When it was time to upgrade its IT and UC infrastructure, the Rotana Group turned to an old technology partner
The relatively smaller footprint of home-grown hospitality group Rotana belies its outsized investment in hospitality technology, and the breadth of its ambitions.
From its corporate base in Abu Dhabi, Rotana Group has been steadily building up its IT infrastructure with a network of integrated and decentralised hardware and application systems.
Rotana’s IT journey has been gradual, each new service and technology building on the foundation of the previous one as technology matures, says Samir Abi Frem, corporate vice president, IT Rotana Group.
Over these years, Rotana has relied on Avaya to deliver on these services and looks to continue this partnership.
In the last two or three years particularly, Rotana has implemented major infrastructure projects with Avaya and 95% of its telephony systems and much of the core infrastructure is today built with technology from the vendor currently. Today, the Group has standardised their networking and wireless solutions on Avaya and have in most of their existing and new Location the Avaya CC and IP telephony solutions.
Avaya is focused on the hospitality industry with solutions particularly targeted at hotels and their guests. These include communication and collaboration tools built to keep guests and staff connected as well as internet connectivity and in-room entertainment for guests.
Avaya has in place a team dedicated to hospitality with people in every geography focused on the vertical. This division is led by Frederick Sabty, the global VP for hospitality based in Dubai, in the region with the highest growth rates in Avaya’s hospitality solutions.
In hospitality industry today, you don’t sell a product. One has to endeavour to sell an outcome and a solution. The solution has also to be integrated with existing solution that the hotel has selected to use, says Sabty.
Rotana runs its network in dual mode: Each of the hotels within the Group has their own IT infrastructure and set-up. At the corporate headquarters, the IT team has centralised many applications and services for the whole company. This is especially true for the UAE based hotels, where, because of strong communications links, access to centralised IT services is effective.
In the beginning, centralising these services between the main sites in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was hindered by lack of MPLS connection between the two cities, and leased lines were costly, reveals Frem. Since then, MPLS services have become readily available between the two cities enabling adding of services between the two cities that host the majority of Rotana properties.
The first application to be centralised was the property management system (PMS) in 2006. PMS is the core application for any hotel where all the customer information, bookings, transactions with customers are managed. Since then, technology, both within and without the hotel has evolved as well as the maturity of the internet connectivity between hotels and cities. This progress, Frem says, has enabled Rotana to integrate even more services. Two more applications, financial and emails have been put under common management. This year, three more applications, HR, finance and materials management will be delivered from the central data centre.
Last year, Rotana implemented global LAN connection, to connect all the hotels in and outside the UAE.
Frem says the company enjoys a good relationship with Avaya going back 10 years, and building with them a good service delivery for the hotels in that time. “They have supported us in enhancing the telephony and network technology that we use. We have found Avaya to be the first to deliver new technology and innovation,” says Frem
Noteworthy is Avaya’s thrust into digital transformation by starting to migrate its hardware-based technology to become software-based.
“Avaya has shifted away from hardware to solutions and services. We are considering working with Avaya not only on technology but also on services so they can provide us with managed services for instance,” says Frem.
Sabty concurs, saying Avaya has shifted focus from a vendor into essentially an integrator, bringing all the different brands that a customer may have in their network into one platform.
Rotana has implemented Avaya Scopia solutions for video conferencing, based on its cost-efficiency and effectiveness, Frem asserts. Currently, the group’s CXO's are using this technology to communicate with the field. Frem says the Group runs a quarterly chat with the CEO where the whole company connects for a two-hour session with the CEO. Scopia allows the staff connect using their mobile devices, tablets, desktops to a joint video conferencing session.
Rotana has also deployed Avaya’s session border controllers (SBCs). A large number of staff from the corporate office are constantly travelling and the global connectivity from Avaya offers them access to their office extension from any device on any network. This is quite helpful for the company, says Frem, because staff can remotely open their office extensions using 3G thanks to the SBC. Equally important, says Frem, is that this is a secure connection so users do not need to open and use a VPN client to connect to the office. The result is a massive drop in telecom costs considering how prohibitive roaming costs are. There has been 70-80% drop in international telephone bills for some execs, says Frem.
The solution is quite easy to use, says Frem, and even members of staff not very technical-savvy can confidently use the service.
