Cyber Services

Most business travellers are used to calling down to the hotel’s reception desk and requesting room service, a power adapter, a taxi or whatever. But rarely would it occur to the businessman to call down to reception and ask for a support engineer — even rarer still would be a hotel that could provide the guest with one. This is the level of IT support that is offered within the Jumeirah International hotels.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  March 28, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|Most business travellers are used to calling down to the hotel’s reception desk and requesting room service, a power adapter, a taxi or whatever. But rarely would it occur to the businessman to call down to reception and ask for a support engineer — even rarer still would be a hotel that could provide the guest with one. This is the level of IT support that is offered within the Jumeirah International hotels.

The idea is fairly straightforward: “we guarantee that whoever is in charge of guest IT support will be a highly qualified IT professional,” states Thomas Huber, Director of Information Technology with Jumeirah International.

“We have many CEOs and senior management staying with us whether on business or leisure who still need to access their business e-mail and if they know there is a professional who can help them, they will be relieved. This is the kind of service they will expect from a leading hotel.”

The mere fact that Huber and his IT team are thinking in such a customer focused manner is indicative of the company’s approach to IT and guest services. The hospitality industry as a whole would normally rather invest in ornate crockery or cutlery than advanced IT support for the guest, but “if you want to stay at the forefront of guest services you cannot do that anymore without providing the very latest IT services and infrastructure,” explains Huber. “Fortunately within this company the acceptance of IT is much higher than in other areas.”

The acceptance of IT as a crucial business differentiator is evident within the IT infrastructure of the group’s five Dubai hotels — which include Emirates Towers, Burj Al Arab, The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, The Jumeirah Beach Club and The World Trade Centre Hotel — as well as the Wild Wadi Water Park. Currently, the company has three data centres; one situated at Emirates Towers, which serves Jumeirah Beach Club and the World Trade Centre Hotel (formerly the Hilton Hotel.) The second is at The Jumeirah Beach Hotel and also services the water park and various administration buildings, whilst the third is located at the Burj Al Arab servicing the company’s Internet pipes and the wide area network.

Between the Emirates Towers and the Burj al Arab runs a massive 155 M/bit pipe, enabling the IT Team to do remote backups between sites. In the near future, there are plans to invest in a dedicated remote disaster recovery data centre to support all the group’s properties.

The impressive network does not stop with the huge pipe connecting the remote sites. The network is being used to deliver leading edge guest services. For example, the Burj Al Arab and Emirates Towers are amongst a handful of hotels in the world to offer full digital on demand entertainment systems, which Huber admits is a “huge capital investment,” in terms of both the network and the digital entertainment systems. Huber observes that it is possible for every guest in the Burj Al Arab to watch a different movie at any one time on their 42” plasma screen, located in their lounge; the system is capable of delivering 550 concurrent video streams.

The Emirates Towers Hotel has the most sophisticated network, running on a Gigabit Ethernet backbone. The site was originally designed to have an ATM network from top to bottom to transport voice, video and data. But was upgraded very quickly to run a combination of G/bit and ATM.

“It’s a Marconi network… we found that ATM didn’t provide the required bandwidth, which was needed for the digital video on demand services and the television channels which are also digitalised,” says Huber.

The network in the hotel tower is fully redundant, with a data room on every second floor — making 25 data rooms in total — where the vertical fibre arrives and is connected to the G/bit switches, which are stacked ‘two layers up and two layers down.’

“If one switch fails on level ten, then the switch on level eight will be able to take over all the services. The core switches are in the basement data centre, and are also fully redundant,” Huber adds.

The vertical backbone for the data network in the hotel is fibre based and there is also a copper backbone for the telephone system. All horizontal wiring is CAT 6. The telephone outlet in a guest’s room is running on CAT 6 to the patch panel, where it’s transferred to the vertical copper cabling. “If services come on line we won’t have to replace the horizontal wiring, just the vertical backbone wiring, which is easily done,” says Huber.

||**||Page 2|~||~||~|As well as the various guest services running over the network, the Marconi infrastructure also supports a number of hotel applications including the Fidelio property management system and numerous other Windows NT based, hospitality specific applications for accounting and inventory sales/marketing, many of which have to be interfaced with the property management system. However, although the Fidelio application suite still offers the best core functionality, the Dbase database is old and slow, says Huber. “Fidelio is an excellent property management and revenue accounting platform, but it is an old legacy application based on Clipper… Typically hotels will use stand alone systems, and the Fidelio property management system won’t talk to another Fidelio database, it’s not designed to do that,” explains Huber.

