British-based global hotel company GLH operates the Thistle brand, Guoman collection of hotels, Clermont Hotels & Residences and Amba Hotels - and lists the Grovesnor, Cumberland and Charing Cross Hotels in London among its ownership.

The company relaunched in 2013 with the ambition "to become the world's best-managed hospitality company, delivering the best guest-centred experience in the industry", and in February this year implemented unlimited BT WiFi after research found that internet connectivity was as important to hotel guests as a good night's sleep.

GLH also lists on its mission statement Big Data as a key technology to transform the hotel industry by improving guest experiences and optimising its bottom line.

Former CIO of Colt Technology Services, Chris Hewertson is CTO and CIO at GLH.

When did you start your current role?
November 2012

Have you completed an MBA?
No, but I have recently completed an MSc. in Organisational Behaviour. Much better than an MBA

Order the following sources of advice/information by value to you:
1. Peer group
2. In-house
3. Analyst
4. Vendors
5. Consultant

Technology strategy and spending

What is the major transformational IT project that has been recently completed, or is underway at your organisation?
Full end to end technology refresh with the goal: "To be the best managed hospitality company in the world"
Most significant operational platform upgraded to gold release - no operational issues for 6 months (from daily)
HR operations and workforce scheduling platform rolled out
Data warehouse in development
Qlikview BI tool rolled out with standard P&L reporting already in use across estate configured and used by all properties to collate customer preferences
e-commerce and web transformation project started

All new services are being provided through either private or public cloud solutions, with no owned hardware.

Currently initiating the project to migrate from exchange and outlook over to Google mail and apps.

All of these projects, along with many more form part of a strategic technology transformation, which is part of, and wholly aligned with an end to end business transformation programme.

What impact will it/does it have on the organisation?
Zero P1 incidents on major systems has led to improved guest satisfaction at check-in and improved staff morale. IT have gone from zeros to heroes.

Poorly performing outsourced HR service now brought in-house after rollout of enterprise wide HR platform.

Single source of comparative performance data enabling rapid focus on poor performing functions, increasing revenue and PAT is forming the heart of our customer hub, which enables us to collate customer preferences in a single location and then use in a consistent way for all customer contacts. Increasing guest satisfaction and revenue.

e-commerce platform is forecast drive 2m increased revenue annually from just 5 major hotels as it helps us drive business away from online travel agents to us directly.

All these initiatives support a wider business objective of delivering an attractive, franchisable hotel management service upon which our 10 year growth plans are based. This franchasable business model is predicated on being able to rapidly on-board new hotels and integrate their into our core infrastructure quickly, and with minimal or zero on property technology resources, thus the drive for 100% SaaS solutions.

What new strategic technology deals has your organisation struck and with whom?
Transferred managed service of our global property management system (critical to operations) from poor performing onshore incumbent (OBS) to offshore alternative (Micros). Went from daily operational poor performance (business impacting) to zero issues since June 2012. Recognised internally as a business transforming project.

Rolled out Fast Free Wi-Fi to all UK properties using BT's WiFi service. According to BT we are now their largest UK customer of Free WiFi. We are now about to contract with BT for 802.11ac WiFi, that is wifi speeds up to 1Gb in all our hotels.

Changed WAN supplier from BT to Talk Talk - The pilot rollout has just started and is due to complete across our whole hotel estate by Q3.

Identified and engaged delivery partners for Qlikview (Dimensia) and (GSP)

Adobe EM selected as content management system for new e-commerce platform

Apigee selected as API and middleware solution for the development of the business services layer to support the e-commerce platform and integrate all our upstream and downstream systems together.

Name your strategic technology suppliers?
Talk Talk
Orange Business Services

What is the IT budget?
2014 Core operating budget: £2.6m

2014 BAU capex projects: £2.5m

2014 Transformation capex projects: ~£4m

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
None of us have 1 year targets, all functions have 5 year targets. Primarily mine is:
Lead the industry in guest facing technology
I also support the following objectives (among others):
Enable Glh to be the best managed hospitality company in the world
Be perceived as providing the best customer service by our guests

All functions are working together to deliver these objectives

Transformation achievements

Would you describe the CIO role as a transformation leader in your organisation?
This is a joint CIO and CTO role, with transformation as its primary objective. This role previously did not exist and was created by the new CEO to demonstrate the importance of technology as a business enabler. Technology leadership is one of the key pillars of our companies growth plans and I am firmly accountable for delivery this transformation.

