WHEN HO­TELS GO HI-TECH

In a chat with the ex­ec­u­tives of Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise, Qatar To­day finds out what the tech-as­sisted ho­tel stay of to­mor­row would be like.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - BY AYSWARYA MURTHY

With tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances en­com­pass­ing ev­ery busi­ness, Qatar To­day, in a chat with the ex­ec­u­tives of Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise, finds out how the tech-as­sisted ho­tels stay of to­mor­row would be like.

While al­most ev­ery in­dus­try has un­der­gone a tech­no­log­i­cal re­nais­sance over the past few years, the front-end of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor has stayed pretty much the same. Check in, pop in your key card, baulk at the mini-bar prices, stare in con­fu­sion at the shower con­trols, ring re­cep­tion for the wifi pass­word, etc. etc. Same cy­cle, dif­fer­ent rooms. But this is set to change and in a hurry.

“Ho­tels have largely been con­ser­va­tive in util­is­ing tech­nol­ogy; you'd be sur­prised but I some­times see ten­ders from ho­tels for data net­works with 10-100 MB ca­pac­ity when every­one has al­ready started deal­ing in terms of gi­ga­bytes. Now they are re­think­ing on how to meet guest ex­pec­ta­tions and with that they will in­vest heav­ily in wi-fi and data net­works,” says Theirry Bon­nin, the Vice-Pres­i­dent of Sales for Global Ac­counts & Ver­ti­cals at Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise. It is his first visit to Qatar and he is joined by Re­gional Direc­tor Na­jeh Khalil who has quite a stun­ning re­port card to present. “In the past four years of di­rect pres­ence in Qatar, Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise has en­joyed a huge growth, dou­bling ev­ery year for their first three years with clients in govern­ment, hos­pi­tal­ity, health­care and ed­u­ca­tion sec­tors. We are com­mit­ted to in­creas­ing our in­vest­ment lo­cally to be part of the suc­cess the coun­try is go­ing to have by 2022 and 2030,” Khalil says. With a fo­cus on the in­te­gra­tion, man­age­ment and se­cu­rity of tele­phony, net­work­ing and wi-fi, the com­pany can't be more thrilled about Qatar's hyper­ac­tiv­ity. “The coun­try is build­ing so much and is keen on im­ple­ment­ing the best of cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy to take ad­van­tage of the very ad­vanced in­fra­struc­ture in place,” Bon­nin says, com­pli­ment­ing Qatar's high-speed fi­bre con­nec­tiv­ity. “Some­times you can have great equip­ment but the provider might let you down. So it's a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Their so­lu­tions for the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try have earned them a large client base in an ex­plod­ing mar­ket, with Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise hav­ing been com­mis­sioned to work with 46 up­com­ing 4- and 5-star ho­tels in ad­di­tion to re­vamp­ing ex­ist­ing ones like Radis­son Blu and Grand Her­itage Doha, ac­cord­ing to Khalil. “When Radis­son Blu up­graded their ho­tel, they re­freshed not just the rooms but also their IT in­fra­struc­ture which is now an im­por­tant el­e­ment in ho­tels, both busi­ness and leisure. Ho­tels have to adapt to cur­rent de­mands of qual­ity wifi in the rooms and guest ar­eas, enough to sup­port not just one person but the whole

fam­ily con­sum­ing mul­ti­me­dia con­tent, some­times from mul­ti­ple de­vices,” Bon­nin says.

“If you think about it, ho­tels are the early adopters of the Bring Your Own De­vice,” Khalil says. And it's dou­bly tricky be­cause not only can't you dic­tate what de­vices your guests are us­ing but you also can't en­force any se­cu­rity poli­cies, like com­pa­nies can do on their em­ploy­ees. “Your users might not al­ways have a sense of se­cu­rity; like if they are chil­dren want­ing to watch their favourite car­toons on their tablets. So the wi fi has to be ro­bust and flex­i­ble to keep up with the de­mand and net­work us­age while keep­ing the net­works se­cure.”

Another is­sue to take into con­sid­er­a­tion is that ho­tels don't have a large IT de­part­ment to sup­port this in­fra­struc­ture – of­ten it's just one or two peo­ple. “So em­bed­ded fea­tures like block­ing room to room in­ter­ac­tions must be im­ple­mented with­out adding to the work­load of the team,” Bon­nin re­minds us. The need of the hour is to pro­vide a strong, se­cure so­lu­tion that re­quires the least amount of ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For ho­tels, the pos­si­bil­i­ties are just start­ing to open up. “The trend is to­wards go­ing fully mo­bile and pro­vid­ing guests more ser­vices on their mo­bile phones,” Bon­nin says, pro­ceed­ing to paint a pic­ture of ho­tel stays in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. “When you check in you'll be able to down­load an ap­pli­ca­tion that as­so­ciates your smart­phone with your room. So now you can use your smart­phone as your room key, re­ceive calls to your room on it, order room ser­vice from the pool or call house­keep­ing etc. You can take a photo or video of com­plaints in your room, like a faulty light or a leaky tap and send it across.” This can be taken a step fur­ther when geo-lo­cal­i­sa­tion comes into play. “When you are a cou­ple of me­tres from the bar, the ho­tel can push a coupon for a wel­come drink or res­tau­rant of­fers. The idea is to gen­er­ate more cash and keep loy­alty of the cus­tomer within the ho­tel. That's just the begin­ning. These kind of ap­pli­ca­tions, which we de­velop at Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise, helps ho­tels cre­ate loy­alty by get­ting to know the guests' pref­er­ences. The more it is used, the richer the data­base be­comes,” he says.

Even as we are sit­ting in Doha and dis­cussing the fu­ture of tech­nol­ogy in ho­tels, Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise is in the process of be­ing sold by the par­ent com­pany to a Chi­nese in­vest­ment firm. As­so­ci­ated Press had re­ported ear­lier this year that the deal is ex­pected to be closed by Chi­nese Huaxin in the third quar­ter. Bon­nin, how­ever, is re­luc­tant to di­vulge de­tails as the process is “tak­ing more time than ex­pected”. Is it be­cause the Chi­nese part­ner­ship, while open­ing new mar­kets, might cre­ate prob­lems in oth­ers? Bon­nin says the nec­es­sary au­tho­ri­sa­tions in the U.S. will be sought and he won't be able to com­ment on these mat­ters un­til the deals have been fi­nalised. “What I can tell is that Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent will keep some shares and still be part of the new con­sor­tium. The idea is to in­vest in new tech­nol­ogy and make an im­pact in a new ge­o­graph­i­cal reach. The ac­qui­si­tion will also put us in a bet­ter po­si­tion in cloud and ver­ti­cals ecosys­tem.”

“The ad­van­tage we have here is that we are not be­ing ac­quired by another IT com­pany which could lead to con­flict in prod­ucts and so­lu­tions. The fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion in ques­tion is a long-term part­ner who have al­ready in­vested in one of our other ven­tures – Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent Shang­hai Bell. They know us very well – our skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties – and they are com­ing in to spend on this or­gan­i­sa­tion be­cause they see a fu­ture, they see great so­lu­tions that need a big­ger mar­ket reach,” Bon­nin says

"If you think about it, ho­tels are the early adopters of the Bring Your Own De­vice. And it's dou­bly tricky be­cause not only can't you dic­tate what de­vices your guests are us­ing but also you can't en­force any se­cu­rity poli­cies, like com­pa­nies can do on their em­ploy­ees." NA­JEH KHALIL Re­gional Direc­tor Al­ca­tel-Lu­cent En­ter­prise

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