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Thu 16 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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The Tide has turned

Hotel guru Mike Scully and tech expert Julian Kraft step into the future as they explain the fundamentals of the system.

The Tide has turned
The Tide has turned
Seven Tides Hospitality MD Mike Scully.
The Tide has turned
Entiretec Middle East MD Julian Kraft.

A partnership between hotel owner Seven Tides and IT consulting company Entiretec has set a global benchmark for hospitality technology architecture. Hotel guru Mike Scully and tech expert Julian Kraft step into the future as they explain the fundamentals of the system.

UAE-based holding company Seven Tides, owner of four Mövenpick hotels, all set to open in Dubai in 2010, is currently installing an AED 50 million (US $13.6 million) centralised fully-converged IT platform across these four properties in partnership with IT consultant Entiretec.

Provided by Cisco and other technology partners, the next generation, flexible IT platform, which covers the Royal Amwaj and Oceana on Palm Jumeirah, Ibn Battuta Gate and Mövenpick Deira, will integrate the properties’ applications, data, voice communications, IT security, services and building systems over one IP-based network.

With operational efficiencies and guest experience set to be enhanced dramatically by this system, plus video-conferencing capabilities and other IP-based hospitality services that will set Seven Tides apart commercially, the technology promises to be a world-first, according to Seven Tides Hospitality managing director Mike Scully and Entiretec Middle East managing director Julian Kraft.

Here, they explain more about the rationale behind the approach, the process of choosing the system and the range of benefits it will offer the owner, operator and hotel guest.

Why was investing in technology such a priority?

Mike Scully:When you look at the way technology has gone onto HD now and at the way that Microsoft is advancing, you have to accept that if you are opening a new hotel in a modern age, you have to open with what is the latest technology at the moment and certainly what is going to be the latest in a year’s time when you actually open.

In essence, the way that we see it today, bandwidth is what enables the latest technology.

Whatever occurs in the future is going to require immense bandwidth. And that is essentially what we have invested in — being able to connect the properties on a very high-end and redundant bandwidth.

What opportunities does high-end bandwidth offer to hoteliers?

MS:There are two aspects to investing in IT and bandwidth. One is the ability to operate the system as economically as possible and the associated savings.

The second side, which is the side that really interests us, is the commercial aspect of being able to sell our venues as venues with the highest performance when it comes to transferring information for clients, whether it be conferences, exhibitions or entertainment.

So, for example, an IT company such as Cisco could have its CEO giving a presentation in America with all kinds of odd gadgets and aspects of two-way or multiple communication video conferencing and that can be streamed in real time to his clients here in Dubai or elsewhere in the world at the same time.

The concept of video conferencing and streaming is already in the market, however, the problem with all these things is that there’s no reliability. And at the end of the day if you’re going to do a conference for 1000 delegates and you’re going to stream something live, you have to ensure reliability.

And this is what we have bought into. Whether we use it in the first year of operation or within five years of operation is going to depend on how far we take the whole concept of the system, but that is essentially what we believe is the future.

How does this also offer an increased guest focus?

MS:There are two aspects to that. One is the day-to-day uses of our systems internally which is great, the other is that we are able to gain information on guests instantaneously through our systems and transfer this data through to rooms, from their music preference to their lighting preference to their room temperature preference.As far as the guest is concerned, they will not experience any downtime — the TV system, the billing system on the TV and the integrated in-room system will be instantaneous. Any internet accessibility for the guest will be faster than at any other hotel in Dubai. And getting back to conferences, any conferences using the internet in their presentations or requiring information downloaded from the net would be as fast as the fastest in the world, so these are all areas where the guest and the staff will see immediate advantages.

Mövenpick has been pleased as it effectively takes their brand to the forefront of technology — and they’ve certainly been partners in the choosing of the system and specifying the system as such.

Has the solution only really been possible because it is the same owner and operator for all the properties?

MS:It helps. It’s made it economically viable. But I think there are two aspects and this is where Entiretec comes into it via its specifying and creating of the system. The producers and suppliers of the system have been very happy to help us both financially and in advanced services, because this is the first time. I think we see that as much from the likes of Etisalat, which has come in with a very good offer for us on the price of the broadband / bandwidth for the first three years.

They said that to encourage us to go to the lengths and expenditure that we have, they were willing to come in on that side, as did Entiretec and Cisco. The whole package has been put together by all partners to make it economically viable for us. At what stage did Entiretec become involved with the project?

Julian Kraft:Our core business in the Middle East is IT Consulting for designing network infrastructures inclusive all security-related needs, and data centres; we ensure that the outcome is highly available and that it is scalable. In addition we take care of the project management for the deployment of our solutions.

