Group dynamics

By its own reckoning the Jumeirah Group’s name has become synonymous with style and affluence, but in the middle of a global economic struggle, is the image of the group reflected in ongoing investments into the quality of its networks and IT systems? CIO, Marwan Al Ali, tells Julian Pletts about a host of future ambitions for IT at the company.

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Group dynamics (Nemanja Seslija/ITP Images)
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By  Julian Pletts Published  October 8, 2009 Network Middle East Logo

Innovation may be the theme of the October issue of Network Middle East magazine but for the IT department at international hotel management company the Jumeirah Group, it has to be a way of life. The group has a certain reputation for luxury and extravagance that has not lost its gleam during the financial crisis.

It is a reputation, and to a certain extent a corporate mantra, that has to be rigorously maintained by every department of the group, including the IT department. It is for this reason that the man at the helm of the IT team, Jumeirah Group's CIO, Marwan Al Ali, sees it as part of his role to be constantly on the lookout for new technologies to ensure the group sets the standard, not just in a-la-mode accommodation, but in the IT services and facilities it offers guests and resort and hotel staff.

"One of my key strategies when I first joined Jumeirah was centralisation and standardisation of enterprise solutions," revealed Al Ali who joined the Jumeirah Group as the CIO in late 2007.

"So what we did was looked at areas like enterprise resource planning, CRM, business intelligence and improving Jumeirah.com. We have worked hard to have all of these areas centralised within the IT group's responsibility," added Al Ali.

He is adamant that the financial crisis has not had too much of an effect on the spending power of the Jumeirah Group when it comes to investment in IT systems, but having said this Al Ali points out that a great deal of the centralisation, and other strategies he has implemented have been with the concept of minimising resources in mind.

"The purpose of this is that the total amount of man-power required for these solutions is reduced and at the same time you reduce all of the core licensing, because ownership costs of all of these solutions is also lowered, meaning the return on investment for the prospective hotel is increased," said Al Ali. "In the hotel business, IT has to be very competitive and cost efficient and that is the model that we are following with the centralisation and the standardisation."

Although Al Ali describes the Jumeirah Group as a hotel management organisation, when it comes to the IT systems it is perhaps a little bit more complicated than that. He explains that the Jumeirah Group will host most of the ‘guest-facing' services and solutions, but the IT management is largely down to the client.

"All of the guest facing IT areas are up to us, and we look after it and we form the second level of support to the hotel," said Al Ali. "But after that we leave the responsibility of the management of the systems to the customer."

Connectivity is something Al Ali has been evaluating recently regarding the services that it offers customers: "When it comes to connectivity, we have centralised it and now we are moving to global connectivity and by next year we will have fixed everything to a private global NTLS network. We will have the performance and the accessibility of the core applications in the hotel as if here in Dubai or in New York, London or anywhere that we open in the world."

Additionally, the Jumeirah Madinat area campus, as Al Ali, describes it, is connected via an extensive network of fibre optic cables, plus further fibre optic cable connections to Emirates Towers and at the desert location resort Bab Al Shams.

This was all installed in 2003, an early commitment to the technology, that is indicative of the group's willingness to innovate and take the lead in technological investments.

As the Jumeirah Group has evolved it has expanded into new territories and regions around the world, including Europe, the US and the Far East. To manage all of the IT staff at these locations is a mammoth task, especially as Al Ali has set himself the benchmark of hosting a great deal of the IT services for customers and offering first level of support to customers. Al Ali is in the process of creating ‘clusters' of IT teams, one for each region or area.

"One exercise that we are trying here in Dubai right now is clustering the IT teams for the properties, so instead of having the IT team from each property, we are calling it the Dubai cluster, and within the Dubai cluster there will be one team looking after guest services etc," stated Al Ali.

This, he assures, will mean that the teams can work autonomously where needed and that the strategy can be supplanted into other region's with ease.

"The whole idea is that we develop best practices here and then in any new hotel or area we can just implement it easily and within our strategy, we will be looking at regionalising the IT team and having a data centre and IT infrastructure for that region."

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