Increased demand for a multifaceted hotel chief information officer — one who is fluent in technology and business operations while understanding a company’s financials — is transforming the required skill set and the role itself.

It is clear from the thoughts of CIOs at Fairmont, Wyndham, and Starwood that this evolution has ushered in a new type of CIO who is playing a more critical role in crafting hotel strategies.

The CIO’s position within a company has seen significant changes within the past five years, says Vineet Gupta, CIO, Fairmont Raffles Hotels and Resorts. The new CIO not only has to understand emerging technologies but increasingly is being called up to play a leadership role in the business side of the equation.

“It’s being driven a lot by consumer technology … because the other executives and other business owners have come to realize how important technology is for anything they do,” Gupta says. “I think that’s really what caused the shift. It’s the consumer technology space which has caused the shift on the business side.”

This transformation has been under way for years. In 2013, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 156 CIOs from a cross-section of industries, with 4 percent of respondents working in the transportation, travel, and tourism. The report, The strategic CIO: risks, opportunities and outcomes, found that over the prior three years, 49 percent of CIOs said they played a more central role in promoting game-changing decisions.

Technology’s strategic importance in realizing a company’s business goals has created more opportunities for CIOs to work alongside other C-suite executives, prioritizing the importance of the position and increasing a CIO’s participation in business decisions.

“It’s given the ability for the CIO to actually sit at the center table and be involved with every major initiative which comes across the company,” Gupta says. “Second is because the CIO typically brings more of a structure behind them to also be very strongly involved in managing initiatives.”

CIO Is an Influencer at Wyndham

Understanding the ways in which technology influences business opportunities is crucial, says Gabrielle Wolfson, CIO, Wyndham, as CIOs no longer just serve operational needs.

“It is very important for the CIO to have that knowledge and understanding of the business opportunities,” Wolfson says. “Of course operations are always going to be important, we have to keep the lights on, keep the business going and provide a stable and consistent service, but I think that the focus on strategy and the business, and understanding trends and the long-term implications is becoming more important.”

Starwood CIO on the Role of Data

Speaking at a #CodeConnect panel of women CIOs in New York City in October, Martha Poulter, CIO, Starwood, cited the ways in which technologists solve business problems. Data and analytics are powerful tools, Poulter said, whether it’s learning how to get mobile services to consumers or to price hotel rooms more effectively, and these tools make problem-solving a much more informed and relevant process.

Data and analytics are major assets for any company, with data dictating the industry’s future, Poulter says.

“We are at the precipice of miniaturization as a capability, and therefore miniaturization being able to give us more information. Miniaturization in the form of watches, sensors and all of those components now giving us data in forms that we have never been able to capture until now,” Poulter says.

Such information lends itself to building the smart property, she adds.

“We can think about how do we make our properties smart, or how can your in-room dining trays gives us information about when you’re finished dining? How can we optimize our on-property staff and how they are deployed based on what the property is telling us and what needs to be fixed and what is getting used a lot. All of those data points are being able to be captured. We have talked a lot about data in the past and there is this whole future around data and the smart property.”

Fairmont Raffles CIO on Current Commotion and Future Trends

Gupta of Fairmont Raffles agrees that data are a top priority, as is cloud-based and mobile technologies, both of which enable data collection.

Thinking strategically on how to use these technologies to a company’s advantage leads to being two steps ahead of the game by conceptualizing how the current commotion shaking up the technology space will play out in the next three to five years, he adds.

“[Cloud technology] has been out there on the horizon for a number of years. I think it’s finally at a point where we’ll see major changes over the next three, four years. I know from a company standpoint, we have to start moving in that direction now. The question is, how do I build a technology model over the next three to five years both from a team technology process and cost perspective so it actually works in three to five years when we see this new shift happening?” Gupta says.

Knowing How to Communicate

The velocity at which technology changes makes big-picture thinking a priority for a CIO today, Wolfson adds, and it enables CIOs to play a bigger role in spearheading business growth.

Becoming more involved in strategizing about company initiatives has changed how he or she communicates with C-suite counterparts. Though many high-level execs are more technology literate than they were in the past, CIOs need to be conscious of the language they use when discussing initiatives.

Wolfson says knowing business knowledge and lingo is essential, and Gupta agrees, saying he keeps industry jargon at bay.

“I never talk in pure technology terms when I communicate,” Gupta says. “It’s always about function and [an initiative’s] value to their function. The pure technology pieces I avoid talking about because it’s not relevant. It’s always about the outcome, the business outcome, that’s really matters.”

The CIO position is geared for leaders who are problem-solvers and have a firm grasp on the ways in which emerging technologies can be used to carry out business strategies. The CIO is responsible for adopting and integrating the latest innovations to effectively realize business goals.

Gupta sees an MBA as an essential component to securing a job as a CIO.

Poulter stressed the importance of IT skills and computer skills, whether gained by formal or experiential education, to advance to a senior-level position.

“It is helpful to have done yourself and have experience learning what networking means or how data influences outcomes and … it is so important going forward because as business leaders we bring that lens to the table,” Poulter says.

Photo Credit: Inside Starwood's "Starlab" innovation center. Starwood Hotels and Resorts