When Scott Strickland interviewed for his job as CIO of Wyndham Hotel Group in the spring of 2017, the executive committee was focused on standardizing processes and technologies across 20 brands (including Ramada, Super 8, Days Inn, and Howard Johnsons), which had been operating fairly autonomously.
So, Strickland took the job and spent the first nine months continuing the journey that had been started around standardizing the entire company on five platforms: central reservations, property management, service and sales, digital marketing, and data warehousing. Since the hotel group was opening roughly two new hotels a day, the new architecture would provide the scalability and flexibility to support that kind of aggressive growth.
No sooner had the team completed the standardization when they learned that Wyndham Hotel Group’s parent company, Wyndham Worldwide, was spinning off the 20 hotel brands into a new company, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. That meant Strickland’s job suddenly got bigger. His team would no longer be a customer of corporate shared services, but it would stand up a new infrastructure to support the standalone business.
Around that time, the new company, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, acquired La Quinta, another large hotel brand. The La Quinta acquisition became the first test of how quickly and effectively those five major platforms could bring on a new large acquisition. Strickland was happy to see that the acquisition happened seamlessly and allowed the company to realize more than $60 million in synergies.
With all of that change and activity behind them, Strickland and his team are now focused on the company’s digital future.
Martha Heller: What does “digital” mean to Wyndham Hotels & Resorts?
Scott Strickland: Our focus is on taking business processes that are manual, clunky, or reliant on people, and digitizing them. Every time we want to automate a business process, I ask, “Does the solution fit on our platforms?”
For example, when we open a hotel, there are a lot of people entering a lot of data into the project: there is the list of amenities, the distance from the airport, and pictures of the property, which were all entered into a spreadsheet and sent around from person to person.
When we decided to digitize that process, we initially thought about developing bots to load information into the systems. But then we decided to look to our standardized platforms first. Can our platforms digitize the process? What if we created a portal in Salesforce, where people on the project could enter relevant data from day one?
That’s what we did, and it reduced the total amount of work from 48 hours to 18 hours per property.
Another example is in pricing. Hotels typically employ a revenue manager, who watches a group of hotels and makes price adjustments based on occupancy levels. We looked at that process and thought, “What if we paired a person with a bot, to allow the person to make more value-added adjustments?” So, we digitized the process by developing bots that use a set of business roles to watch demand and make rate adjustments. The bots run on our digital platform but can go cross function – running in property management, central reservation, or even our data warehouse, as needed.
The revenue managers are now elevated from that work and can spend their time analyzing the market. When is the Taylor Swift concert coming to town? What does the spring conference season look like? We are increasing human value by using one of our standardized platforms and not investing in yet another technology.
What is the digital mindset you are cultivating?
At Wyndham, we have three customers: the guest, the franchisee, and our internal team member. The digital mindset means looking at each customer type and serving them on the channel that they prefer, using the simplest possible technology.
For the guest, we’ve made massive investments in our mobile app. Two years ago, we didn’t have a mobile app. Today, we have an app that allows customers to manage their loyalty points and redemptions. That’s table stakes for many companies, but for us it is a more recent innovation.
Now that we have a foundation in mobile, we are focusing on where the digital world meets the physical. We are working on a capability that allows repeat guests to drive to a hotel, and as soon as they hit our network, they are automatically checked in and receive an active mobile key.
Our franchisees are hiring new desk agents all the time, and those new employees need to be trained on how to use the property management system to check in a guest. For that platform, we’ve implemented, “Leo,” an assisted-training device that guides agents through the process. That device has deflected 34% of training calls from our call centers.
And for our internal team member, we are about to deliver a capability that allows users to email into the ticketing system rather than logging in. Again, that may seem like table stakes, but it is lowering user frustration and increasing productivity.
What are the architectural changes you’ve made to support this innovation?
In the past, our overall architecture was limited by each platform’s architecture. But since most of the platforms we are standardizing on are SaaS (software as a service), we are moving toward a microservices architecture. In addition, most of our platforms have app stores, so we are leveraging those ecosystems.
We’ve also migrated our own data centers, and we’ve moved those services to the cloud. We’ve put everything up to the operating system level in the cloud because we don’t want to be in the data center business.
What advice do you have for CIOs who need to drive this level of change?
Prioritize, focus, and communicate. If you don’t, you will become overwhelmed and so will everyone else on your team. Plan what you are going to do for the next 90 days, communicate your delivery dates, and then execute. Then focus on the next 90 days. Once you get into that rhythm, success begets success.
Take PCs, for example. When I joined the company, we did not have a big PC budget, and senior management had never seen the need to increase it. So, I reported on the support costs and the talent retention risks of old PCs. (When a new employee receives a hand-me-down laptop, she sometimes questions her decision to join the company.) Finance approved the budget, and we committed to refresh dates. As we make our way through the refresh, everyone knows when their new technology is coming.
What advice do you have for CEOs whose companies are transforming?
CEOs speak finance; they speak balance sheets and EBITA. It is time for CEOs to learn a new language; they need to learn cloud and APIs and business intelligence. When Wyndham Hotels & Resorts went public last year, our CEO spoke to our three pillars — marketing, quality, and technology. CEOs need to do more than invest in technology; they need to communicate how important technology is to their vision for their companies.
About Scott Strickland
Scott Strickland serves as CIO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Prior to the spin-off from Wyndham Worldwide, he was CIO for Wyndham Hotel Group, responsible for enhancing and implementing technology strategy, building the strength of the IT organization, and leading day-to-day execution by ensuring alignment with strategic business direction. Before joining Wyndham, Strickland was the CIO at D+M Group; executive director of information technology at Nissan North America. And earlier in his career, he held the position of CIO and vice president of information services at Stanley Black & Decker. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Trinity University.
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.