To support its strategy for remaining one of the leading conference hotels in the Mediterranean, the Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel, part of the InterContinental Hotels Group, decided to overhaul its technology infrastructure. It moved from Novell NetWare, Linux, and cc:Mail to Microsoft server software, thus gaining an integrated communications, collaboration, business intelligence, and analytics solution. The resulting increase in employee productivity and expedited decision making has helped the staff improve the guest experience, reduced operations costs, and opened new potential revenue streams. By acquiring Microsoft software through the Microsoft Volume Licensing Open Value Subscription program, the Athenaeum InterContinental saves 15 percent on licenses, pays just for the software it uses, and is able to upgrade to the latest versions of covered products at no extra charge.
Named three times by travel agents worldwide as Greece's “Leading Business Hotel” in the World Travel Awards, the Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel combines the style and elegance of Athens’s rich past with the ambiance and amenities of a twenty-first century convention and conference center. From its rooftop restaurant with a stunning view of the Acropolis, to its 24-hour business services center and extensive conference and meeting facilities, the Athenaeum InterContinental focuses on the needs of all its business and leisure clients.
After completing a major renovation of the hotel’s physical facilities in 2003, the Athenaeum InterContinental proceeded to upgrade its technology environment. The first step was in 2004, when the Athenaeum InterContinental appointed Panos Panayotopoulos, a 14-year veteran of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), as the new General Manager. Panayotopoulos set out to transform the Athenaeum InterContinental into the leading conference hotel in the northeast Mediterranean and saw technology as key to achieving that goal through:
Building a seamless organization of business processes to more effectively manage people and make better use of business information to drive decisions.
Digitizing information wherever possible to reduce paper use and printing costs and expedite the flow of information.
Differentiating the hotel from competitors by making the latest technology services easily accessible and affordable for business and leisure travelers.
The Athenaeum InterContinental already had an experienced IT management staff that averaged more than 16 years with the company. The challenge was the technology infrastructure. The hotel was running Novell NetWare on Linux-based servers and using cc:Mail for e-mail. As these systems approached the end of their life cycles, they presented several shortcomings. The disconnected systems made it very difficult to bring together data from multiple applications to create a global view of the business. Decentralized data storage and a lack of version control made it difficult to find the most up-to-date information and caused end users to spend up to two hours a day searching for the latest pricing, contracts, reports, and other critical information. Retaining duplicate files in numerous folders across the network resulted in a significant waste of data storage and the need to add approximately 50 gigabytes (GB) annually at a cost of approximately €160 (U.S.$220) per GB. In addition, employees stored specialized information on their individual PCs and that information was virtually lost when staff retired or left the organization.
||The innovative work done at the Athenaeum InterContinental will enable IHG to recommend to other IHG hotel owners technology solutions that lower operating costs and keep collective staff informed.
Chief Information Officer, InterContinental Hotels Group
“Finding something simple could be very hard,” says Stavros Vogiatzis, IT Manager for the Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel. “Dynamic search didn’t exist, so our employees couldn’t find information unless they already knew where it was stored.”
These challenges had an impact on all departments but especially on the sales department, which must bid for business. Conference proposals are usually submitted a year ahead of an event. To produce quotes for these proposals, the Athenaeum InterContinental sales and marketing staff had to refer to several spreadsheets dispersed across the network; this was time consuming and made it difficult to find the latest rates. The extra labor translated into thousands of euros each year and caused a great deal of unnecessary stress for the staff. “You can’t have a team of creative people spending hours just trying to find and verify that they have the right file,” says Vogiatzis.
The time spent trying to locate and manage data also resulted in lost opportunities. “Our team has a heavy daily schedule of appointments with clients for future business, and we have to produce many documents, such as contracts, menus, rate schedules, and various reports, often on short notice,” says Alexandra Papaioannou, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel. “The time spent just managing and finding all that information reduced the time available to develop new business.”
