"Classic Hotels - State of the Art Technology", that's the promise of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, owner of such vintage lodgings as The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, The Fairmont Banff Springs, and Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.
Rather than being hidden in the backrooms and glass houses of the company, IT today is a major part of Fairmont's branding initiative and is positively connected with its public image. Sales and marketing is one of the last frontiers for IT in organizations. How IT came "out of the closet" at Fairmont is a story that illustrates the potential of technology to help a company differentiate itself from its competition and deliver true customer-facing business value.
"Five years ago, IT was totally in a reactive mode," says Vineet Gupta, Fairmont's VP of Technology, who joined the company in 1999 after working in the aerospace industry. "We only had about 15 people in corporate IT with a limited brand technology strategy, and we constantly spent all our time on fixing things as they broke." In addition, there were about 40 IT people located in the hotels themselves. However, because each hotel operated independently, there were very few interfaces between the properties and a wide variety of incompatible technologies. As a result, IT as a 'brand' had limited capabilities.
In order to use IT as a competitive advantage, Gupta and his boss, Tim Aubrey (Senior Vice President of Finance), had to develop a strategic technology plan that would enable each of Fairmont's four main constituencies: guests, owners, employees and the brand, and address their different and often conflicting cost/benefit concerns.
For example, guests wanted high-quality IT services at minimal cost, while owners were very cost-conscious and somewhat resistant when it came to buying new technology. Employees wanted effective, easy-to-use technology but didn't care as much about costs. And as a company, Fairmont wanted to use technology strategically for positive public relations and to attract new owners. Any IT strategy therefore had to make sense in the eyes of each of these groups. IT's strategy had four main elements:
1. Low cost technology with long-term investment protection for the brand's owners. The technology team selected Web-based technology standards that provide any time, anywhere access. They also agreed to guarantee that IT costs would remain flat or diminish over time, even with the company adding new capabilities.
2. Strong, guest-facing applications. Here, the team decided to use a self-funding model that would provide a high ROI.
3. Off-the-shelf products. IT committed to buying packaged software and tailoring it to meet the company's needs. "In-house builds are just too expensive," said Gupta. "Fortunately, many vendors wanted to be aligned with the Fairmont brand and became our strategic partners."
4. Selective outsourcing. The team decided to outsource non-strategic components.