there is really no downtown. We have a downtown, but people think of the strip as kind of downtown, but it doesn’t resemble a traditional downtown.’  So many people have moved to Las Vegas from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities.  They long to find living up instead of sprawling out.  We have taken those concepts and said, Here is what we are going to do to change the way Las Vegas looks.  We are going up.  It’s going to be a combination of a 4,000 room hotel/casino like we have done traditionally in the past.  We have a Mandarin Oriental hotel with residential living above it. It is very high end.  We have a boutique hotel called The Harmon, which is hotel plus residential living above.  Our Condo Hotel, Vdara, where you can purchase a unit and then have an option to put it in a nightly rental program.  When you look right in the center of CityCenter, there are two high-rises that lean, hence the name Veer, that are purely residential in nature.  We also have a beautiful retail district and all the other things that you expect from Las Vegas.  We look at this as a City.  All of these buildings are going to come online in the fourth quarter of 2009.  The difference is that instead of the frontage being a theme, Pirate Ships, Water Shows, Roller Coasters, the building architecture will be the theme.  A City Within A City.
A real city has to have more than residences, hotel, casinos and a theatre. 
We have a half million square feet of retail experience that will be like no other in Las Vegas. We also have shops and opportunities for high-end grocers  and so forth to come in and really give that inner city feeling to where you can walk pretty much anywhere.  Don’t forget that it is also in the middle of everything that is happening in Las Vegas.  Centered among Bellagio, Monte Carlo and New York New York™, and our other properties in that segment, we think the city grows out into those buildings also and becomes a really large city.  Then as you move across Tropicana, you have got Excalibur and all the way down to Mandalay Bay®.  And so that becomes a whole city concept once we are done.  The campus gets larger, if you will. 

I know that’s not your role, but I am curious.  What do the condos in CityCenter go for?
I believe they start in the low $500,000s.

Being approximately a $7 billion project, is this the biggest project ever in this country? 
The way it is currently stated this is the largest privately funded building project in the United States. 

You represent the business side of technology. Please explain the other side.
We have a vice president of technology that the corporation has put into this building process. His name is John Bollen. John and I are partners.  We are pretty much attached at the hip, and we look at every nook and cranny of these 76 acres to understand what the technology is. More importantly we pair up and figure out what the future of technology will be, because we know that we are going to have a hotel system, and it is going to be the hotel system, right?

The future of that technology is one thing, but we feel like the customer service angle or the way that people are going to use technology in the future could very well be completely different in 2010.  Technology is changing in such a way that we have to be ahead of the game.  Looking at this many rooms that far into the future is really an interesting proposition. 

The intriguing part of a project of this magnitude and so diverse is that you are looking at technology that will not be impacting you today but many years down the road.
Actually the most important thing is we look at it from 2010, but it also has to stay rich and have a wow factor into 2015.  

What is your crystal ball telling you?
I believe that people feel at home when they come to a really good hotel today, but people are changing. When they’re at home now or on the road, they carry a cell phone. Everyday the cell phone is getting more and more stuff on it.  They are bringing technology with them. They are going to expect certain things that they don’t expect today.  And so, what are all those technologies and how do you subtly make people feel more comfortable when they come to your hotel?  That’s the sustainability part of it that we want CityCenter to be. 

We have many people reading the magazine that are going through the same building process, albeit on a smaller scale. When they build new hotels, look at what technology they are using today, and also look at what is evolving. They make choices for their hotels that will open two years from now.  What do you think is the trick to getting it right? 
I often think it is being outside the box. I think as hoteliers, we think in a certain way, I think it starts by asking, how do you think in a different way?  It’s not about how to make my front desk look more techie.  It’s not about adding some wild technology in the guestroom that looks more techie. It’s about stepping back and doing some research about people, trends and the technology that is happening in people’s lives. That is where it’s going to add value at the end of the game.  People are adopting technology at a rate that we have never seen before.
My mother said she would never ever, ever, ever cook anything in a microwave.  When I was young she said, ‘There’s no way that I’m going to radiate my children’s food,’ and then one day there was a tipping point, and the microwave became an every day thing. And even my mom bought one.