To overcome the difficulties of interfacing legacy Fidelio databases and to create a centralised data repository of customer information, Jumeirah International teamed up with Serenata IntraWare, a Munich based systems house to begin work on its own data warehouse midway through 2000.

All the customer data from the various different property management systems is funnelled into the group’s SQL 2000 based data warehouse. Sales & marketing and senior executives are now able to slice & dice the customer information from a central repository — using Cognos for Cubes and Impromptu Reports — and then devise a strategy to respond to any patterns found in the data. “It collects all the data from the properties and puts it into this data warehouse, and then using the reporting tools we can analyse that data,” says Huber. “There is also a sales front end, which is used to check on the productivity and generate contacts and leads for mailings,” he adds.

The data warehouse is another example of Jumeirah International investing heavily in its IT infrastructure to stay ahead of the game. “Data warehousing is never cheap… in the traditional hotel environment if I was to go to a hotel manager with the choice of buying 200 sun beds for the beach or a data warehouse for several thousand dollars, they will typically say they want sun beds,” comments Huber. “We pride ourselves on running leading hotels, and in order to maintain the leading edge we have to understand what the market is expecting.”

According to Huber, only a data warehouse would enable the company to drill down into its data and formulate reports about customer segments. Previously this would have taken weeks of data collection and entry, but now “it’s just a question of click, click, click and you have it. It’s an exercise that would have typically taken a week and now we can do it from the desktop,” adds the IT Director.

Although Jumeirah International has consolidated its customer information, the group’s immediate project for the initial half of 2001 is the streamlining of its own IT environment and administrative processes.

Consequently, the initial move to streamline the IT environment is the proposed deployment of a helpdesk solution to support the internal IT environment. The helpdesk solution is likely to be the initial stage of a wider systems management deployment. “We’re working towards a central helpdesk for IT, which we’re currently in the process of setting up. It will be a 24-hour, seven-day function. Anyone with a particular problem can call the helpdesk number, which is manned around the clock and using the various management systems — from management, to monitoring, to software distribution — assign various support functions to the business units to address user issues on site,” explains Huber.

At the Emirates Towers Hotel, the core of the network services are currently managed by HP’s OpenView, but no firm decision has yet been reached about which product will be used to manage the enterprise environment. “Ideally we will be looking at one solution with two or three people in an office that is manned 24 hours a day and they can see every device on the network, and the state of that device,” says Huber.

Alongside the assessment of systems management solutions, Jumeirah International is in the advanced stages of testing with Windows 2000. As part of that testing process the hospitality group has been running its two Cyber Cafes, situated in the shopping boulevard of Emirates Towers, on Windows 2000 Advanced Edition. The Cyber Café operation, with a total of 72 workstations is the largest in the Middle East and the only one to have a 2 M/bit pipe Internet connection, has been the testing ground for Active Directory Services (ADS). When the trials are complete its likely ADS will be rolled out across the group, in an effort to streamline the administration of the sprawling IT environment.

Going hand in hand with the ADS testing, is a thin client rollout to many of the group’s 800 users. The Windows 2000 Terminal Services project is due for completion by the first quarter of 2001, and will reduce the group’s substantial hardware costs and save the amount of time spent by Huber’s IT team to support the group’s own users.

“We’ll have a central server where the applications are running and whatever other services you need,” says Huber. “The aim is to reduce the time spent supporting users by reinstalling software and managing them from a central location. [We want to] provide better services, reduce the resources taken up by training and IT education and focus more on guest support and function organisation support.”

The need to streamline administration and conserve IT resources is vitally important. IT support staff within the hospitality environment must all have experience of the industry — technical expertise is not enough. IT personnel must be familar with the service environment to be able to explain both the problem and the solution in plain, non-technical language to guests.
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