Name: Popy BernardoTitle: Chief information officerCompany: YHA AustraliaCommenced role: March 2013Reporting line: CEOMember of the executive team: YesTechnology Function: 6 staff, 6 direct reports
YHA Australia is a Not-For-Profit organisation delivering unique and sustainable accommodation and experiences across Australia.
After enabling YHA Australia to become a leaner and stronger organisation – and survive the pandemic – through a technology-led business transformation, chief information officer Popy Bernardo’s team has continued to drive innovation in the past year.
In 2021, Bernardo’s team led the organisation’s transition to a modern cloud-based hospitality platform during the most challenging time in YHA’s 84-year history enabling YHA to come out of the other side stronger with new set of technologies.
Since then, more technological innovations have been introduced – one of the most significant being AI-driven automated pricing. This initiative has enabled YHA to make the most of the return of travel to Australia and deliver record-breaking occupancy and bed rates, resulting in strong revenue recovery over the past year.
Automated & dynamic pricing
The automated pricing system uses AI algorithms to adjust room rates dynamically based on demand every hour – ensuring the optimal price for each room type at any given time.
“This has driven record revenue growth for YHA even for historically softer months,” Bernardo tells CIO Australia.
“Through this innovation YHA has seen an increase of occupancy rate by a staggering 117 per cent over two years from 36 per cent in June 2021 to now 78 per cent in April 2023 while also increasing our average bed rate by 72 per cent from $29 to $50 for the same period.”
However, even though travellers returned, YHA faced another significant challenge in 2022 – staffing. Driven mainly by the global talent shortage and the shortage of working holiday workforce in Australia, this obstacle affected its ability to maintain quality and service standards to accommodate the resurgence of travel and the growing demands of the business.
“Over the past two years, YHA experienced a staggering 80 per cent turnover rate among operational staff, resulting in difficulties in mobilising staff to meet the pent-up travel demand,” says Bernardo. “The high staff turnover adversely affected YHA’s back-office administration, particularly in areas such as proper onboarding, risk and compliance management, ensuring timely and efficient access to the necessary systems, and providing appropriate training before commencing their roles.”
HR onboarding platform
In partnership with the people and culture team, Bernardo’s team implemented an HR onboarding platform and a learning management system – the YHA Academy. These initiatives aimed to centralise and digitise the recruitment process, onboarding procedures, and training activities.
The IT team also developed a custom integration with role-based logic, seamlessly connecting three separate platforms.
“This integration transformed and automated of handling a large volume of onboarding and off-boarding tasks,” says Bernardo.
The automation process included the creation of system accounts for new staff in platforms such as email, property management systems, intranet, the learning management system, and time and attendance systems.
Plus, it facilitated enrolment into role-based operational induction and cybersecurity awareness learning plans. Automated reminder notifications and escalation paths were set up to ensure timely completion of training and compliance, with notifications reaching the respective managers and the people and culture team to provide further assistance.
“As a result of this innovation, the speed of employee onboarding has been significantly improved, reducing the time required from the usual two to three days of collecting manual forms and signatures to under a day through the use of digital mobile technology,” says Bernardo.
“The IT team has saved approximately 60 hours per month previously spent on manual system onboarding for new hires and off-boarding termination activities.”
This digitisation of YHA’s traditional paper-based processes has both increased efficiency and enhanced the overall employee experience.
Interactive, digitised operations manual
More recently, the technology team has taken on a significant role in a collaborative project known as Project Reset. The project aims to review and reset YHA’s standards and procedures and deliver a consistent approach across the organisation due to the current workforce challenges and changes to the business, says Bernardo.
“The objective of this cross-functional initiative was to develop an interactive and digitised operations manual called the ‘YHA Playbook’, utilising the existing investment in Microsoft SharePoint,” he says.
“The playbook serves as a centralised and single source of truth, capturing new standards and processes. By doing so, it establishes clear expectations and facilitates the enhancement of knowledge and skill sets among our teams at different properties.”
Finally, the IT team is now working with the operations team to implement a housekeeping system, Project CleanTech. This aims to automate and streamline housekeeping tasks with real-time updates, task assignment, and roster scheduling based on occupancy. It also reports key performance metrics to help improve productivity. A pilot phase is underway at YHA’s Sydney Harbour and Brisbane City properties to evaluate the system’s effectiveness for housekeeping teams.
Overall, YHA’s IT function has embraced its role as an innovative driver, partnering and initiating transformation across all areas of the business, says Bernardo.
“By prioritising digitisation, data-driven strategies, and intelligent solutions, YHA has not only maintained a competitive edge in the market but has also reformed its operations,” he says.
“This approach has enhanced the customer experience [and] has propelled significant business growth over the past two years.”
Louis van Wyk