That’s a great example. 
Yeah, it’s a great example about how peoples’ mindsets are constantly changing.  When we get to 2010 and 2012, 13 and 14, it is going to keep going.  Soon we will be broadcasting television on the cell phone. This is Buck Rogers kind of stuff.

So, your focus is on what is coming after this.
What is coming and how do you find it, that’s the real question.  We think that people in Asia are ahead of us.  We have been to Tokyo and Hong Kong looking at the average person’s technology, not necessarily guestroom technology, but watching people interact with their technologies such as their cell phones, iPods and MP3 players. 

And what have you found? 
I think the cell phone is the device of the future. It is my communication device, my rolodex, my calendar, my wed browser, and my television; It’s everything I need in this one device.  And so, with that in mind, the real question becomes how do I, as a hotelier, interact with that device. That is the key.  If I’m a guest and I bring it with me, then how do I interact with you? 

Elaborate on this a bit, how do you think the cell phone technology is going to affect the hotel two to five years from now?
Today the cell phone carriers charge for text messages, but I think that the industry is going to change again. 

It better.
Yes, because text messaging is crazy, right?  And so, there is text messaging, and then there is media messaging.  It’s an interactive device that people are carrying with them, right? I interact with people in text message form now, which is really kind of an interesting paradigm because I get e-mail on my phone, and then other people are text messaging me; I was always concerned that I was going to run up the bill because I was getting charged for every text message. 
That is going to go away, and then people will want to opt into text messaging programs.  They will want to if they are not charged for a transaction.  Then when a guest comes in, we can offer something like, ‘Do you want to be part of our CityCenter text messaging?’  And then as you move around the building, you will get text messages.  That’s a concept that we’re working on.
How do you pull that off, and where is the technology that provides a guest who walks through a certain place and something special is offered by being in that place and also being a customer of MGM MIRAGE, that's what we are working on. 

That’s pretty cool. You said they would be automatically texting a guest as he walks through a certain part of the CityCenter complex?
Yes, and is that RFID, is it triangulation through cell phone, is it Wi-Fi ID? These are the concepts that we are working on today trying to figure out how we make that vision of that future come true.  Then can you interact with a customer no matter where they are and offer services that will make them feel more at home. That means more revenue. 

This is interesting, what else?
When I check in at the beginning of my stay, can I make my cell phone my guestroom phone?  No matter where I roam on the campus, that’s my guestroom phone.  If someone calls my room, I don’t even have to be there anymore, it rings through to my cell phone.  Again, it all sounds kind of Buck Rogers.

Are we ready for a hotel without a guestroom phone? 
Absolutely.  I think the guestroom phone of the future, and again this is my personal vision, is this little box that is on the wall and has a button, and you push it and you say, ‘Can you send up a pizza and some towels and another pillow, please?’  And someone on the other end says, ‘Okay, we’ll be there in 15 minutes.’  And you push it again and say, ‘Thank you.’ 

Many people think this isn’t that far out.
I know.

One of the hotels at CityCenter will be a Mandarin Oriental that MGM MIRAGE owns but Mandarin Oriental manages, correct?

Doesn’t Mandarin Oriental have its own technology strategy?
Yes, it does. Nick Price is very forward thinking on technology, and yes, Mandarin Oriental is settled into its technology set. 

How does that affect what you are doing at the properties in CityCenter?  Is it creating any conflicts?
Mandarin Oriental has been a great partnership.  All of the Mandarin employees are interacting at the detail level, and they are looking for synergies just as we are.  Can we share a phone system?  Do we need a bunch of phone switches all through these buildings?  Probably not.  With the invention of voice-over IP, we can put in one switch in one building and spread it throughout all the buildings. 

