Hilton CIO: 4 Reasons We're Checking In SharePoint and Office 2010

Collaboration, cloud flexibility and presence features are among the reasons Hilton Hotels Worldwide has decided to roll out SharePoint and Office 2010. CIO Robert Webb sat down with CIO.com's Shane O'Neill for this Q&A.

If you're staying at a Hilton Hotel for business or pleasure, you probably wont see evidence in the lobby that the worldwide hotel chain is upgrading to Office and SharePoint 2010 for its employees and business partners at 3,600 hotels.

But behind the scenes, Hilton Worldwide CIO Robert Webb is counting on an upgrade to Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Office Communications Server (rebranded as Lync), as well as a migration to Windows 7, to improve productivity and communication among Hilton employees, from C-level executives to front desk workers.

The Office 2010 upgrade is part of Hilton's Innovation Collaborative, where the company tested a group of technology vendors to deliver technologies across all Hilton hotels around the world. Those that passed muster include IBM, Accenture, AT&T and Microsoft.

While IBM is Hilton's main data center and desktop support service vendor, Hilton is looking to Microsoft for the productivity and collaboration tools piece of the puzzle, and has expanded its enterprise agreement to provide 2010 versions of Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Server and Windows 7 to all Hilton employees and business partners.

Hilton Worldwide
Hilton Worldwide headquarters in McLean, Va.

Currently, Hilton is at the end of its pilot testing program for Exchange and Office 2010 products and will roll them out in increments in January 2011, starting with employees who are not on Exchange and Outlook. SharePoint is still in the planning phase as Hilton determines who exactly needs SharePoint and how IT will govern the content, says Webb.

In an interview with CIO.com, Hilton CIO Webb discussed the ways in which he hopes Office, Exchange and SharePoint 2010 will make Hilton a "workplace of the future."

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

One major goal of Hilton's Office and SharePoint 2010 upgrade: Get all employees onto one platform. Hilton has 130,000 employees in 82 countries.

The advantage for Hilton, as with most companies, is that its workforce is familiar and comfortable with Exchange and Office documents, says Webb. Most of Hilton's workers are coming from an Office 2007/Exchange 2007 environment, or from some Novell Groupwise e-mail systems outside the U.S.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and reviews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]

"This is not a simple e-mail upgrade," he says, who points out that there will be more of an emphasis on the "document sharing and collaboration features of SharePoint merged with Exchange 2010 for a unified e-mail and collaboration platform."

An Eye on the Cloud

Hilton is evaluating a cloud computing model for certain parts of its workforce. Like many big enterprises, Hilton does not plan a wholesale move to a cloud model, but rather a hybrid environment.

"We like the flexibility of mixing both on-premise and a hosted cloud model," says Webb. "And we would not limit it to one cloud provider. We plan to have a mixed environment where some services are delivered from an IBM cloud and some are from a Microsoft cloud."

But a hybrid approach calls for a deeper examination of Hilton's workforce to see who can get by on cloud-based apps like those in Microsoft's Office 365 online service, and who cannot, says Webb.

SharePoint and Outlook for Social Networking

While Webb sees SharePoint as an important part of its collaboration tool set, it is not the only tool, and his goal is to keep the focus on SharePoint's social networking and document sharing features a natural part of Hilton employees' workflow.

"We want employees to use SharePoint MySites and TeamSites [which create a Facebook-like environment] to share information or jointly edit documents with people in their departments," says Webb.

Many of the social networking features of SharePoint and unified communications [IM, video and voice] of Office Communicator are integrated into the application everybody uses most: Outlook.

"We've been tying SharePoint features and the chat and presence features of Office Communicator into Outlook, and will push that integrated package out in January," says Webb.

Presence Without Distraction

As Webb rolls out the presence features of OCS into Outlook across the company, he understands the potential that having voice, video and chat features at their fingertips could be a distraction for workers who are not used to it.

"I think having the 'free' and 'busy' indicators is helpful to keep it from being too much of a distraction," says Webb. "But at the same time our IT and training groups have an obligation to educate people on how to most effectively use these tools, and not just throw more technology at employees and expect them to know how to use it all."

Webb adds that the good news is that workers have an established familiarity with Microsoft products, but there will be a learning curve for new features in Office 2010.

"It's up to IT to help manage information overload," he says.

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at soneill@cxo.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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