Describe the transformations you have led / been involved in, how did they transform operations, customer experience or the organisation?
Examples include:

1) Operational Efficiency: Core platform stabilisation:
The core business operating system, used by all hotels, call centres and central teams suffered from extreme poor performance or complete failure literally on a daily basis. It was significantly affecting customer satisfaction, employee morale and bleeding the IT department in terms of time and credibility. The root cause was a poorly constructed and delivered 3rd party managed service hosting contract. Within 6 months of joining the whole system had been migrated without incident to an alternative provider who is delivering the product as SaaS offering, following which there has not been a single performance degradation or unplanned operational outage.
-Customer satisfaction has measurably improved (measured by check-in and check-out survey results)
-Employee satisfaction has improved (measured by employee sat survey)
-Operational efficiency has improved (measured by backlog of enquiries and call centre queues)
-Technology functions credibility has dramatically improved, no longer seen as the problem, but as the solution.

2) Customer Experience: Fast, Free, Click-to-connect Wi-Fi
During 2012 we rolled out arguably the fasted free wi-fi network in the UK. Over 2800 access points in 36 properties all providing fast, free and click-to-connect (no registration) access. each property has minimum 100mb internet connection going up to 1Gb for largest property. Across the estate our guests download over 75 Terabytes of data every month. Customer satisfaction has increased to the point where across all hotels, over 80% of guests report to be satisfied or very satisfied with Wi-Fi, approaching 90% in half the properties. This is now forming the basis for a major brand marketing campaign that will have hit Facebook by the time you evaluate these comments:

3) Operational Management: Value centre performance management
A key element of our business transformation is the introduction of 'value centre general management' where VCGMs take on P&L accountability for subsets of hotel operations. An issue quickly arose where each VCGM reporting performance differently resulting in difficulty to assess comparative performance (which is fundamental to VCGM success). On the back of this we have implemented a Qlikview BI dashboard that has now been rolled out to all VCGMs to enable accurate comparative reporting which is already driving behavioural and operational performance improvements. This initiative fast forwarded an already in progress data warehouse and BI project and helped to demonstrate the IT functions agility in responding to business needs.

4) Employee Mobility:
Due to the nature of our business BYOD is actually low requirement, far exceeded instead by the need to enable our employees to be mobile with secure customer data always available. We implemented corporate Wi-Fi in all hotel receptions that now enables guests to be received in the lobby by mobile front of house employees equipped with tablets. Our free wi-fi across the properties now enables all employees to have access to systems wherever they which has directly improved customer service. We have provided a wide choice of device rather than being prescriptive and secured the whole service with MobileIron. The next step is to extend this to personal devices, although demand for this is very low in comparison to other industries.

5) Guest Experience - Customer facing tech
As part of our new brand launches we have identified, piloted and are now implementing the following to our guests:
- Wi-Fi enabled printing
- In room tablets with fully integrated room service ordering
- In room TV service supporting 'bring your own content' playback from own device to TV
- Airport style check-in and room key pickup, avoiding the need to go to reception
SMART rooms alone (SMART TV with internet and media, Wi-Fi, mood lighting) have already led to up to £20 per night room rate increase.

What key technologies are being considered to enable transformation?
For our core platform we are using as our customer hub, this will ultimately integrate to our core reservation and property management platform (Micros Opera). Our e-Commerce and website transformation is based on Adobe Experience Manager (cloud based) with Apigee providing the business service layer and API integration to upstream and downstream systems.

From an information and performance management perspective we are implementing QlikView on the back of a hosted oracle data warehouse.