The selecting process for procuring major IT projects involves working with consultants to create the selection criteria and help on the process that needs to be followed, explains Frem. “With experts helping to manage our selection process, we will send out RFPs and based on responses, we select a number of major vendors specialised in the service that we want. After that, we consider quality of the technology, capability to deliver and financials to come up with winning bid,” he says.
ConnectIT has been Rotana Group’s system integrator of choice for the last two years. Frem says the SI very strong in what they do with experts in Avaya technology from networking to telephony to video conferencing.
Frem says Avaya technology is pretty much plug and play. “Once the system is configured, it runs as it should with the vendor called in only for major updates,” Frem says, adding, “We do not have technical team in place and just coordinate with the vendors and the SI for the regular upgrades.”
The next generation of Rotana IT infrastructure development is already underway. Frem reveals that the group is working on a major project with Avaya to centralise its reservation system across the company. A contact centre from Avaya is already in place and Rotana is now working with the vendor to upgrade this contact centre, as well as integrate it with the CRM to support the company’s reservation process.
Avaya installed gateways in each of the hotels, and now they all can connect back and re-route all the calls to the Abu Dhabi contact centre where the Group has centralised all their guest experience functions like reservations, residents, loyalty, Sabty explains.
“This system connects all our toll free numbers to the CRM, enabling our customer service agents to interact with customers through calls, chats and email,” Frem explains. “From there, we will be able to use the same technology to transfer calls directly to the respective hotels whenever there's a need,” he adds.
Wi-Fi is one of the most important offerings for a hotel today, and Frem says the group is currently in the process of upgrading its wireless technology, Frem explains.
When Rotana’s head office was coming up, so was BYOD. The IT team by Rotana was forward-thinking and wanted to position the group as part of the evolving BYOD story and so Avaya was called upon to deploy the BYOD infrastructure, says Sabty. Avaya was keen to invest with them because the company also wanted to showcase its technology since the acquisition of Nortel.
Mobility is becoming crucial in the industry, and Rotana is investing significantly in mobile technology, says Frem. Guests are increasingly dependent on their own devices and Rotana is working with Avaya to deliver on mobile telephony services. Through the Rotana mobile apps for instance, customers would be able to call or to receive calls while in hotel premises directly through the app rather than use their mobile plans.
“We are enabling these functionalities in guests’ own devices because customers would prefer not to learn about new devices such as the telephones in their room. That’s why we are working with Avaya to enable guests who would rather use their own familiar devices but access services through our apps,” Frem says.
Although Rotana endeavours to ensure an ROI for every solution that has been deployed, Frem acknowledged that in a service-oriented sector such as hospitality, return can never really be fully tangible and calculable. “We are in the service industry, so anything that improves our efficiencies and helps improve the customer experience translates to happy customers which increases our retention rate and customer loyalty,” he adds.
The Avaya solutions form part of a technology ecosystem. Avaya makes the core middle technology that most systems connect to. The telephony systems connect to the property management system which then integrates with the billing system. All these different components have to talk to each other, Frem asserts.
For managing its IT infrastructure, Rotana has in place ManageEngine solutions to log all its support calls, change management and prevention in addition to other tools for monitoring and alerts.
A centralised corporate IT team handles all the new projects and event standards. For any new hotels, Frem explains, the brand standards have to be communicated to contractors so they can integrate these standards when building these new facilities.
Security is constantly evolving with improvements required regularly. “2017 is our security year and we are bound to invest in a lot in tools and devices that enhance our security, especially for our centralised services,” Frem says.
Frem says the group follows all the best practices and endeavours to cover all the risk elements. “We continuously deploy new security tools and prevention mechanisms and alerts to have data and systems protected,” he adds.
The system in place has relieved Rotana’s IT team of a lot of strain as they know the products in and out. It makes it easier now to launch a new property, says Sabty. The process of opening a new hotel has got that much speedier, says Sabty, as they do not have to re-train new staff when opening a new facility.
Hospitality, like the rest of the IT industry, is undergoing rapid digital transformation with solutions increasingly becoming customer-centric and solutions. Further, the industry in general and Rotana in particular is working to attract the millennials both as customers and also employees. “We focus a lot on servicing the Y generation as guests, but also consider the fact the same generation is the one servicing the customer. So we really need to look at how this technology can be modernised and attractive for young people to enjoy working in such an environment,” Frem concludes.