Shared Purpose

Shared services provide new possibilities for the hotel industry.

A willingness to be "thinking the unthinkable" is how one CIO friend of ours recently described the executive mind-set inside his company.

For this global player in the hospitality industry, that readiness to explore more radical IT strategies that could sustain the business—through the recession and back to profitability—sent a big, loud signal.

Suddenly, everything is on the table.

I've been hearing that phrase a lot from CIOs lately—not in a fatalistic sense but with a feeling of new possibilities unfolding. Company priorities are sharpening. Political obstacles are moving. Decks are clearing.

Nowhere is that feeling stronger than in our cover story about shared services, which are top-of-mind for CIOs now because of economic strain, the emergence of cloud computing and the spread of collaboration tools within and beyond corporate walls.

"With the advent of cloud computing, I think that's going to open up the doors to this type of collaboration," says CIO Tom Conophy of InterContinental Hotels Group in Atlanta. Along with Starwood Hotels, Marriott International and Hyatt, InterContinental is actively discussing possible shared services among members of a global trade association of hoteliers and tech companies. Similar efforts are springing up in the real estate and insurance industries, as well as among research universities and nonprofits. The basic drivers are the same: to pool ideas, share resources and drive down costs better allocated elsewhere.

"Do we want 100 people working on developing...a hotel reservation system?" asks CIO Todd Thompson of Starwood Hotels, "or do we want 100 people focused on building innovative solutions for our company?"

If you're getting a sense of déjàvu here, you may be remembering the early 1990s' attempt by several airlines to create a shared travel reservation network. That was scuttled in part by technology—the lack of cheap, ubiquitous broadband networks and open-source software a decade ago—but also by more ongoing human obstacles like mistrust, competitiveness and risk avoidance.

Yet when we line up those old stumbling blocks next to potential benefits such as simplified data exchange, reduced cost and greater business agility, the hurdles start to shrink. CIOs are also bringing much greater business savvy to the table now, along with a shared purpose that makes "thinking the unthinkable" all part of the job.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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