The business teams have been very closely involved in the selection of these tools as we felt it important that IT wasn't 'done to them' as it had been in the past, but that they were part of the selection process. This was very much supported and encouraged by the CEO and has paid dividends in regards to acceptance of strategy and approach.

All of these core systems have been selected as they can be delivered via public or private cloud, as a service. All have extensive APIs to enable easy integration and all are well placed in comparison to other products to be industry leading for the foreseeable future.

What percentage of your applications / infrastructure is run from the Cloud?
Around 70%: Going to 80% by end of this year.

How is the use by employees of their own technology, use of mobiles and social networking impacting operations, customer experiences or the organisation at present?
Interestingly, there is actually little demand for BYOD within our business, in main due to the nature of the hospitality industry which is primarily customer service rather than desk based. One of our problems is communicating out to our employees who are without company laptop or mobile. To support this we have enabled salesforce chatter to the whole organisation as the primary commications tool that can be accessed by all employees on their own device. This has had good uptake and is now being used for team as well as company wide communications.

Do you have a plan in place for how to deal with shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives, place the right controls around employee choice and engage with the organisation on this issue?
Rather than react to 'shadow IT' we actually encourage our value centre general managers to look for innovative technology solutions but then give them a supported avenue where they can be evaluated. The goal is that we want our business units to have the tools that they want, as long as they fit within business agreed design criteria. This has been seen as a refreshing change in approach from the 'computer says no' classic approach of IT. To further support this we have implemented an enterprise wide design authority where ideas are assessed against our overall business and technology strategies. This approach is not without its problems as in some cases selected systems are not considered the right tool from an IT perspective, however we take a wider perspective in that we would rather a popular tool is chosen and widely used, than an unpopular tool i forced on them resulting in low take-up.

Where do you seek transformational inspiration from?
I'm a member of three external customer advisory boards where I meet regularly with other peers and share experience.
I have a recent MSc in organisation behaviour and regularly meet with the alumni group, who are in the main transformation change experts.
I have built an informal network of industry peers who meet regularly to share industry knowledge.
I schedule regular meetings with potential new suppliers, primarily to understand what other people are using them for.
And of course I attend conference and read journals, but I prefer to hear things directly from people who are doing it.

The CIO role in the business

Who do you report to?

Do you have a seat on the board?

How often do you meet with the CEO?

Does your organisation have a digital leader and what is the difference in their responsibilities to yours?
We have a head of e-commerce and distribution. Their role is different to mine in that they are primarily responsible for PPC, reporting, channel management. My role is identifying new technology and driving technology innovation and change to support the e-commerce strategy.

What percentage of IT budget do you control and what percentage of IT budget does your digital peer hold?
I control the whole of the IT budget. I work collaboratively with the e-commerce head on new developments and joint sponsor them.

The IT department

How many staff make up the IT team?(What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff)
57% in-house (including contractor staff), 43% outsourced

13 permanent

10 contract

10 outsourced service

Unknown amount as part of 3rd party managed service.

Describe the CIO’s management team, do you have direct reports that develop the relationship and services between the business and IT?
I have a joint CTO and CIO role

3 relevent director reports, all customer facing, with relationships focussed around innovation and new ideas, IT operations, IT Service Delivery Management and finally project delivery

1) Enterprise Architect - Responsible for overall systems architecture, ensuring it is aligned with business goals. Works closely with business teams on new business requirements and technology solution identification

2) IT Director - Responsible for ensuring the business teams have the IT equipement and IT services operating on a day to day basis so that they can be succesfull. Role also includes IT service management, with dedicated resources focussed on ensuring all business units are fully operational and supported 24*7.

3) Head of PMO - manages the project demand from business units, reports on all projects status to all stakeholders and the wider business community weekly. Single point of contact to the business units for all project status.

And how many log-in accounts do you issue across you organisation?
Around 4,000

What is the primary technology platform? ( for example ERP, Website, trading system)
Enterprise wide central reservation and property management platform (quite specific to hospitality industry). The system is called Opera, from a company called Micros. This was migrated to a full SaaS implementation mid 2012.