John Edwards is senior vice president and chief information officer at Red Lion Hotels Corporation (RLHC), joining the company in 2015 after a distinguished career at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Dolce Hotels & Resorts, Millennium Hotels and Resorts and John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts. His focus on teamwork and his willingness to try new things has helped RLHC provide innovative guest-oriented solutions.
According to Edwards, one of the most important components of a successful IT organization is relationship building. “We’re constantly communicating with other business units – accounting, digital media, franchise operations, marketing and lodging development – to ensure we’re on the same page,” he said, noting that hospitality IT staff often lose that broad perspective. “We fail to remember the customer and the industry we’re working in and instead deliver new technology for technology’s sake. Yet, at the end of the day we’re all hoteliers, and we embody the same beliefs – service, hospitality and knowing our guests.”
That philosophy guides Edwards in every decision he makes. He typically builds strategy after talking with each department in the company. “IT is in the middle of everything, and we see all aspects of the corporation,” he said. “So, we’re often informing one business unit of what another business unit is doing. That open communication is key to helping us make better decisions, particularly when it comes to big-picture items.”
He also doesn’t believe in strict hierarchy. “Project managers don’t have to go through me to get what they need or to get to other resources,” he said. Likewise, he eschews rigid structure. “I much prefer a team atmosphere, where everyone feels empowered to bring ideas to the table.”
When it comes to innovation, Edwards is often willing to think outside the box. In a Baltimore property, for example, the company offers Direct TV content on AppleTV devices. In a southern California hotel, the company is testing robots cleaning guestroom baths, a project that began after hotel advisory groups said they were struggling to find employees, particularly in tight labor markets. “We expect the solution to give housekeeping staff more time to engage in guest service, and the on-property teams are now bringing ideas to us about how to expand the robot’s use,” he said.
Edwards has also taken a fresh approach to customer relationship management. After going through two rounds of solutions that didn’t quite fit the company’s needs, he worked with Hapi to integrate CRS and property management systems with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 and come up with a solution that enables RLHC to use a best-of-breed product that doesn’t require building numerous integrations to various systems.
“It’s really about looking at technology challenges from a different perspective,” he concluded. “If you’re open to new ideas and take the time to listen to your team, you can always find the right tools to deliver successful outcomes.”