Again, Mandarin Oriental, which has been opening hotels aggressively for the last few years, has technology it likes using.  How is that affecting what you are doing in the properties that you will be opening and managing on your own?
We feel like Mandarin Oriental is going to be its own brand with its own entity. While we are looking at CityCenter as a great big campus each one of these buildings has its own brand and feel, and so the Mandarin needs to be a Mandarin. We are doing what we can do to make it a Mandarin.  When you are there, it is like being at a Mandarin in New York or Tokyo.  For the Mandarin, there is some synergy on centralization, but there are also some specific things that make a Mandarin Oriental a Mandarin and we are focused on that.  As we develop the program for our hotels, we want to make each unique but also leverage back the corporate synergies of technology. 

This is where people are intrigued.  You own the Mandarin, but the Mandarin Oriental Hotels Group manages it.  The Mandarin has its own technology initiative and you have your own technology initiative. What are you going to do if Mandarin wants to do something and you think there is a better route? 
We are constantly in conversations like that.  What is it and can you leverage back some of the technologies we are thinking about?  But at the end of the day, Mandarin will have the Mandarin brand, and Nick is very passionate about what technologies go in the room.  We look for opportunities where we can, and then there are other things that we just say it’s a Mandarin and that‘s what it is going to be. We have the same philosophy at our other properties. Each will have its own unique brand, but they will have similar services in the guestrooms.  Whether that is touch panel or a different kind of video content delivery and the content itself makes Mandarin specific.  Mandarin has a really unique and well-known way of delivering video content to its guestroom televisions, and that will remain. Mandarin works with a number of different vendors to provide their own unique content and video on demand.

All Mandarin properties have this content?
Yes, but importantly Mandarin’s strategy is to provide the right content for the right demographic.  Mandarin’s guest represents the top 1 percent of international travelers, and I understand that they provide content uniquely appropriate to their market, which changes between regions and sometimes between hotels.

Has that affected you and how you are going to do things in your properties?
No, but we are definitely looking at, especially when it comes to video delivery, how do we have a centralized head end with the channels and content being delivered to the Mandarin.  Instead of having many head ends all over the campus.   

Since the room is such a hot focus in the market today, looking so far down the road what specifically is your strategy?
Our core technology strategy is everything on the IP network.  That’s the first thing you have to understand is that we are planning for fiber to the guestroom and everything on the network.  So, once you understand that it’s all there and the bandwidth is scalable to the guestroom, then you can start getting creative.  As we start looking at video delivery systems, that is what makes each of our brands somewhat unique, right?  I am fascinated by the fashion channel, how 24/7, people can walk up and down a runway.  Some of our properties really want the fashion channel and some don’t, so it’s about the content itself that makes it unique. We look at the technology and we can deliver that over IP, and so we start to focus on what is the head end and how does that get delivered.  Each operator is free to say but I’d like these channels, which make me specific.  Can I deliver content that one would only see on pay per view at home?  Maybe not in 2010 but I think in the future we start to watch movies in a guestroom while it is still in the theater, now that’s compelling.

You think?
I think it is a business deal.  I think that movie theaters are looking for additional revenue sources, and they are all focusing right now on the buy-once/download many times with many different devices, and I think that someday that it is going to become fruition.  How does that all come together?  We think our technology base is ready for that.  We can deliver that movie at the same time.  It’s about bandwidth and how can we get it to the room. 

Tell me about running fiber to the hotels and the condos.
Let’s start with the condos.  The condos are more traditional in nature.  Most of our vendors aren’t ready to license to a private homeowner yet.  The Hospitality Networks, LodgeNets and On Commands of the world aren’t ready for that yet.  So it’s more about enabling someone who buys a condo to be able to grow into all the technologies that public services are providing.

Keep going. 
Can I deliver a cable company solution of digital video and voice-over IP or is it a combination from the telco, so all of that infrastructure has to be there.  We’re making sure that our residences have that infrastructure so they can grow into their technology needs.  Then, you get into hotel rooms, and we think it is really about bandwidth.  We have learned over and over again as we have built hotels with the Cat 3 wire and coax and then a little bit of Cat 5 over here that whole thing is too hard to manage, and since everything is moving to the IP network; let’s just put fiber in the guestroom. Let’s distribute it to the guestroom, and then we can just scale the bandwidth as technology changes. It’s about changing the devices in the room instead of opening the walls to remodel and trying to pull new wire.