The lack of centralized information management also affected the hotel’s photo assets, which are used in proposals and other promotional materials. Because the digital images were stored in folders according to each user’s preference, some images were used over and over and some were virtually lost. “We didn’t know what we had, so we often paid to reshoot things that we already had,” says Vogiatzis. The hotel paid between €10,000 and €20,000 annually (between $13,600 and $27,000) for sometimes needless photography shoots.
The Athenaeum InterContinental IT staff recognized that its existing network infrastructure offered limited support for new capabilities, such as collaboration and virtual meetings. As they learned more about the vision of the new General Manager, they saw the opportunity to transform the hotel’s technology environment so that employees in all departments could perform routine tasks more efficiently and unleash their creativity to develop new strategies to build market share and improve the guest experience.
“We are literally a small village with more than 25 different professions—from dishwashers and chefs, to painters, plumbers, and executive managers,” says Vogiatzis. “Most of our staff has little technology background, so our technology solutions have to be extremely, simple.”
The IT staff was also mindful of the need to pursue these goals carefully to manage costs. One area where they immediately saw potential for reducing costs was the licensing model for acquiring client software. The hotel acquired licenses for a Microsoft Office suite at retail price with each new computer purchase. It wanted to find a more cost-effective way to acquire and upgrade its Microsoft software. Solution
In mid-2005, the Athenaeum InterContinental turned to Microsoft Certified Partner Pylones Information Technology to help create a technology road map that would support its future plans. Pylones recommended that the hotel start by migrating its network infrastructure to the Windows Server 2003 operating system, and its e-mail system to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 e-mail messaging and collaboration software.
The hotel was comfortable with what it already had and was hesitant to make the move because of the cost. To address these concerns, Pylones provided customer testimonials and set up a proof of concept (POC) of Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The success of that POC convinced the Athenaeum InterContinental IT staff of the robustness, reliability, and manageability of the new system, which it deployed in early 2005.
“We went with Windows Server because it was ready to go; it was tested and proven, and it supports future technology,” says Vogiatzis. “Plus, we knew that Microsoft has a strong network of partners supporting and enhancing its applications. With Linux, we would have needed another three to five people just to develop applications.”
||Microsoft software helps us spend less time on nonessential tasks so that we are more productive in day-to-day management and long-term planning.
Personal Assistant to the General Manager, Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel
Transforming Data into Assets
Making it easier for employees to locate, archive, analyze, and collaborate was a high priority for the hotel. Pylones suggested that the Athenaeum InterContinental implement the Windows SharePoint Services feature in Windows Server 2003 to help it regain control of its rapidly expanding information stores. Convinced that SharePoint sites would be easy for his IT staff to structure and manage and for other hotel employees to access, Vogiatzis started by setting up a centralized SharePoint photo library in 2005. This library stores hundreds of digital photo images that can be searched by category—such as guest rooms—or by file properties.
“Using just a few clicks from within their Web browser, our people can search the entire photo library and quickly find what they are looking for,” says Vogiatzis.Streamlining Information Flow
Next, the hotel implemented Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to add management and workflow capabilities and to allow each department to publish information from its individual sites to the entire organization. Vogiatzis encouraged team leaders to publish reports and other documents to SharePoint sites rather than distributing them as attachments in e-mail messages.
“Initially, people were skeptical, but after a couple of weeks, they realized that being able to find information in a central location saved them time and inbox clutter,” says Vogiatzis. “Since implementing the SharePoint portal, e-mail traffic has decreased by about 550 messages a day, and inbox storage requirements have decreased by about 15 percent.”
The SharePoint portal also helps the front-desk staff serve customers more efficiently. For example, the concierge can quickly search the SharePoint library to find client-facing information, such as restaurants, room dimensions, restaurant capacity, available sightseeing, Business Center facilities, and Club InterContinental Services.
The Athenaeum InterContinental is also working with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Newmarket International to develop and deploy a real-time hospitality business intelligence solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services. This solution will extend the reach of the Newmarket Delphi Sales & Catering application to allow business users located on-property and off-property to create, receive, and access reports on operations, forecast, and profitability data, on demand through Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.
