Fergus Boyd describes himself as an IT director with sales targets. To take one example of why he is such a successful one, consider this: he outdid by 5% a stretch target of $18.1m in direct web-booked revenue for a new hotel. With the cost of sale for direct web around 4%, compared with 20% commission for online travel agents, you can see why he is a fundamental success factor for the company.

Job title
Director/VP digital and IT

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
My team and I define the IT product that goes into our future hotels. I maintain a 50+ page document that lists in detail all the IT hardware and systems that go into a hotel to make it a Yotel. Some of these items are mandatory IT brand standards (eg minimum 42in TVs in guest rooms) and some are negotiable if our owners/investors have restricted budgets (eg copper vs optical fibre manufacturer of TV or PCs).

I run our single, central Yotel.com website under which all our hotels operate. My team and I maintain core parts of the customer experience, such as the booking engine and corporate sections, but we give control to our hotel staff to maintain their local page content.

I take six-monthly technology and lifestyle surveys of our customers in which I gather their use and interest in technology (eg mobiles, social media), and their views on our current hotel products and future products (eg in-room fridges, app-controlled window blinds, etc). This insight helps to drive our product innovation. I run website surveys which give us insight into the behaviour of the site, but also our pricing policies. For example, we recently dropped the use of credit card fees for our airport hotels as a result of website feedback.

I report to the CEO and am part of the exec/leadership team, working alongside director colleagues who own ops, brand, comms, finance, etc. My team and I service their needs – eg my FD is main stakeholder for our BI project, and my brand colleague is stakeholder for a digital asset management tool. I define the overarching IT and digital roadmap for the company, and gather their requirements to shape our IT and digital capabilities to their needs.

My team and I provide IT and digital consultancy to the GMs, marketing directors, IT directors, revenue directors, etc, of our new hotels. This is above and beyond the management/booking fees that our FD charges our hotel owners, who tend to be VCs and asset investment houses.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
I have a combination IT and digital role – chief digital officer (CDO) is Forrester’s term – so my team and I cover both IT and digital/e-commerce, and my goals cover commercial and IT delivery areas. Essentially, I’m an IT director with sales targets!

I exceeded by 5% a stretch target of $18.1m direct web-booked revenue for 2016 for our NYC hotel. Direct web is now 33% of our global revenue, up from 16% when I joined three years ago. Cost of sale for direct web is circa 4%, compared with 20% commission for OTAs such as Expedia/Booking.com. Success was achieved by:

  1. focusing on customer feedback, and reworking our site navigation and refreshing content
  2. A/B and multivariate testing using Oracle Maxymiser – my digital team can change and test our website weekly without any IT involvement, and implement only the successful tests
  3. highly targeted digital marketing via our partner 4Ps Marketing, which has become an extension of my (small) team and now over-service us, as we have helped it get into new areas such as meta search sales
  4. use of open source tools (eg Umbraco CMS) and good-value UK but non-London based IT development agencies (eg Fat Media in Lancaster).

I introduced ancillary selling for our city and airport hotels (eg breakfast options, room upgrades, car parking). I achieved $60,000 of incremental revenue for the NYC hotel in the final few months of 2016. I am on track to achieve circa £70,000 within 12 months for the airport hotels.

I introduced three new languages on our website (Spanish, French, Portuguese) and saw a 5% conversion uplift.

I opened our new Paris airport (CDG) hotel with the successful delivery of the IT for the 80 guest rooms, the common use areas in the hotel and all back-office IT – total IT investment circa £150,000. I did this within the team and avoided circa £50,000 in external IT consultancy fees. This is an airside hotel, so it came with extra challenges (eg all kit had to go through airport security and all staff had to be security-cleared). One of my team personally drove a white van with £100,000 of preconfigured kit from our London HQ to Paris to avoid the cost and risk of couriers.

On a more pragmatic level, I simplified our IT estate by introducing managed services for printing and storage/backup, and brought in a fresh set of IT policies and acceptable use policies, and a new single point of contact process (SPOC) for IT support.

