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Interview: Omni Hotels CIO on the Evolution of the Guest Experience

@SamShankman

Jul 21, 2014 8:00 am

Skift Take

Technology is not only becoming one of the defining aspects of the hotel experience, it must increasingly blend with hotels’ marketing and design strategies to create a uniform brand experience.

— Samantha Shankman

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The Madison Suite inside Omni Berkshire.


For the past decade, technology has transitioned from the hotel back office to one of the most talked-about features in the guest experience.

Free Wi-Fi is becoming more common, apps that deliver room service with the press of a button are being rolled out, and brands are engaging with customers on social media.

One of the hospitality executives who has watched and helped bring about this change is Kris Singleton, who has held executive roles at major U.S. hotel brands for the past six years. Singleton recently left her role as Chief Information Officer at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where she worked for three years, to take on the same position at Omni Hotels.

And, from 2008 to 2011, Singleton served as CIO of Kimpton Hotels.

Singleton describes her role as a strategic one that uses her technical background to provide insights that impact a hotel group’s total operation and brand strategies. Her recent arrival at Omni is part of hotel brand’s efforts to develop and implement new technology for a more sophisticated guest experience.

We talked with Singleton two weeks into her time with Omni on technology’s changing role in hospitality, how it impacts the role of a hospitality CIO, and what projects she’s looking forward to working on.

Skift: Is this different from your role at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas?

Kris Singleton: My role at the Cosmopolitan morphed starting as an executive providing expertise from a technical perspective to a more strategic role. I joined Cosmopolitan six months after they opened so there were a lot of things that were broken, or not implemented effectively, from a technology perspective.

My focus was very tactical on bringing stability and reliability to the Cosmopolitan technical architecture. After the first six to nine months, I was able to switch my focus to strategically trying to make the most of all of the technology investment that the property had made in order to maximize the value of what those technologies enabled from an operational perspective.

Skift: How has technology moved from a back-end tool to a front-end asset that improves the customer experience?

Singleton: At Kimpton, all of the brands and properties had access to the best thousand-count spread for their linens, the best beds, and the best towels. Once that really started to become a commodity, the expectations shifted from what the guest wanted — from having a really great product to having a great experience.

From 2007 onward, I saw a shift in the hospitality industry from the pieces and parts and things to more of the experience and and the creation of emotional connections with guests. I like to coin it as moving from customer relationship management, CRM, or the days of having a product for a price that guest wants to buy, to CXM, which is customer experience management, where it’s all about how do I from pre-, during-, and post-stay engage with that customer to enable opportunities to deliver an exceptional experience at every touchpoint.

Skift: How has the CIO’s position changed in hospitality?

Singleton: It starts with a great partnership and great interpersonal relationships with all of these other departments so that you have a working relationship of collaboration. Then you look at it from the guest or customer experience and ask what do they really want.

I’ve experienced something a couple of places, especially in the Cosmopolitan where they were building it, that they would implement technology for the sake of technology rather than the relevance to what the guest really wants and expects. We overcomplicated some of the new room technology and one of the first things I really focused on was simplifying it.

It didn’t take away the technical access or the guest perception that the room had a lot of technology, but it simplified it, making it more intuitive for the guest to use it. A typical guest doesn’t think to go to the phone to change the temperature of their room.

It’s really changed from it being about the things in the room to how we can make it easier for the guest to interact and communicate through their own personal devices.

Skift: Have IT departments started to work more closely with the design and marketing departments as a result of these changes?

Singleton: Absolutely. At MGM, the design group would do their thing and then bring it to us and said now layer on technology aspects to it. Now smaller brands have a little more flexibility so it it’s more of collaborative teamwork.

At Kimpton, Cosmopolitan and here at Omni all of those departments are working together. We’re all in there together and sharing and talking about that guest experience from the beginning rather than the pieces and parts of the workflow.

Skift: What are some of the innovations that excite you about the future?

Singleton: The past five years has been all about cloud, mobile and big data. I think voice and gesture technology and the concept of wearable technologies is exciting moving forward.

Collaborative consumption, the concept of access to things versus having the physical assets, is going to have a big impact on us over the next decade. I think if we put our head in the sand and say [the sharing economy] is competition and we want to fight that then we’ve lost an opportunity. We need embrace it and see how we can incorporate it into the physical buildings of these hotels.

People are still going to travel, whether they choose to stay with Airbnb or an Omni hotel. How do we embrace it and get an understanding of how different customer segmentations approach this in order to provide a solution that fits their needs?

As the CIO, being able to provide a point of view and input into that brand strategy is my responsibility. I need to make sure I know what’s going on in the world today and how non-industry movements impact the travel and hospitality industry.

Skift: What are your first goals in your new position at Omni?

Singleton: For us, there’s some low-hanging fruit around dashboarding and business intelligence. It’s about taking the data to information to knowledge to then wisdom. I think we’ve got some low-hanging fruit to provide more informed decisions at all department levels by focusing on better reports and dashboarding capabilities.

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