When Carlson Hospitality?which franchises, owns and manages hotels such as Country Inns & Suites, Radisson and Regent?considered getting rid of its binder-size monthly status reports and replacing them with sleek handhelds that would deliver real-time information about occupancy, VIP visits and overbooking, the company knew the project wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Any system that the company built would have to eventually work at 750 hotels in 55 countries and accommodate more than 2,000 users. For many global corporations, the very thought of offering so many far-flung people access to so much information would place the project on the chopping block, ready to be scaled down, but Carlson scaled up.
During the past three years, the Minneapolis-based company spent $21 million rearchitecting its core systems and integrating data from at least six databases. And while that restructuring was not done with a vast wireless project in mind, the resulting order made it possible for the technology team to push the hospitality company’s key indicators out over a wireless LAN, as well as a wired network. The integration was vital to the wireless project because it organized the data (occupancy rates, pricing information and so on) from all the company’s different databases in ways that will someday make worldwide distribution feasible.
“That new architecture was a prerequisite to having the data available to work with,” says CIO Scott Heintzeman.
But Heintzeman and his team weren’t home yet. They still had to build an application that would make sense of the information as it was presented on a handheld Compaq Ipaq. And of course, Carlson had to set up wireless LANs in each hotel where the wireless system would be used.
Last spring, the company began a trial of the new system in a Minneapolis hotel and quickly expanded the test to four other locations. Managers in those hotels use their desktop computers to select the pieces of data, such as occupancy rates, and set up alerts for the key indicators, such as a sudden increase in demand. They then download the data to their handhelds so that they can access it from almost anywhere on their hotels’ property.
Today, Carlson managers are pushing data to the handhelds in one of three ways. Most managers use a cradle to connect their handheld to a computer, some sync the data over a wireless LAN, and a few use AT&T’s digital WAN.
In all, Heintzeman says, Carlson has put about 200 people on handhelds at a cost of about $100,000. He reports that things are working well and plans to expand the program to at least 10 more properties in the coming year.