Good point.
That is the key strategy to fiber. Specifically in Las Vegas they are pulling fiber out to all the closets for cable TV, phone and everything.  I believe one day we will have fiber to our house, and then the bandwidth is big enough to really start. Envisioning what Bill Gates says, television will start to be delivered on the IP network to the home.  When it comes to CityCenter we are ahead of that game. 

We always hear about converged networks.
Mandarin Oriental used the Lorica Solution. If you look at a Lorica-specific solution, it is this great end device that if I run fiber and bring the IP bandwidth to it, and then I can consolidate many things to it, with wireless access points built into it, a Zigbee radio–we think Zigbee is the wave of the future when it comes to controlling all the different devices in your room. We think Lorica is way out in front starting to converge these networks down because, do you just give one great big pipe or do you have virtual networks that service the minibar, one for the TV, one for the in-room controls and one for the voice signal to get quality service. We look at Lorica as a Mandarin partner, but we are looking at it for other things too. 

It is amazing what is going to the rooms today versus what was going there five years ago.
Absolutely.  But again, you have to be careful that it doesn’t become too techie. 

I totally agree. 
I have been to a lot of hotels where the strategy is that they were moving things to this big touch panel on the telephone. My opinion is that it got a little too techie, and then you couldn’t figure out how to call the front desk.  First, it is a small metaphor of the telephone itself, and second, you know how those buttons are created to make it a guest experience instead of a hunt and peck to try to find something. 

There are many technologies on the horizon to simplify ordering everything from show tickets to making restaurant reservations.
Absolutely.  That has to be the wave of the future for increased revenue opportunities.  We’ve already talked about the use of the phone to call people diminishing. The real criteria or the real requirement is how do I offer services on the TV, as small as do I need to print a guestbook? When the price of room service pizza changes the cost to reprint a guestbook is enormous.

Good point. 
And you want to do it about customer service where on the server you can change the price in every room and just use the new price on the room service menu.  That is a strategy that I think all hoteliers have to move to at some point. Whether TV or phone, it’s the content itself, and it’s digital, and it’s dynamic instead of static. Can I make reservations?  Can I see other attractions outside of the hotel? Can I cross sell and up sell? I don’t think it's about pop-up adds. That gets real old.  I don’t want to travel with a laptop, so how do I get on MySpace and talk to my friends?  How do I talk to my family back at home? 

This is something that’s been going on for a while now. 
Everybody is talking about it, but the bandwidth is the reason people have been hindered.  If you can deliver the bandwidth and a quality kind of visual presentation to the customer, then I think people will use it, and find value in it.  It’s like getting home and jumping on the computer to check your stocks, pay your bills or going to MySpace.  The way people communicate today and tomorrow is different. 

That’s a great point.  People sometimes forget hotels are a business. If there are ways in the guestroom to improve the guest experience and generate revenue, that’s a win/win.
That’s the key. It's subtle technology that adds value to the customer, and when it comes to the reservations and stuff, how do I do it faster, quicker and better. That is the thing that every hotelier talks about constantly. 

I’ve had conversations in the past with Glenn Bonner and more recently with MGM MIRAGE CIO Tom Peck regarding leveraging the size of MGM MIRAGE in Las Vegas.  Today you can stay at Treasure Island and charge a meal from Mandalay Bay to your room. Will similar things be the norm in CityCenter?
Absolutely.  What hospitality companies have to think is we have all these applications. We have spa systems, hotel systems, and in our case casino systems and concierge systems. Then all the things that run our back of the house, the food and beverage systems. In the past it has been problematic to get these to talk to one another.  A long time ago, the information technology group took the attitude that we don’t want to develop all those systems because there are world-class vendors out there. Micros’ OPERA, PAR Springer-Miller and many others do that really well. But how do you get the room charge going? The day is coming when the food and beverage system probably isn’t going to plug into the hotel system directly, at least not in our world.  It is going to plug into a data bus, and the data is going to flow back and forth based on business rules. 