I introduced our first Yotel blog with a new focus on content marketing for SEO and to raise brand profile with future and current guests. This has helped to boost our rankings on Bing and Google search engines, which saves the need for some paid search. My team and I also documented our social media strategy, created in conjunction with our brand marketing team, and we are now punching above our weight on social media. Facebook in particular is driving sufficient revenues to cover all costs, in addition to driving brand awareness.

I manage our mobile app, which is delivered via a third party and has seen 15,000 downloads in 2016, with 50-70 downloads a day and 80-100 users a day. Not bad for a small hotel brand. Version 2 in 2017 will include mobile locks, mobile food and beverage ordering, and links to partners (eg ground transportation, events, parking).

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
I own the technology innovation process in Yotel. My background includes running the IT lite/labs/innovation teams in both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, so I’m well versed in innovation processes. In Yotel we call the process ‘next little thing’ (NLT), and I run the tech-related parts of this. Some examples are given below.

Product innovation

  • Set the Kaba Saflock Bluetooth low energy (BLE) and RFID locks as the standard for our new hotels. This will enable mobile-key for our guests and will remove the need to stop by our kiosks to pick up a traditional RFID key card.
  • Introduced the Chargifi wireless power product, which is set to become standard in our new hotel communal areas and possibly also our cabins/rooms.

Business model innovation

  • Created an ‘any town’ model for IT equipment and services to help our hotel development team estimate future hotels costs so they can better negotiate with new investors.
  • Negotiated lower commission rates for our UK/EU hotels with OTA (online travel agent) partners.
  • Brought in new partners for ancillary sales to boost our airport hotel innovation.
  • Brought in Purple WiFi to allow us to capture guest social log-ons, and help us collect details from non-direct visitors (eg those via OTAs such as Expedia), so we can contact them in marketing campaigns.

Technology innovation

  • Confirmed GPON (gigabit passive optical network) as the core networking standard for future hotels.
  • Introduced a company called Upgrade2, which offers standby room upgrades for our LHR hotel.
  • Introduced Chargifi wireless power charging for our HQ, and now in trial at our NYC hotel.
  • Set up relationships with some AI suppliers with the aim of bringing in chatbots to help our online sales and provide knowledge management support for staff.
  • Initiated a mobile food and beverage service for our Boston hotel (opens June 2017), which is currently on trial in our NYC hotel.
  • Introduced an optional breakfast upgrade on our website for our NYC hotel.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I am IT custodian of our Jostle intranet where staff can share news items and I personally post weekly on themes of interest from innovation, to new website or IT deliveries, to market and customer insights. I run ‘standups’ with my team (borrowed from agile working) where we share weekly updates and plans. I instigated a new section of our website to allow our hotel development team to interact better with future investors. I have also approved the use of Slack as an innovative collaboration tool with our US team, and am using it as a learning opportunity for use across the organisation. I also introduced iCIMS for consideration as our global talent management tool to help filter CVs and manage recruitment processes.

At a simper level, I added a service to send a daily SMS to our staff which reminds them of the 31 practices of the day. 31P is part of our brand training and reminds staff of the importance of team working and good customer service.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
I believe I have encouraged Yotel to move to a digital-first mindset, partly through delivery of some great direct web revenues but also by sharing knowledge within the organisation. I run masterclasses for staff, including my director colleagues and post weekly ‘word of the day’ articles on our intranet to explain in simple terms what new concepts mean (eg programmatic advertising or internet of things). I share weekly progress updates with the leadership team and try where possible to make them as visual as possible. I have also introduced a new BI programme, sponsored by our FD, to surface key business metrics to a wide audience.

In my spare time, I’m a volunteer trustee at the Royal Institution, a science-based charity in London, and I frequently bring along my senior colleagues to hear expert lectures (eg on AI or building high-performance teams).

I brought in multivariate testing (MVT) to continually tune our website – still very novel within the hospitality industry. I share the results on our intranet and ask staff to propose new hypotheses and tests.

I am the face of Yotel at digital and IT industry conferences, and I use the networks I form to help educate my leadership peers (eg I presented at Henley Business School, which initiated some useful ongoing relationships).

