When AHG acquired De Vere hotels and merged with Verve Venues to form the UK’s largest hotel and dedicated residential training and conference venue company, you might have expected there’d be a few integration problems – with IT being close to the top of the list.
“There were a number of IT challenges of course,” says Joanne Stanford, IT Director, The De Vere Collection, but the business ran smoothly through the integration process, thanks in part to the IT support services of the CMS Group.”
Verve Venues (formerly Initial Style Conferences) was looking for a fresh approach to IT when it appointed Joanne Stanford as IT Director in April 2005. With a background in marketing, and latterly IT Director for a multinational consultancy engineering company, she recognises the importance of IT in meeting customer expectations and its contribution to the ‘bottom line’. Her task was to review Verve’s IT strategy and resources.
Greater centralisation of IT Support services is one of the key technology issues facing the hospitality and hotel industry. In part this is a response to an increasing requirement for single view and management of both bedroom and meeting space inventory with fully integrated revenue and yield management. One of the drivers for this is the rapid growth of online booking.
However, implementing a centralisation strategy delivers a number of both business and operational benefits not least being economies of scale and greater efficiencies in terms of upgrade deployments, hardware and software maintenance and ongoing support.
In 2006 centralising IT services led Verve to implement new primary and secondary data centres and network topology to support thin-client networking, whilst deploying a new fully centralised Property Management System and back office applications via Citrix. “ISC first out-tasked field support and hardware maintenance to CMS Group in 2003 with the Helpdesk following in 2005. The existing relationship gave CMS a great insight into our business, plus I’d had a very positive supplier relationship with them in my previous organisation. It was this level of confidence and proven a technical relationship that led us to appoint them not only as technical consultants in the planning stages but also as our implementation partner in the delivery of the centralisation project – which was achieved in just three months across 24 properties with no unplanned downtime,” commented Joanne Stanford. “CMS now provide an end to end fully managed service of the data centre environment in addition to the integrated helpdesk and support solution.”
CMS Group specialises in IT support for the hospitality and hotel sector. It began by providing IT hardware support, however over time CMS has built up a good working knowledge of the leading hotel and leisure software packages. CMS has used its knowledge to offer an ‘intelligent helpdesk’, providing an effective first line IT support dedicated to solving and managing immediate problems as well as tracking and continually reviewing support trends.
In November 2006, AHG acquired De Vere. Six months on De Vere Hotels & Verve Venues have been successfully relaunched and branded as the De Vere Collection comprising Deluxe, Heritage and Venues. The AHG estate also includes the Village Hotels and Leisure Clubs. In total the company has 50 hotels, leisure and fitness clubs and 26 training venues across the UK.
The acquisition of De Vere presented the IT Support Team with a different set of business issues. De Vere had partly centralised its systems but had some way to go. CMS was appointed to take full responsibility for first line support for the De Vere Collection IT systems. All De Vere Collection staff now have one integrated support centre to call for all their IT support problems concerning hardware and business applications. The CMS helpdesk is manned by technical staff that are able to resolve many of the support calls for various software packages immediately.
Any unresolved calls are then escalated as dictated by their service level agreement to ensure that problems are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Joanne Stanford’s marketing background has given her an appreciation of the importance of the customer experience, the value of the brand and a recognition that not all the answers to IT lie in-house. She observed, “The hotel industry historically is not a big investor in IT but as with most business sectors this has changed, especially with the impact of the Internet & online booking. Unfortunately whilst there is an understanding and preparedness to invest heavily in, for example, a new reservation system there is often a reluctance to extend the budget sufficiently to appropriate infrastructure, proactive management and support. This tends to overlook two things: using software relies upon having a reliable IT infrastructure and unlike other businesses, IT is very much part of the customer’s experience whether it’s being able to make a reservation over the Internet, or simply checking in. In the case of corporate training, people expect to have access to the latest IT and high speed Internet access.” De Vere is now integrating the De Vere Collection and Verve data centres and consolidating systems to run on Citrix thin client. As well as establishing a single hardware platform with the assistance of CMS.
Out-tasking IT support makes a compelling business case at so many levels believes Joanne Stanford.
“CMS is a strong partner that is able to provide technical consultancy, as well as implementation and subsequent support.
They are specialists in their field which makes it easier to work with them. They also understand what we are trying to do and take away the support issues, enabling us to concentrate on the big picture of ensuring the IT is adding real value to the business.”
CMS Group supports
Two Data Centres, 150 Servers, 4,000 Desktop PCs
MS Office, Windows NT Server, Windows 2003 Server, CITRIX, Delphi, Member-Track, Portfolio, MS Exchange 5.5 and 2003, Fidelio, MRM+2, Fitech, Rotapro, Kronos, CODA, Microcache, Micros, ACT.
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