Once you can do that and the data bus is extended through all the MGM MIRAGE properties, then the room charge transaction hits the data bus with a rule that reads that guest is over at the Mirage, and he is staying in this room, then the data flows into that folio.  It’s really important when you have multiple properties to be able to offer that service. Customers find value in it.  If a guest stays a week and the property has three or four restaurants, they can now choose from 40 or 50 and all can be charged to their room. It’s a tremendous value to the customer. 

The whole world is going wireless, and I’m sure it’s on your agenda.
It is. And, it needs to be thought of from a campus or corporate perspective.  If we build the wireless networks in silos, then we get into the problem of the customer buying wireless Internet for their laptop at the casino, but now they are at the Mandarin, so why doesn’t it work?  The infrastructure has to be campus wide and with different charging engines. We pick that person up at the first log-on and charge them, but they can roam the campus.  That’s another one of our visions that really has to come into play and not only 802.11-A, B, G, N, Z, Y, whatever; it’s about other wireless services, too. You have to look at things like a neutral host system; there are 800 MHz radios, life safety radios and cell phone service, and then how do people in the future walk in with a Wi-Fi enabled cell phone and switch over to Wi-Fi to reduce per minute charges.  Wireless becomes a gigantic campus-wide thing, and the coverage of that is very complex. Our goal is to put wireless everywhere, every flavor that we can possibly account for, and what is the growth of Y-Max and others?  How we make sure that we plan for the growth of the next evolution of this thing?  What do you need a wire for if everything is wireless?

I don’t believe it is that black and white. As a company you must have interesting meetings trying to figure what will be important to your customers years into the future.
You are right about our meetings.  Often we throw everything up on the table. The stuff that falls to the floor isn’t valuable, and the stuff left on the table at the end of the meeting is valuable, and we go off and try to figure out how to get it.  But that’s really what it’s all about.  When you think of technology, a lot of times we think let’s get the 16-way titanium servers, because then we can go faster and deliver the hotel system faster to the clerk so the checkin becomes a shorter time period.  That’s a valuable analysis to do, but the more valuable thing in my role today is to figure out what the customers really are going to find valuable.  What is going to make them feel like they are at home?  A lot of business travelers come to our town, and I wouldn’t want to be a business traveler, because a lot of hotels are very boxy and uncomfortable.  We are trying to figure out how to make you feel at home.  It goes back to interacting with the devices you brought with youwireless Internet and high-speed Internet because people are going to bring Slingbox and other kinds of stuff that isn’t even thought of yet.  We look at the customer first, and then we look at the technology. 

How much of what you do today at MGM MIRAGE is affecting what you will be doing at CityCenter? 
Well, I think most of what we do we will go back to MGM MIRAGE for are the standards. From a technology standpoint, Tom Peck and his IT group have just done a tremendous amount of work and have had a lot of success standardizing our systems.  I think that they have created these great standards, and I feel like 80 to 85 percent of the systems that are going to go into CityCenter will follow the corporate standards–it’s just natural, especially when you start talking about interaction between properties. 

Then there is this smaller percentage that is unique to CityCenter that either will remain unique to CityCenter, or the MGM MIRAGE properties may want to adopt those new standards. It has been my experience that you start to push the envelope when you build something new, and those things that you are out on the edge with start to become standards throughout the corporation. 

Well said. 
And as technology upgrades happen, it can’t happen all at one time, but to make ourselves different and to find brand value in all of these places we’re building, you have to get out on the edge. But how do you balance how far out onto the edge?

How do you address your needs with current MGM MIRAGE vendors? 
Technology has a shelf life. We like vendors who think not only about the next version, the next quarter and the next bug fix, but about the future. And sometimes, our company outgrows the technology and there are other technology partners that come in that are way out on the edge, not bleeding, but on the cutting edge that can offer a better value in the system.
Systems evolve, and it’s been interesting to watch as the corporation evolves what are those standards that we’ll use at CityCenter. What I say is the hotel system today could be different when we get to the end of 2009.  Whatever that standard is, we know that we need to create that synergy and use that same system.  I am not saying we are going to change our hotel system. I’m just using it as an example. When you’re in an operational mode and the property is looking at creating value to customers and generating revenue every day, there are not a lot of free cycles to think about the future, so CityCenter is a great catalyst back to MGM MIRAGE for future technology and how other properties start leveraging it. 