I have also written submissions and won about six digital/IT awards, most recently two awards at Travolution. It helps get our brand out there and reminds my colleagues that even a small company can compete with our deep-pocketed competitors.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
I’m a member of various innovation forums including 100%Open, Henley, Queen’s University Alumni and IoT forums, and I hold a seat on Forrester and on some of its councils, which I use to evaluate new vendors and products, and to develop business relationships.

I have links to MIT Labs and Cornell University, which I use to find innovative startups that could support our business. I like to give small companies a chance (eg I introduced some iBeacon vendors into our NYC hotel). I run QBRs with my key suppliers and try to build a partner approach rather than a supplier-client approach.

Yotel is small, but for our size I have developed good relationships with some of the biggest players (eg Oracle and Salesforce) by being willing to present case studies at their forums and acting as reference sites for them.

I have also set up loyalty relationships with Virgin Atlantic and Air France/KLM, which gives us a source of referrals and new customers, and drives incremental revenue. Revenue ROI is about 3:1 to date, plus we get the halo effect of being associated with big brands.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
I advertise via LinkedIn and through network contacts, and my team mix has become quite diverse and eclectic. Three British (one English, one Scot/northern Irish, one British/Egyptian), one New Zealand/Chinese, one Spanish, one French. Three male; three female. I recruit on talent and attitude, not race/colour/gender/creed.

Being a hospitality company, we have a diverse range of staff from many countries and backgrounds, and we encourage staff to apply across disciplines, so someone who is initially in housekeeping can rise up the ranks to become a technician/engineer. My IT support person (female) came from this route. Brexit was a big concern to my team but our company has stated that we will continue to value diversity and talent across borders.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
For a small team, we wear many hats. I have two IT project managers who are responsible for new hotel openings and all of the tech that goes into those, and they also run HQ projects. One handles strategic programmes like BI and global payments. One handles infrastructure projects (eg secure file transfer, server upgrades, telephony). He also manages our IT support with one exec and a support agency that handles out-of-hours queries. I also have two digital specialists who handle our website and digital marketing, including SEO, paid search, email service provider, content creation, languages and localisation.

One PM covers US hotels and interfaces to our hotel development team there. One handles EU and East hotels and interfaces to local development reps there. I hope to add a third IT PM rep as our EU/East hotel portfolio is growing fast. My team manage 40+ suppliers, who cover everything from website design, build and support to backup, network management, telecoms etc. I also have several IT reps based in our city hotels dotted into me.

My small but effective team all have cross-functional responsibilities and manage multiple stakeholders, and my digital team and I have revenue targets.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
I’ve renewed Fat Media to do my website development, hosting and support. I’ve renewed 4Ps Marketing to do my paid search. Our hotel partners are very varied – from Kaba for door locks to Micros for food and beverage point of service (POS) to Stayntouch for kiosks and mobile app.

I appointed Oracle Maxymiser to support us on multivariate testing for the website, and Salesforce ExactTarget for marketing automation. Both are bold moves for a small company like Yotel as they are top-tier products and most hotels use smaller suppliers that can’t scale well. I place digital and IT at the heart of the brand, so I’m buying strategic platform providers that can scale as we grow.

I’ve appointed Oracle Opera for our Singapore and Boston hotels as the PMS – property management system. This was after a formal RFP process where my team and I reviewed 12+ PMSs on the market.

I have also introduced Moncierge as our new guest services tool for city hotels, as it can simplify our estate by bundling in food and beverage apps, display screen management, etc.

I introduced Holiday Extras as our strategic partner for ancillary sales for our airport hotels. They cover car parking, transfers, tours, etc.

I brought in self-service kiosks for our new Paris Airport hotel based on technology from the company Stayntouch, building on the success of kiosks in our NYC hotel (94% of our guests use them for check-ins), and managed a process to redesign them for our smaller footprint airport hotels. These ‘gen 2’ kiosks will also be deployed in our Boston, Singapore and San Francisco hotels. They are liked by guests and greatly simplify our hotel operation and overheads.

