G6 CIO Dishes on Company’s Build or Buy Strategy
In the past three months, G6 Hospitality – parent company to Motel 6 and Studio 6 – has announced a series of strategic tech partnerships to make operations more agile and reduce overhead costs. In this exclusive interview, Hospitality Technology talks to Jessie Burgess, CIO & Head of Digital Commerce, about his views on technology, how legacy systems can hamper hotel companies' success, and how G6 vets its technologies as it looks to either build new in-house solutions or partner with vendors. Burgess even sheds some light on what new technologies he thinks will impact hospitality in the near future and what G6 has in the pipeline for new tech announcements.
HT: How has G6’s technology strategy changed over the course of the last few years?
BURGESS: G6's point of view of technology has evolved quite a bit over time, and we're now at a point where technology is seen as a true enabler for us and our brand. Sometimes technology is presented as "getting in the way" of a company's history, but we don't see it that way. We've made the decision that technology should enhance what we do best and make it easier for us to do those things. To ensure we remain true to our brand promise, we use a collaborative framework around our technology projects to help us keep our business objective clear and the top priority. That's something I believe a lot of companies forget to do and that's when technology can erode history. When you use a disciplined framework to implement technology and prioritize that business objective, you can enhance your business’ ability to run in a clean and simple way.
HT: Why do many hospitality companies find it difficult to "let go" of legacy systems or ways of doing things?
BURGESS: It's difficult for two main reasons. First, most hospitality companies have quite a bit of institutional knowledge and processes that have been established over time and embedded into every part of the organization. When that's the case, even when the company wants to take a bold leap forward, it has to worry about breaking a process that may span across several areas. Second, most guest- and staff-facing systems are tied back to a database that can be decades old. The more technologies that are rolled out, the more interfaces are added to that database. This anchors the company to the old system and makes it risky, time consuming and expensive to replace. Ultimately, however, a company’s success can be hampered by clinging to legacy systems.
- Is it cloud-first?
- Will it create option-value for the business? The tech should help G6 adapt to changes.
- Will it increase speed and agility?
HT: How does G6 determine when a change is necessary?
BURGESS: We always vet technologies against business demands. In the past, someone might say: "Here is a great technology. Find a way to fit it into our business." When you follow that path, the "great technology" might actually generate a lot of overhead, time, and cost. It could even increase complexity and erode key business objectives. So we don't follow that model.
Instead, the first thing we do is look at current business demands, the needs of our user base and the market as a whole—all prior to introducing a technology solution into the discussion. Then we build a Critical to Return assessment and we align our desired business outcomes with the influencing activities that could help drive those outcomes. This is where technology enters the discussion—as a vehicle to influence and enable business results. From there we implement a change or technology – when and wherever it is most impactful – to drive the desired outcome. For all of this to work, we have to define that business outcome really well at the very beginning of the process.
HT: How does G6 decide when to partner with a tech supplier versus building it in-house?
BURGESS: With any tech initiative, we always ask very early on: Should we build or buy? To answer that question we often ask another: Are we going to be the best resource to build this? When the answer is yes, it's because there is a distinct competitive advantage that already exists within our team and that advantage can be enhanced for our business when we build that technology ourselves. That isn't always the case. Some services in the industry have become so commoditized that it just makes sense for the company to buy them. Sometimes bringing in best-in-class partners who specialize in a specific area is a better option than building it in-house.
Recently we rebuilt from scratch and moved to the AWS cloud our entire core platform including our CRS and PMS. Our original CRS was built on a 20+ year old IBM Informix database and our PMS was a 10+-year-old system that we inherited from previous ownership years ago. We decided to partner with AboveProperty and implement their fully-distributed cloud CRS as well as with HotelKey for their cloud-based PMS. We elected to build our core foundational microservices architecture ourselves in the AWS cloud so we would have full control of any components now – or in the future – that would need to be plugged in or unplugged.
HT: What is the next phase for the G6 tech strategy?
BURGESS: Now that we've created our microservices core and moved it to the cloud, we want to do the same thing with our entire digital booking platform which includes our mobile websites and mobile app. We know the mobile experience is very important to our guests, and we want to make sure it is fast, clean and personalized. We can accomplish that in new ways by tying the digital experience to our modern, backend microservices architecture.
HT: Looking out five years, what innovation do you think will affect change in hotel IT?
BURGESS: The expansion of IoT and having a smart hotel is really intriguing and exciting. It will allow operators to know how things are used, how fast they wear out, how they operate at their peak and when systems and processes fall away from optimal performance. This knowledge could be transformative for staff in operations, procurement and finance and will allow hotels to drive efficiency and profit. But for that data to be effective, your company must have a data strategy. IoT devices can produce a lot of data, so your company must be an advanced consumer of that data.