Some years back we started to work for Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts and we are running their global network and this is how we came to know Roger McFarlaine, who had been appointed together with Mövenpick for the Seven Tides project and was looking into a centralised approach from day one and had the vision to fight for such a solution. A supplier was bidding on it those days and then we gave our offer and ideas and we were able to win the project, because of our global IT and hospitality expertise.

It’s very important to understand what Seven Tides did; they didn’t involve a main contractor and they didn’t involve an MEP contractor. This is normally what happens and then you lose already 10% to each of those companies. And then you normally have an ELV company and they add another 20%, so at the time when you bring in the IT consultant, you already have to pay around 40% on top of whatever we design and possibly save.

So the approach to go directly to the IT consultant was the main win in this project because we were able to speak directly to Mike and the team and that enabled us to get the best out of it. In addition, Seven Tides came to us at a very early stage, which helped us to design the vision of Mövenpick and Seven Tides.

What challenges did you face in meeting the brief?

JK:There was a little bit of a challenge because no-one had ever done this before.

So, after our consultation process, we went to the suppliers, such as Cisco, and not the system integrators which is what you would normally do. We designed the latest technology and then we went out to the suppliers and showed it to them and said; what can you do for us? So Seven Tides and Entiretec were totally independent with regards to any technology that is in the market.

We asked the suppliers which system integrators could deploy such a very high, demanding, scalable and state-of-the-art infrastructure. Usually clients tell you ‘we go with the system integrator that is the cheapest’, but Mike and Seven Tides were able to look not at the cheapest but at the best technology for such a centralised approach.

He approved that and then we went again into negotiation and that made it easy for us because the supplier, in this case Cisco, had no chance to bring another system integrator and helped us together with Dimension Data to get the best price for this solution with regard to all network-related hardware.

Dimension Data helped us in addition with all other suppliers to be able to deploy that solution without any changes to the design.

Has there been anything you have not been able to achieve?

MS:We’re structuring the system in a way that it can be added to. So there are certain things that we would have liked to put in but we can’t afford right now, but there are other aspects of some parts of the system which we know are in the development stage as well, so there’s no point until the next generation comes out.We’ve got a year to opening all four properties and another six months to having all four properties to the level which we want, so certainly within 18 months we would hopefully have the system at its maximum peak performance and all aspects of the software and hardware integrated.

JK:We were able to design it in the way that we can cater for now at least two more hotels without adding anything major to the systems in place.

Later on, you need to have more bandwidth and additional service for other applications, but this is already sized in the way that it’s very flexible to expand.

Also, if Mike does want to sell a property, it is very flexible in that if one hotel is sold it can just be cut off on the technology side and the future owner / operator can go ahead like they usually would when they acquire a new hotel.

What are the financial savings of this system?

MS:By the nature of having four properties and implementing the whole system for the four hotels in one go, we actually didn’t spend anything more than if we had done four standalone units.

This has been the biggest advantage — we’ve got this super-efficient and highly-technical capability to allow for future growth.

JK:On capital expenditure, we saved approximately 40% and so the centralised approach versus the decentralised method involved 40% less capital investment.

Then on the operational costs, I broke it down and saw 56% savings in the operational costs and if you look at the higher cost on the Etisalat bandwidth it’s 33%, so you’re ending up with 39% roughly on operational cost savings per year.

MS:The biggest advantage for staff is we have one accounting department for all four hotels; there’s an economy on number of staff for a start. We have one central maintenance department and a chief engineer who’s able to control all systems at all hotels simultaneously from one point, so that cuts down the engineering team by 40/50%.

HR is completely controlled by one central unit; we will have more than 2500 employees being controlled from one unit so from that point of view there’s tremendous staff savings and economy of scale within the system itself.

Where do you see the technology going in the future?

MS:It can go into as many properties as we want but if we want to talk about the future of where we eventually see the technology taking us, ultimately various parties involved from Cisco to others are looking at Hologram, for example.

Hologram is a very exciting aspect to all forms of entertainment and conferencing in that a hologram technology will be sent over the net.

Now this is very futuristic, but this is where we are going and if this technology does come in the next couple of years, we would be the first who would be able to facilitate it.

JK:And Hologram is already working with Cisco, but they’re fine tuning it and as soon as it comes to a marketplace where we are able to deploy it then we can put it on top of the IP converged network we are using for those four hotels.

MS:And that would be a world-first — and that is where we are heading with this.

We’re going as far as to look at putting one of the Cisco video conferencing / Tele Presence units in our London property, which again would be unique so there would only be two venues, one in London and one in Dubai, that could handle the level of sophistication of video conferencing that we’re talking about.

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