I introduced Siteminder as our channel manager for airport hotels. They distribute our rates and availability to sales partners like Booking.com, and have helped us close a PCI compliance gap by removing the need for staff to rekey guests’ credit card data.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
In summary, OCD! That’s:

  • operational delivery (current hotels, website revenue)
  • capability development (recruiting and training staff, introducing new products eg BI)
  • development (opening new hotels).

In detail:

  • Deploy a group-wide BI product (based on QlikView) to give us insights across our hotels.
  • Migrate across all our guest emails campaigns to ExactTarget (and decommission several agencies and products covering this area).
  • Introduce a CDN – content delivery network – for our website so its speed is improved globally, which positively influences Google/Bing search rankings.
  • Deploy FirstData as our merchant acquirer and payment services provider as it can support our global aspirations.
  • Open three new city centre hotels: Singapore Orchard Road at 610 rooms, Boston SeaPort at 310 rooms, and San Francisco Market Street at 300 rooms.
  • Upgrade some of the IT in our 713-room Manhattan hotel. It has been open for five years, so needs a hardware/software refresh – in particular, introduction of a better guest services/engineering task management tool.
  • Do a limited IT refresh of our legacy airport hotels (LHR, LGW, AMS), likely to be restricted by budget to servers and Wi-Fi backhaul.
  • Introduce a new mobile app to cover our widening portfolio of hotels.
  • Generate $20m for our NYC hotel via our website (up from $19m achieved this year, which was 5% over target), and support up to 20% share of revenue via the website for our new hotels when they open.
  • Launch a Yotel affiliate marketing programme to hopefully drive 5%-10% of extra revenue
  • Introduce live chat on our website to improve sales conversion and gather real-time feedback from customers.
  • Launch the first-ever Yotel loyalty programme, based on instant gratification, which suits our millennial audience. It will be a light-touch programme based on value, frequency, recency of guests, derived from our new BI tool.
  • Do a PCI audit.
  • Support recruitment of IT directors for our new city hotels.
  • Focus on guest feedback and extracting insights.
  • On the innovative side, I’m introducing Chargifi on trial to provide wireless power to our NYC hotel, and Expensify to help with expenses management.
  • Recruit two new staff to support the above!

Travel budgets are tight for 2017, so most of this will be done virtually and via teleconfs (eg training of new hotel staff on our website and CMS).

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
I could lose several high-performing staff members (French, Spanish) if their right to work in the UK is withdrawn. I don’t believe the UK government would allow this to happen, but my contingency measures include talent spotting across our in-hotel hospitality teams for keen individuals, and widening my network of recruitment agencies. I’m also reviewing my personal LinkedIn network for possible future employees. To support my stakeholders in other departments across Yotel, I’m doing early reviews of talent management tools like iCMS as these can take manual effort away from directors and their teams.

GDPR (data protection) is likely to have a bigger effect, and will affect the UK for at least six months after formal Brexit, and the UK government is likely to maintain the GDPR best practice rule after Brexit. I’m already preparing our website and other comms channels to become explicitly opt-in, and to provide a marketing preference centre for guests so they can self-manage their comms and marketing preferences. It’s all good practice anyway, and will give us a single, best-practice, consistent policy across our geographical territories.

YOUR ROLE

When did you start your current role?
2 January 2014

What is your reporting line?
CEO

Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Yes

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
We are a small company and I cover all of these roles!

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Weekly

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
300+

BUDGETS

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Digital (global website and airport digital media) plus IT (back office and capex/opex of four airport hotels) is 5% of global turnover. IT on its own is 2.5% of global turnover.

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
85%+ on IT ops, 15% on new devs.

CIO INFLUENCES

Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. Consultants
  2. Industry bodies
  3. Analyst houses
  4. CIO peers
  5. Media

IT SECURITY

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Yes

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
No dedicated role. It is also me.

RECRUITMENT

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Yes

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
No

How many employees are there in your IT team?
3

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Yes

TECHNOLOGY

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • IoT
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Bots, AI.

THE EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
No

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Yes

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?
Yes