Have you come across technology that is not in the hospitality marketplace today but you believe will be?
Well, I think that Zigbee will be more widespread.

Explain Zigbee.  
Zigbee is an 802.14 wireless networking system and it’s very small packet sizes, but it’s used in control systems.  A Zigbee identifier of how much water is flowing through the chiller system is a good example of what Zigbee does.  The Zigbee alliance is in the midst of creating Zigbee standards like we have with Wi-Fi.  That’s emerging, but we think that Zigbee is great when it comes to wireless communications for all kinds of building management systems and controls. We’re seeing companies emerge out of the Zigbee market that are offering some really unique things to the home that we think can also be plugged into a hospitality system. We go to many Zigbee events to understand how this technology is emerging, and that’s really critical not having to run wire.  We have data wireless, but this is more about controls, and how do we control things, and how do we tell what the temperature is without having to run a bunch of wires up to the thermostat.  We are planning for LEED certification for our buildings and this is one of those technologies that can enable energy savings.  I’m also seeing many lock vendors move to a Zigbee standard.  As they start talking to the room nervous system itself, it is being done through Zigbee.

Explain the lock vendors and Zigbee. 
For an online locking system, and we use Timelox in many of our hotels today, traditionally, we either have to run a wire up to the lock, or we’ve used multiple vendors where, we had IR systems that go back to a wire.  So the lock can communicate with a server in the basement, and we can interrogate the locks remotely.  Well, that’s always kind of been a challenge because it’s still a wire, right?  So if I already have a network nervous system in the room, I just want the lock to talk to that nervous system. 

This is good, keep going…
Now, it’s not economical or practical to put a Wi-Fi radio in a lock, so this Zigbee solution has become a natural move toward doing that, and that way we can tell when the door has been opened too long, and we can interrogate who was the last person in the room.  We can do all kinds of things with the lock, but we can also do online room changes where if I move you from one room to another, you don’t have to come back down to the front desk.  You can just move to your room, and your key automatically works because we have wirelessly told it to. 

I think we are still early in the cycle with regards to RFID technology for hotels.
Someday there will be RFID chips in every cell phone.  Then, I won’t have to issue a key anymore.  I can just walk up and wave my phone at the front of the door, and the RFID opens the door to let me in.  And then I don’t have to issue a key, and then there are no lost keys and who is going to lose their cell phone...oh, wait a minute (laughing) I have lost mine four times in the last six months. But, people tend to protect their cell phone, right?  And again, it’s the device they brought with them and how do I interact with that? 

Are you looking at kiosks and self-service devices for CityCenter?
We’re looking at it very, very heavily. Today we have a couple of prototypes for check in/check out kinds of things going on in our corporation. We haven’t set any standards yet, but we think CityCenter is just a complete natural based on travel today.  I can’t remember the last time I interacted with a person to get a boarding pass because I either got it off the Internet or from a kiosk, and then I just shove my bag at someone and get on the plane.  That concept and that technology, I think, is tipping over people’s perceptions of our whole checkin/checkout process. If it’s not complex, I walk up, push a button, and we’ve been to many hotels around the country that are doing this already, and my key kicks out or I wave my phone in front of it with an RFID chip and it, acknowledges me, and then I just carry it off to my room–this is a positive experience. 

The kiosk of the future has to be more then just check in/checkout and getting boarding passes for your flight.
Again, it has to look right from a guest’s perspective.  I have seen kiosks that were really complex, and then I’ve seen them very, very simple that any grandmother could walk up and use. It’s more about the look and the interaction of the guest than it is about the backend technology. We are going to start focusing more about the rich GUI, if you will, on these machines as customers start to interact with them because that is the success or failure of kiosks as far as I’m concerned. 