“The innovative work done at the Athenaeum InterContinental will enable IHG to recommend to other IHG hotel owners technology solutions that lower operating costs and keep collective staff informed,” says Tom Conophy, Chief Information Officer for InterContinental Hotels Group.Simplifying Software Licensing
To get optimal value from its software investment, Pylones signed a Microsoft Open License agreement in 2006. Through this program, the hotel acquired licenses for Microsoft Office Professional at a discount. In addition, the hotel enrolled most of its workstations in Microsoft Software Assurance, which offers a range of value-added benefits to help customers manage costs, get the most out of new technologies, and improve employee productivity. Having Software Assurance allowed the Athenaeum InterContinental to spread payments over three years and to upgrade to subsequent software releases that occurred within that period of time at no extra charge. Later in 2006, the Athenaeum InterContinental took advantage of that benefit to upgrade about half of its workstations that had previous versions of Microsoft Office applications to Microsoft Office Professional 2003 so that all users had consistent tools to make maximum use of SharePoint technology.
In 2008, once again taking advantage of Software Assurance, the hotel upgraded to Microsoft Office Professional 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) to make use of several new and enhanced features, such as:
Expanding Benefits with Open Value Subscription
Excel Services that make it easy to access, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 workbooks as interactive reports accessible through a Web browser.
Wiki templates that instantly turn reports and other documents into Web pages.
After seeing the value that the Open License agreement provided in licensing Microsoft Office programs, the Athenaeum InterContinental sought a similar licensing arrangement for its Microsoft server products. It chose the Microsoft Volume Licensing Open Value Subscription program and acquired CALs for Windows Server 2003 Standard, Exchange Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, Office SharePoint Server 2007, and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007—at a single cost per desktop for a three-year term. The hotel simply counts the number of PCs once per year and can add or subtract licenses on the anniversary date.
This program also includes Software Assurance, which—in addition to new version rights—provides e-learning, training vouchers, and TechNet subscription benefits.
In early 2009, the Athenaeum InterContinental called on its Software Assurance coverage to upgrade to Windows Server 2008 on IBM BladeCenter H servers. With this upgrade, the hotel gained several new management tools to help with cleaning up and maintaining its data stores. In January 2010, it started upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2 and expects to have all servers running on it by year end. The hotel also plans to move to SharePoint Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2010 by the end of 2010. Extending the Value of Software Investments
After upgrading to SharePoint Server 2007, Vogiatzis immediately showed managers how to use the new wiki templates to create reports that users could access with one mouse click. “Accessing a report in a wiki is very fast and clean, and they don’t have to wait for applications to launch,” says Vogiatzis.
The Athenaeum InterContinental also uses the Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007 information gathering program to standardize and expedite reports, such as the Duty Manager report, which was previously created as a table in Microsoft Office Word. “Now each Duty Manager simply enters data—such as incidents or maintenance requests—directly into the InfoPath form and the information is automatically archived within the SharePoint database,” says Vogiatzis. “Users can’t change the layout of the report, which ensures a consistent format, increased accuracy, and makes it easier to find relevant information.”
The Athenaeum InterContinental continues to explore additional functionality in its Microsoft server software to further empower its staff and to differentiate its offerings to customers. In early 2010, Vogiatzis developed a POC of the Hyper-V virtualization technology in Windows Server 2008 to support an internal conferencing network that will run Microsoft Office Live Meeting, Microsoft Office Communications Server, and Office SharePoint Server.
“Through Hyper-V virtualization, we will be able to offer each customer their own private virtual server for hosting Live Meeting and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, so event managers and presenters can more securely collaborate on internal conference materials from their rooms, meeting rooms, and public areas,” says Vogiatzis. “When the conference is over and the customer gives the okay, we can just click a button to return the server to its original empty snapshot and have a clean machine for the next event.”
||The upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010 will cost us zero additional licensing fees because, with Software Assurance, the upgrade is already included in our licensing cost.
IT Manager, Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel
The Athenaeum InterContinental has used technology to transform its data into business intelligence that drives better decisions, reduces costs and data storage, and builds a consistent environment that gives the hotel a competitive advantage with business conference customers. The hotel was able to cost-effectively implement this technology by taking advantage of the volume licensing savings, upgrade rights, and training provided by Microsoft Open License with the Software Assurance option and later with the Microsoft Open Value Subscription program that includes Software Assurance.
