Evolving from an Implementer of Business Initiatives to Trusted Consultant for Travel and Hospitality

John Wimmer, CIO, Xanterra Parks & Resorts
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Challenge in Technology

I believe that the biggest technology challenges in the hospitality industry revolve around mobility, guest connectivity, and cloud based services.  As for mobility, the user community is really starting to demand the ability to have access to technology services using mobile devices throughout the facilities.  Having the proper infrastructure to support these new technology requirements has been difficult for many hospitality CIO’s to support (including me at Xanterra) yet the need and demand continue to grow.  Secondly, the ever-growing need for guest Internet and connectivity from within the hospitality environment continues to expand yet guests are insisting that these services be provided at no costs. Justifying this growth in bandwidth continues to be a challenge.  Lastly, I feel that most hospitality companies would like to use more cloud based services but struggle with both the costs and the inherent limitations which exist in the cloud model.  CIO’s have to learn how to implement these platforms in a manner which is both cost effective yet still have the functionality and effectiveness demanded by their user base.

“I believe that IOT could really start to play a bigger role within our facilities to help better management these facilities and report issues in a more automated way”

360 Degree Approach

While many companies have focused on CRM-type platforms in an attempt to gain this 360 degree view of the customer, I feel many have rushed into this project with minimal planning and without first developing the proper vision as to what they are trying to accomplish.  While I believe that the CRM and 360 degree approach can be very valuable and that many hospitality (and other) organizations have been able to leverage it successfully, I feel that without proper management guidance, business requirements definition and strategic planning, that many organizations are not getting the maximum benefit they would get from these types of investments.

Defining Competitive Edge

If implemented properly, I think that CRM can still provide a major push towards improving an organization’s competitive position.  While not a newer technology, I still believe that business analytics can provide organizations with better information and help them make better decisions which in turn can provide them a better position.

Role of IoT and Virtualization

With many of the structures managed by Xanterra being historic  I believe that the role of IOT and virtualization could potentially grow greatly within the Xanterra technology environment and become even larger parts of our larger IT strategic plan.  Virtualization is already a key part of our business strategy but has primarily been focused within our corporate data center and large scale operations.  With the extremely limited spaces which exist for technology infrastructure at our smaller locations and with limits on connectivity and key supporting infrastructure like reliable power and cooling, I believe that the usage of virtual environment will continue to grow and expand into these smaller operations to help provide redundant services and help reduce the physical footprint and power/cooling requirements needed to support this technology.  I believe that IOT could really start to play a bigger role within our facilities to help better management these facilities and report issues in a more automated way.

IT’s Role in General

Over the past few years, IT’s role in general (and my role specifically) continues to evolve from being simply an implementer of business initiatives to more of a trusted consultant on how technology can better support the business needs.  While we still have to “keep the lights on” from an IT perspective, the business leaders are more dependent on us that ever to help them determine what initiatives are needed and how technology can be better leveraged within their operations.  I feel this transition is well underway and will continue to grow in the upcoming years.

Security: A Critical Part of IT

While Xanterra has added an individual in the CISO role, the CIO is still responsible for the big picture of technology and for ensuring that security keeps its rightful spot in the overall IT Strategic Plan and remains a key strategic initiative.  Often, security is one of those items which everyone agrees is important but no one wants it to take the place of another project which they feel would add benefits to their operation.  It is the CIO’s responsibility to make sure that key security initiatives remain a critical part of the whole IT Strategic Plan and that focus remains this important topic.

My Opinion to CIOs

My biggest suggestion to a new CIO in the hospitality industry would be for them to take time to learn the challenges of the industry before determining what areas of technology need changing.  I know when I switched from the healthcare to the hospitality industry, my ego made me believe that I didn’t need to spend the necessary time learning the differences in the operation and what technology services would best benefit the company.  After learning some painful lessons, I learned that spending some time with the various operational units learning what they need to be successful in performing their jobs is the key for me to help and supply the technology services which will best fit their needs.

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