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CIOs share secrets to technology success
June 29 2012

CIOs from Marriott International, Mandarin Oriental and the Cosmopolitan each said successful technology leaders understand the different departments of a business and how IT works with each.

  • It’s critically important for technology leaders to understand how the business makes money, who its competitors are and who its stakeholders are.
  • Have a clear and open communication plan, suggested Kris Singleton with the Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino.
  • Monika Nerger of Mandarin Oriental said she learned everything about leadership from her husband, who plays lead guitar in a Beatles tribute band.
By Jason Q. Freed
HNN contributor

BALTIMORE—Technology leaders within hotel companies need to understand all aspects of the business and ensure the information technology department works hand-in-hand with other company departments, a group of three hotel chief information officers said Thursday during the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference.

Bruce Hoffmeister, CIO of Marriott International; Monika Nerger, CIO with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group; and Kris Singleton, CIO with The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, each offered best practices in technology leadership strategy.

The key takeaway: Successful technology leaders must understand the different divisions of business and how technology works with each.

“I’m a very big believer that any leader within any department needs to be a business leader,” said Hoffmeister, who has spent 23 years in different departments within Marriott, including finance, revenue management, shared services and information technology. “It’s critically important that you understand the business—how you make money, who your competitors are and who your stakeholders are. You just need to know that. That’s one of the things I expect from my leaders—they need to understand the business.”

Singleton said the key to the foundation of building integrity throughout her career was her ability to understand all aspects of hotel business operations.

“Establish trust. Have a clear and open communication plan,” she said. “Make sure you’re aligned with the business strategy.”

Working across silos
Singleton formerly worked with Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC and before that with MGM Mirage when the company was formed out of a merger between MGM Grand and Mirage Resorts. She reported directly to the CEOs of both companies and would learn the business directly from them, walking gaming floors and working back-of-house all hours of the day.

Nerger, who is based in Mandarin’s Hong Kong office but today works all throughout Asia, said she learned everything she knows about leadership from her husband, who plays lead guitar in Rain, a Beatles tribute band. Nerger said the band has taught her how each member of the group relies on each other. For example, if the lead guitarist breaks a string mid-song, the other members of the band are right there to take over.

“When one ball drops another is picked up and the band works seamlessly to make it all look easy to the audience,” she said, adding that hotel technology teams should work with other departments within a company in the same manner.

Hoffmeister said members of a company’s technology department need to learn how to interact better with other departments. It’s not appropriate, he said, for technologists to assume the other disciplines speak technology language.

“IT is part of the business,” he said. “Together we need to form the business. It increases our accountability. We have to be one and together with the other disciplines.”

He suggested learning about other disciplines within a company: What are their goals? What do they consider success?

“Be involved in those conversations,” he said.

Along the same lines, Hoffmeister said it’s extremely important for hotel brand technology leaders to understand the hotel business from the owners’ and franchisees’ perspectives as well. He said Marriott is always trying to balance technology “brand standards” with allowing the owners some flexibility.

“Reservations systems, sales platforms, rewards platforms—it doesn’t make sense to have multiple of those,” he said. “For other things, we suggest technology capabilities you need but how you do it is up to you. Then it’s incumbent on the franchisee to figure out how to do that.”

Hoffmeister said Marriott has more dialogue today with its franchisees—collaborating more on future technology strategy—than the company ever had in the past.

“The model has changed,” he said. “Back in the ‘80s they were all passive investors.”

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