Delivering always on hospitality

Internet connectivity, mobile device management and support services are key to keeping guests happy at TIME Hotels

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Delivering always on hospitality Internet connectivity is one of the most important deliverables for modern hotels, says Huber. Lack of connectivity is quickly highlighted in satisfaction surveys.
By  Mark Sutton Published  November 14, 2012

Internet connectivity, mobile device management and support services are key to keeping guests happy at TIME Hotels. ACN speaks to Thomas Huber, corporate director of it, about managing the technology demands of a modern hotel chain and the ground-breaking adoption of Microsoft’s office 365.

The hospitality industry might not immediately come to mind as one of the first movers when it comes to new technology, but in this highly competitive sector, IT professionals are increasingly taking on a greater load when it comes to ensuring that hotels and resorts meet the essential goal of keeping their guests happy. Particularly in busy, saturated markets, the hospitality sector is increasingly looking to new solutions to attract new business, deliver new services, and make guests feel at home when staying in their facilities.

For the TIME Hotel chain, a relatively new chain operating four star hotels and serviced apartments, distinguishing itself among the high-end luxury hotels of Dubai, is an area where new technology is playing a role, even if it may not be immediately obvious to guests.

Thomas Huber, corporate director of IT for TIME Hotels, says that while the hotel does not have a lot of guest-facing technology, it is still vital that the chain delivers to meet guest expectations. With widespread proliferation of mobile devices, guests now demand wireless connectivity across the hotel, from guest rooms to poolside.

“Three years ago you had wireless in public areas, and maybe the hotel room if you were lucky,” Huber says. “When you went to the bar, you took a paper with you — today, many people take a tablet with them, which means that I have to make sure that we have full wireless reception in any corner of the building.

“If you don’t have quality internet, you can see that immediately in our guest survey responses, and it is an absolute disaster,” Huber adds.

As a new chain, with none of its six facilities in the UAE older than four years, TIME Hotels have had WiFi throughout since launch, but the company is focused on making sure that it is able to keep up with growing bandwidth demands. Hotel staff use mobile IP handsets, so voice quality is essential, and the chain is currently upgrading its internet lines, to quadruple the bandwidth, to eliminate bottlenecks and to allow guests to connect multiple devices simultaneously.

Good service from IT is not just about providing connectivity to guests however, Huber explains, IT also has to be able to deliver support to guests in a timely fashion, even if the majority of guest’s IT problems are usually not caused by the hotel.

“Our regular interaction with guests and with function organisers very clearly confirms that the availability of professional IT support services is a key factor to return [bookings]. Very few first time bookers would ask if we have an IT person available around the clock, but when they experience a problem, if you provide services swiftly, without drama, it is recognised. We have many guests who come back because they know if they have a problem with their equipment, they will always have a helping hand. Our long stay guests appreciate the efforts of my team in helping them set up their home from home, so it is absolutely vital. Today, even non-business travellers need IT services. It is a key contributor to guest satisfaction,” he says.

Because the industry is so focused on the guest and guest services, investment in IT, particularly non-guest facing IT, can take a back seat to investment in other areas, Huber says, which can make it a challenge to secure funds for new projects. However, one of the company’s most recent projects, the adoption of Microsoft’s Office 365, has been able to offer a clear value to the business, and gives TIME bragging rights as the first hospitality organisation to roll out the service outside of the US.

TIME is adopting a number of different elements of Office 365, to cater to different requirements among its 430 employees. IDC Solutions was selected as the business partner for the project, due to their strong expertise in the Office365 arena, and Huber says they were absolutely instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition. The company has already been able to retire its on-premises Exchange server, and migrate email to the cloud with Exchange Online. TIME is now utilising SharePoint for central storage and management of documents, which allows better collaboration among employees, while maintaining control, and adequate levels of security, which were not possible with the previous use of other file sharing services like Dropbox. Employees are also able to locate documents they need more quickly.

TIME has also improved collaboration solutions for staff through Microsoft Lync Online, as it also has greater control of compliance related to voice conferencing — in particular in ensuring that VoIP services are not used by employees across country boundaries.

The chain has retained its existing desktops, which are licensed with Office 2007, and has integrated the improved communications services. Going forward, as the hotel progresses with plans for new facilities, any new computer purchases will have an Office 365 subscription, with existing Office 2007 PCs migrated over time.

“Using Office as a subscription helps us to manage cash flow better, and it also maintains shareholder value. We want our employees to have the tools they need to do their job effectively, but we want to focus on guest services rather than administration. Using Office 365, we’re not causing costly headaches, and we have all the technology and Office automation we could possibly ask for,” he says.

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