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ITSM checks-in for five-star IT service at luxury hotel brand

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman June 11, 2014
Kempinski Hotels was firefighting to deal with requests for support from 73 properties worldwide, so went to market to look for an ITSM solution.

Executives at Kempinski Hotels steer well clear of the phrase “hotel chain” when describing the business. In Kempinski-speak, it’s a “collection” of exclusive, upscale hotels, spas and resorts, carefully curated by the company and managed on behalf of independent owners.

In other words, Kempinski is not in the business of owning bricks and mortar, but in providing a full portfolio of support services, under contract, to those who do. These independent owners, in return, pay Kempinski for its staff, operational expertise and management know-how, along with its brand recognition and access to major travel-industry distribution channels. And they’re prepared to reward the company handsomely for this, it seems: in its last financial year, Kempinski’s revenues burst through the one-billion-euro mark for the first time in its 117-year history.

As part of the services they receive, each of the 73 hotels in the collection rely on Kempinski’s operations team in Geneva to provide IT support, remotely, for systems they run on-site. A team of 39 technicians handle requests from front-of-house staff working on reception, hotel managers and back-office staff, for example, at properties all over Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa - but until two years ago, there was no system in place for logging, prioritising and handling their calls for help.

The job of imposing some kind of order fell to Will Shirtliff, IT manager at Kempinski. “The lack of a system for IT support was massively disruptive,” he says. “Someone would call, we’d try and deal with the request and then we’d move on to the next problem - so we were continuously fighting fires.”

“We couldn’t see the bigger picture or the recurring problems or the geographical issues,” he says, nor was there any way to understand trends like technician workload, or top requestors by hotel.

But when Shirtliff went out into the market to investigate IT service management (ITSM) solutions, what he found was a “minefield”, he says. “There were so many options to choose from, I was working alone and I was looking to shoehorn a solution into an already quite complex environment.”

On the shortlist

The only way forward, he decided, was to weigh up around eight different solutions, draw up a shortlist of three and then pilot each of these for a small team within Kempinski’s HQ.

Absolute Service, an ITSM product from Absolute Software, emerged quite quickly as the winner, because of one stand-out feature: the system’s ‘round robin’ capability, which enables requests to be routed to technicians according to their skills and availability.

“Other products on the market just didn’t have this or it was an add-on,” says Shirtliff, “but it’s transformed the way IT requests are managed, giving us the ability to report on and analyse support activity, monitor problems and issues and spot trends that require specific attention.”

That’s not to say that the system didn’t require considerable configuration to make sure that requests are routed to the right people, in the right order. Efficiency depends, says Shirtliff, on the choices available to hotel-based employees when they come to define their issue and log their request in the system.

“If you make the options open to them too complex, or require users to jump through too many hoops, you can guarantee they’ll pick the easiest, default option open to them, regardless of the specific nature of their enquiry,” he says.

The task of identifying the best questions to ask users in order to get quickly to the root of their problem and defining the necessary workflows was the most challenging aspect of the roll-out for Shirtliff and his team. As part of that process, they also built a knowledge library, so that for frequently asked questions, self-service options are available to end-users.

But the results have been so successful in saving Kempinski time and money that Absolute Service has now been rolled out beyond IT, to cover seven other functions at the Geneva HQ. This means that, if a hotel-based member of staff has a query about what forms a new employee needs to fill in, their request is routed to People Services. If they’re unsure of what purchasing code they need to use on a supplier order, it’s routed to Finance.

As new hotels come on board - and Kempinski has plans to expand to 88 properties this year and 112 “in the near future” - the ITSM product will clearly be under pressure to scale quickly. But Shirtliff is confident that this won’t be an issue, since the company runs Absolute Service on Amazon Web Services, in accordance with the company’s wider cloud strategy. “Anything that doesn’t require too much I/O, anything that we may need to scale up or scale down, it simply makes financial and operational sense to run it in the cloud, so that we can focus on service,” he says.

After all, he says, that’s what Kempinski is all about: “Providing excellent service to hotel guests and excellent service to hotels.”

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