But how does one define success with kiosks?
We have seen 10 percent to 15 percent adoption in the hotels that we have gone to visit and talked to about kiosk solutions, but I think, again, that is one of those forward- thinking things that peoples’ minds will start changing because they do not want to stand in line.  I do not stand in line.  That is one of my core competencies.  I am not a line stander.  So, if I can have the opportunity to walk over, push a couple of buttons, get a key and head to my room, to me that is customer service and a value.

You talked earlier about Zigbee.  What else are you looking at that might not be considered commonplace today?
One of the other things that we’re looking at pretty heavily is how we do cashless payment.  When we were in Asia and some other places, cashless payments are very well adopted. You walk up, you have something, you wave it and it charges you. When you have a bill to pay you probably do that online, so you never create paper.  How do you do that in America, one, with the regulatory environments that we have for Visa, MasterCard and all the other players, but more importantly, how do you do that in the building?  With RFID if I can acknowledge who you are from your device, then you can wave it and pay for everything. 
It becomes much, much easier.  And how do you do cashless gaming? There is an initiative underway today.  A lot of that is being done with what they call ticket in/ticket out.  It’s kind of a paper bar code thing, and not a lot of people are carrying cash around anymore, and we are trying to figure how that casino concept moves over into the hotel business and the room charging business from all of our different outlets throughout our company.  I went to the store the other day, and was surprised when they didn’t make me sign a piece of paper. The cashier swiped my card and I said, ‘I don’t have to sign anything?’ The cashier said no, that was enough.

It’s funny you said that. I was at a QuickTrip, a convenience store in Atlanta. If it’s $25 or less, there is nothing to sign and you’re on your way. It is very confusing to people. 
Myself included (smile).  We’re watching those kind of initiatives and I think that is going to be driven by regulatory as to whether or not all the big players want to get into waving things and little readers or whatever. We don’t know how that is going to play out yet, but we think that that is important to our future.  I don’t want to carry much cash around. 

We have talked about CityCenter and the hotel projects.  You’re also involved in the retail projects, but what about the casino?
Obviously the casino is the backdrop of the whole CityCenter project with the casino hotel skyrocketing up the back.  The bottom part of that is the casino, and we’re trying to figure out how we do the casino differently in 2010, and make it unique and good looking. Casino technologies are all changing. 

Give an example.
There is an initiative underway to figure out server-based gaming instead of the stand-alone slot machine.  We have to stay up on those kinds of initiatives.  We have to think how do you wire the floor? What does that kind of bandwidth look like?  So another complexity that you have to really meticulously work through and say not only if we were going to open today what it would look like, but if we are going to open in two years, what is it going to look like and what is that initiative.   We’re trying to figure out how to make our casino experience something new and unique as well. 

Can you elaborate on server-based gaming versus how casinos operate today?
In today’s world, you have a slot machine that is really standalone.  It is regulated by the Gaming Commission.  There is a chip that has all the information on it.  That is the gaming device, but the outside, the experience of the slot machine is totally different.  You have a piece of glass with painting on it that tells you what the machine pays and has little pictures of cherries, diamonds or whatever, and then wheels that turn or if it is a computer-like poker machine or all graphics… the machine is the machine is the machine.  Server-based gaming opens things up. This is my vision of the casino in the future.  I’ll sit down at this machine because I’m comfortable, and then I am going to pick the game I want to play, and it’s downloaded from the server, and I’m going to play it right here.

What you are really saying is….
It’s more about socializing in the casino.  I like this place.  I am comfortable over here in this place, so let me play my double diamond machine right here. I don’t need to move to find a different machine. It runs around standards and the whole casino business line.  All the vendors and all the customers are working toward what does that mean. Then there’s the regulatory part, and there are people working on that initiative. Will it be ready for prime time when we get to CityCenter?  We don’t know, but we have to plan the infrastructure to make sure we’re ready.

What about RFID in the casinos?  Aren’t they putting RFID in chips today?
RFID is a tracking mechanism from the accounting standpoint because like everything else in the world, you want to validate that it is a real chip.  I think the evolution of the future is a table that is smart and that can look at an entire game and count up how much is being played.  We feel like the more we know about customers, the more value we can give to them.  Obviously, the casino business looks at that as a real strategy of marketing.  We want to take care of you when you come to visit us, and we want you to always come back and sit at our table or at our slot machine. There is tremendous value in that.  That technology is emerging, and you know at the gaming show, we saw more this year than we did last year, and I think over the next three or four years, we are going to see it take off to where it is perfected.