Improves Access to Business Data
The use of dashboards and wikis within Office SharePoint Server 2007, Office InfoPath forms, and centralized access to all document sharing and reporting, saves Athenaeum InterContinental managers about two hours a day and supports faster and better-informed decisions. “Not only does SharePoint Server save us time in finding files, it also assists us in our selling process because we have all the up-to-date and relevant information at our fingertips,” says Papaioannou.
More efficient access to business data has a positive impact on all areas of the hotel. “The efficient communication between all departments means that we can get answers quicker and serve our guests more effectively,” says Panayotopoulos.
In addition, the tight integration of the Delphi solution with SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services and Office SharePoint Server 2007 will make it easier for all users to drill down to the information they need to pinpoint trends and identify opportunities. “By connecting people, information, and results, Microsoft software helps us spend less time on nonessential tasks so that we are more productive in day-to-day management and long-term planning,” says Suzy Lykos, Personal Assistant to the General Manager, at the Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel. Minimizes Management and Training Time
The Athenaeum InterContinental has dramatically reduced IT management time by using the Active Directory service and Group Policy tools to centrally configure and administer user and application settings for Microsoft server products and automating software updates through Windows Server Update Services. “We’ve literally had no server errors or unscheduled downtime on Exchange Server or on our domain and file servers for five years, which has reduced administration time by about 90 percent,” says Vogiatzis. “Having consistent software that works together with little effort from us, has made our IT department more forward thinking and creative so that we can plan for new functionality to help the organization evolve.”
In addition, the consistency of software interfaces allows the Athenaeum InterContinental to introduce new tools to its end users with little or no training.
“When we implemented Office SharePoint Server 2007, we didn’t call to their attention that we were introducing a new software application; we just invited them to click a link to access reports or photos,” says Vogiatzis. “The links took them to a site that looked like the Internet, so they were able to become productive very quickly.”
The upgrades to Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 have added several management tools that further reduce administration time by making it easier for the administrator to control the amount and types of data stored and to audit workspaces for duplicate files and files that are no longer needed. The hotel will continue to refine its infrastructure as new releases of Microsoft products become available. Reduces Costs and Data Storage
Now that it manages its stock photos through Office SharePoint Server 2007, the Athenaeum InterContinental has reduced photography costs by about a third. It only needs to do photo shoots about every three years, which saves from €20,000 to €40,000 (from $27,449 to $54,915) between shoots.
The hotel also saves between €9,000 and €12,000 ($12,187 and $16,249) annually in paper, print toner, and printer maintenance costs because most documents are stored as digital files and distributed to customers electronically. Because reports, forecasts, and other documents are stored in one place, the Athenaeum InterContinental has reduced its overall data storage needs by about 40 percent. “We’ve eliminated most of the duplication, so the size of the main database, without the stock photo library is only about 7 GB now, compared to 30 GB before. This saves us about €11,000 [$14,941] in Fiber Channel Storage costs,” says Vogiatzis. Saves Software Costs
In addition to saving 15 percent on its Microsoft Server CALs acquired through the Microsoft Open Value Subscription program, the Athenaeum InterContinental continues to extend those savings with software upgrades that are already included in its budget.
“The upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010 will cost us zero additional licensing fees because, with Software Assurance, the upgrade is already included in our licensing cost,” says Vogiatzis. “Microsoft technology is evolving more rapidly than ever, and each new Microsoft product generation brings value to our business and assists users in their daily working life. We did not want to miss those changes, so we secured the future of our products with the Open Value Subscription.” Adds Competitive Advantage
The Athenaeum InterContinental expects that by offering each business conference customer their own virtual internal network for running meeting, communications, and collaboration software during the event will give the hotel a competitive advantage in a challenging economic market. “Making the latest technology services easily accessible to business customers through Hyper-V will add value for our business customers and differentiate us from the competition, thus helping us gain more of the available business without significant new expenditures,” says Vogiatzis.
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