Grand service

Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa's recent voice over WiFi implementation has not only delivered RoI in record time but has also helped to improve customer service levels.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  August 1, 2007

"In the hospitality sector, we have to constantly wow the customer. We have to continuously work to delight and dazzle them when they are with this. This should be the main driving force for our work and the major focus area. If we don't know how to do that, the guest will not come back. And it's not just one person. This will have a ripple effect and soon more people will not come back. We certainly don't want to get there. We invest in and use technology to ensure that customers keep coming back."

Rupendra Shakya, IT manager at the Habtoor Grand Resort is a man with a very clear idea of the purpose that technology serves.

In fact, the entire hotel, which is the flagship of the Habtoor Hosptiality group, boasting 446 rooms spread over two towers and three wings, operates by that philosophy. Driven to excel in Dubai's highly competitive hospitality industry, the hotel's management and its IT staff work to ensure that investments in technology are made with the end customer always in mind.

"We constantly look for ways to ensure the best of services to customers. The implementation of a wireless LAN and voice over WiFi, which incidentally won us an NME Innovation Award, was structured around the same principle," says Shakya.

The hotel's management and IT team considered a wireless network to provide constant connectivity between staff who were manning the floors and those in the back office. Much of this interaction was originally conducted via mobile phones. This came with its set of problems, including grey areas where GSM coverage proved inadequate and increased mobile costs for the hotel.

"This is a huge hotel. It is spread across a large area and we have a huge number of staff who work across the premises. They need to be constantly in touch with the back office staff to co-ordinate services to guests and customers in a more efficient and productive manner. We needed a solution that would allow us to be in touch with the staff with minimal running costs," says Shakya.

A wireless LAN and voice over WiFi presented the ideal solution.

Wireless success

"Once we had decided to implement the wireless solution, Aruba Networks seemed the obvious choice. They had experience in the market, they had a reputation for excellence in delivery and service, and they had great products," says Shakya.

In the hospitality sector, we have to constantly wow the customer. If we don’t know how to do that, the guest will not come back. We invest in technology to ensure that customers keep coming back.

The wireless solution consisted of around 300 access points spread across the hotel. These were connected to the backend infrastructure via two redundant security controllers. The entire hotel, except the rooms in the towers which already had ubiquitous wired connectivity, were provided wireless coverage. The areas covered by wireless included the three wings, the open beach, restaurant, pool bars, lobbies and even lifts, with attention being paid to the absence of any black spots.

"Before the implementation could start, we spent time making a detailed plan for the placing of all the access points. This was to ensure that there would be sufficient coverage across the hotel," says Shakya.

The staff were provided with mobile Nortel IP phones following the implementation, which went live in the latter half of 2006. Those on duty at the hotel use the voice over wireless solution extensively to connect with other staff and the hotel's back office.

Shakya adds: "The wireless solution has been a huge success. Equipped with the IP phones, staff on the floors and in any part of the hotel can be contacted within seconds by the back office staff. Customer requests are forwarded from our guest management systems through the phones to the person manning the shift. This way guest needs can be satisfied in the shortest possible time.

"We have also built in a response time equation linked to an escalation process, which means that if a particular person is unable to meet the guest's request within a certain time period, this can be moved up the ladder to senior personnel for immediate resolution. In this way, voice over WiFi and IP telephony has enabled us to improve customer service dramatically."

The team initially projected a two year time gap from implementation to achieve RoI from the solution. This was based on the savings made on mobhile bills alone. In fact, according to Shakya, the solution has already paid back the investment and has added to profitability by bringing in close to US$12,000 from guest internet usage every month.

The unending road

The three member IT team is moving on to develop and fine tune technologies for delivering better service. All new projects are started after discussion with the operations team and the rest of the management. The hotel sanctions the IT budgets on a project-by-project basis.

Shakya also makes it a point to keep his fingers on the pulse of the hotel.

"I walk through the hotel and talk to different members of the staff on the ground. They are the ones who face problems; they are more likely to have new ideas for improvement. When they give an idea, we see if technology can solve it and pass it along to management for investment considerations," says Shakya.

The heads of several of the hotel's departments get together at regular morning meetings to discuss new ideas as well.

"We take a whole lot of advice from the operations team. During these meetings, their concerns and how technology can mitigate the problem are discussed openly," adds Shakya.

Fuelled by the flow of ideas from operations, the IT team continuously works to improve efficiency levels at the hotel.

"Our next project is the automation of order taking and communication to kitchen and PoS at our 13 retail outlets and restaurants. We will be doing this with Symbol handheld devices. We are adding 30 more access points around the outlets to ensure better connectivity for these devices. That will be completed by September; by the start of October, all our outlets will boast these devices," he says.

The team is also taking on a major network re-engineering project to improve throughput and connectivity on the virtual private networks used by the hotel's staff and its guests.

The journey is far from over for the Habtoor Grand and its IT team but by the looks of it they are well prepared to take on the future.

A quick look

Some of the products forming Habtoor's IT infrastructure:

Structured cabling: AMP
Core switches: Nortel 8010
Edge switches: Nortel 5510 / 5520
Routers: Cisco 2800 Series
Wireless: Aruba
IP solution: Nortel
Servers: HP BL 40p / BL 20
Firewall: Juniper
Anti spam and antivirus: Sophos

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