CIO at British-based global hotel group GLH, Chris Hewertson's remit includes operations of 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 former CIO of Colt Technology Services discussed championing innovation from the top down when he spoke at the CIO Summit in 2014.
What the judges said
"Chris is one of those people who has really done the culture thing well and empowered his team." Mike Altendorf
"His CIO 100 submission is absolutely outstanding again." Matt Ballantine
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
Member of the CEO's leadership team.
Does your organisation have a CDO?
No. Responsibility for digital runs right across our business. We run a weekly internet steering board with members from across the business to drive continuous improvement and innovation.
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Joint responsibilities for PCI compliance and data protection.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Over 3,000 in the whole organisation. Goes higher depending on the season. 14 full-time employees within technology.
Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
What number of users does your department supply services to?
Over 3,000 company users plus thousands of hotel guests each day.
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
Employees are encouraged to try our hotels in order to validate the service and experience the technology as a customer. In addition, we obtain room-based survey feedback and review weekly (and in some instances daily) to identify service trends or improvement suggestions.
As far as general business goes, I'm a member of all 'new brand' steering groups, which gives me a first-hand overview of all aspects of business operations and setup, and allows me input and influence over any of these aspects, not just technology. In addition I'm a member of the investment review board (for all major strategic investments), internet steering board (for all online and channel distribution services), and the innovation steering group (for ensuring we continue to stay ahead).
GLH technology strategy and IT agenda
Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
As well as being the first hotel chain to roll out fast, free Wi-Fi with no registration across all of our hotels, we recently launched the first Amba hotel at Charing Cross in London, with the fastest Wi-Fi of any meeting and events hotel in the world. This capability is a key differentiator for our brand and was the primary marketing message on launch. There was considerable press coverage at launch highlighting this as a disruptive challenge to the industry.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
Very hard to pick just one out of the portfolio, but probably the development of the GLH API is likely to be the most transformative. Based on the Apigee Edge API platform, this project is in the process of delivering an availability and booking API that can easily be used both internally and by third-party partners.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
It will eliminate transaction fees currently paid to third parties for interfacing to online travel agents. It will improve hotel performance by significantly reducing the amount of manual processing of emails and faxes (by enabling direct connections to more online travel agents and partners). It is an enabler for our mobile strategy by exposing our availability and booking services in a REST API. It enables us to easily migrate from our legacy e-commerce platform and book services via a standard API. It helps to differentiate ourselves from our competition through technical leadership, operational efficiency and innovation delivery.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
The concept, strategy, technology selection and business case have all been led and developed by the technology function (with business support). I have been the sponsor of the project to get it through the inception and approval stages, having written and presented the business case personally.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
In general, and in the context of our business, technologies that:
1. Can be delivered and operated as a service by the supplier or a partner, rather than requiring in-house build and operation/support teams.
2. Have open, RESTful API services that support process automation, management and reporting, and enable interoperability.
3. Have flexible licence schemes that support expansion or contraction without long-term contract commitments.
4. Can be consumed by an end user via a browser (any).
Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
In simple terms, the vision is for decision-makers to have direct, easy access to trusted data and information when they need it. This vision has led to the investment and roll-out of standard QlikView profit and loss and revenue dashboards for all business P&L functions, allowing direct comparisons across business units and even individuals. These dashboards are being expanded during 2015 to cover more operational reporting. This vision is also driving the upgrade of our SAP platform, with the objective of eliminating 'reporting spreadsheets' and enabling reporting directly from the source system instead.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
From a customer perspective, mobile and social are transforming the hospitality industry. We have invested significantly in fast, free Wi-Fi right across our estate, with all our London hotels now having gigabit backhaul to support over 1Tb of data downloads per month. Our guests now bring multiple devices of their own and expect to be able to use them seamlessly on our network and with high performance. Any poor performance can quickly translate to negative Trip Advisor comments.
We see an increasing trend for guests booking hotel rooms via mobile devices and have had to adapt our own e-commerce platforms to support direct mobile channels. The increase in guest expectations around self-service has driven investments in creating an airline-style online check-in, with express check-in and check-out capability. This is now being enhanced with hotel-brand apps that guests can receive either on in-room hotel-provided tablets or downloaded to their own device, and which allow guests to order room service and make concierge requests.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
As I said last year, we don't really have shadow IT as we encourage our business teams to innovate and try new technology and services. It's hard to have something called shadow IT when managers are encouraged to innovate! To support this we have a light-touch technology request process, which means we can quickly evaluate and support users, or in surprisingly very rare cases advise not to proceed or provide alternative recommendations. I'm strongly of the opinion that IT functions should not police technology but provide a support infrastructure that helps people use the tools they need. Obviously we have an oversight role and a responsibility to maintain system security and integrity, but this should not get in the way of our revenue-generating business.
In terms of BYOD, there is surprisingly little demand and the need to run a strategic initiative does not exist. However, we indirectly support it by enabling our employees to use the customer guest Wi-Fi network, and we have recently migrated to Google Mail and apps, thereby allowing access to corporate information on personal devices, secured by 2FA.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
• MPLS network roll-out with local internet breakout - BT.
• Hosted mail and calendar services - Google.
• Brand mobile app implementation - iRis software.
• Guest smart TV roll-out and support - Acentic.
• Hosted Opera platform - Oracle hospitality.
• Mobile provider - recently moved all mobile services to Vodafone.
Who are your main suppliers?
Oracle Hospitality (Micros), Google, BT, Orange Business Services, SAP.
GLH IT security and budget
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
What is the IT budget?
How much is the IT operational spend compared with the revenue as a percentage?
What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
We have a stated objective to 'lead the industry in infrastructure and guest-facing technology'. To support this we have a rolling programme of transformation activities that has been reviewed and agreed by the CEO.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
GLH technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Delivery-focused: it's what I'm paid for and I'm very focused on it. Calm - and I encourage the same from my team. Honest - much better to tell it as it is, but I have had to develop tact to go along with it. Trusting: I trust my team 100% and encourage them to make independent decisions knowing that they have my backing even if things don't turn out quite as they expected.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
I'm a big proponent of promoting from within and providing people with the opportunity to stretch themselves knowing that they have support behind them to help if they overreach. This was the opportunity afforded to me a number of times in my early career and I'm keen to give other people the same opportunity.
This year I promoted two people to the leadership team, both into new roles that have required them to actively learn new skills very quickly. As expected, both have excelled, and have enabled me to further promote lower down the organisation and at the same time bring in some fresh external skills that didn't exist.
How many employees are in your IT team?
14 permanent, and right now 10 contract, but this varies.
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
It's usually about 50/50.
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?