Isn’t there a much higher cost on RFID chips? 
Yes, but the return is amazing. 

Earlier you referred to ticket in/ticket out.  There was resistance by casinos to embrace this.  It made it too easy to cash out.
That’s exactly right but now it’s the mainstream.  We’re not going to have coin counting machines.  That’s the wave of the future, right?  Because you don’t want to kick all the coins out the bottom of the trough anymore, right?  You just want to take the piece of paper, and your hands don’t get dirty, and you don’t have to carry the cup around, and you can go to another machine and stick it in and play it or you can go to the cashier to cash in your ticket. (smile) 

In fact you don’t have to go to the cashier anymore. The ATM-like machine will cash your ticket for you.
You are absolutely correct.  From a building standpoint, these casinos have tremendous structure to their floors because in the old days, you have these slot machines with all these coins, and there is a tremendous amount of weight. But more importantly, to move a cash cart through the casino and take all the coins out, that cart is rolling across the casino floor, and you need to be able to structure it in such a way.  You don’t have that anymore, and so the structure is different on the casino floor also.  There is a tremendous value in the building there.  I know some casinos where they have moved a cart across the floor and crushed the conduit underneath the floor because it is so heavy. 

Share some words of wisdom for success in the hospitality industry in regards to technology.
I think that the success of building hospitality properties in the future is true teamwork between business and IT.  Everything is going on the network, and when it does, they have to be real partners, and I believe IT needs to learn more about the business, and business needs to learn more about IT to bring that partnership to something real when you’re planning a new building.  That’s imperative.  I mean it really is because these two roles are blurred. Once you face a kiosk, to a customer, IT is doing customer service to the paying customer.  In today’s world, IT is doing customer service to the clerk behind the front desk, right?
Those roles are going to blur.  As more technology gets into the customer’s hands, the more IT is going to face those customers, and they need to understand the business vision as well as the vice president of the hotel does. 

Before we wrap up let me ask you this: You talked about being connected at the hip to John Bollen. Have there ever been any conflicts between John and yourself, because he is IT and you are the business guy?
Well, it’s really kind of amazing, but we haven’t gotten there yet.

You will.  (Laughing)
I’m sure we will at some point, but the IT department at MGM MIRAGE is just so strong. They have done it for so many properties, and they have been through a lot of openings and there are many people that have been here for a long time and understand this.  They have really constructive things to say.  What it comes down to at the end of the day is what does the business really want, and if there is conflict there, then it will either be decided by the budget or the vision of the technology.  I think each individual situation is different, but we haven’t gotten there yet because we give and take constantly.  It is a give- and-take kind of process.  ‘I really need this.’ ‘Well, I don’t have money for it.’  ‘Well, I really need this.’  ‘Well, let’s go find you some money.’ And the business proposition of the thing that they really need is well-defined, and then it is a no brainer as to whether we need it or not. 

OK, now we are going to wrap up.  Forget you are part of a $7 billion project for a moment.  If you were going to give advice to someone building a 300-room property in Des Moines, what would you tell them?
Well, I think the first advice I would give is figure out who your customer is, and then find customers like that and understand how they use technology.  Then, figure out what kind of technology you want to deliver.  I think too often we put together a technology package based on what we have always done.  We never go get with the customers and live with them for a little while to understand how they use technology. I think that top-down approach is the wave of the future. And then people will be comfortable when they get there.  It is not technology for technology sake.  It adds value to the customer. 

Good advice.  Scot, thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me here in Las Vegas.
Let me thank you.  Being interviewed by Richard Siegel for the HITEC issue of Hospitality Upgrade.  Who says dreams can’t come true? (smile)

(Rolling his eyes) Yes, just call me the dream maker.  Thanks again.
You’re very welcome. 

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