Program Management for Hotel Technology

April 5, 2011

Program Management for hotel technology brings to mind a quote, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now”

The above quote by Alan Lakein – the same guy responsible for the quote, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. And it rings as true today as ever.   Whether addressing the costs for assisting with your kid’s college educations (I have 4 kids- so this is high on my list), thinking about retirement someday, or planning a family vacation, all worthwhile endeavors have a better chance of success if you start with a good plan. This same principle applies to any significant technology implementation project, including program management. The degree of success will be largely related to the time spent planning on the front end of the process.

Since 1998, my company has provided technology planning, design, and management services for hundreds of projects, including over 300 hotel projects. In the 13 years since then, planning for technology has become increasingly complex. And with every passing year, the reasons and benefits of technology planning early in the project have increased.

Technology program management is the most effective and efficient way to be certain there are adequate budgets and no costly omissions with technology.

In addition to defining the hotel’s technology systems, program management also raises awareness of the overall technology requirement and uncovers issues or questions about alternatives that are generally easier to handle early in the process.

 

In her 2002 article, “Creating your project budget: Where to begin? “, Shelly Doll offered that, “Project costs and project budgets are two different things. Always start by identifying project costs.”  She also stated that “Cost projections can easily be the subject of fuzzy math, with little bearing on reality.” Program management helps solve this problem.  Unfortunately, that still holds true today in many cases when budgets are established before anyone reviews the actual technology requirements for the specific project.

There is recent evidence that this is changing. In past years, only the early adopters employed the services of a professional consultant during budgeting or programming to assist with establishing appropriate technology systems and costs for the project. Now, professional consultants are often enlisted during the Conceptual or Schematic design phases to provide input and to assist with establishing budgets for the technology systems.

Cabling infrastructure isn’t an exciting topic to most people but it is very important to verify that it is adequate to support the required technology systems for the property. If technology systems are not identified and planned early, there can be challenges with the constructed technology pathways and spaces for technology equipment rooms, telecom, and AV closets, and cable pathways.   The footprint and location of multiple technology rooms, as well as the cabling pathways throughout the building, must be determined within the architect’s structural and interior design.   The technology rooms have an effect on electrical and heat loads and dictate where unseen cables run behind walls and in ceilings. These elements all have potential costs that are higher when not considered during the early design phases of the project.

Then consider there are over three dozen systems that can go in a hotel. Certainly, not all hotels have every one of them, but most hotels will have nearly 20 of them or more. A good programming effort will make certain budgets are adequate for the selected systems. Programming also considers the effort to get these systems installed. In addition to distinct installation requirements, many hotel systems have ongoing operational costs associated with them which may be relevant to deciding between alternatives (upfront costs -CAPEX, ongoing costs-OPEX). Planning ahead helps assure an organized approach to selecting and implementing the best collective technology systems.   Optimal cost/benefits are realized when the planning is done early.

A good technology programming effort avoids unnecessary delays; helps eliminate costly change orders and can provide for systems with the greatest longevity and lowest total cost of ownership.

 

The speed at which technology changes are well chronicled; however, even with the best of intentions the traditional planning process for a hotel has a difficult time keeping up with the changes.

In large organizations like many of the best know hotel franchisors, parts of the most diligent standards written are often out of date by the time they have been through the process from research to publication and then delivered to a prospective new owner/operator. In addition to being familiar with the standards, it is important to understand the desirable deviations from the standards (sanctioned or even recommended by the brand) that reflect changes in the market since the standards were written.

A lack of proper technology planning can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in some cases. These costs come as a result of inadequate budgets or poor design, cost overruns throughout construction from change orders and delays, and can continue for years to come in operational costs that could have been cut significantly with better technology planning.

Renovations are a reality of running a hotel but shutting down a hotel is an expensive proposition. As such, hotels are generally built with long term renovation cycles in mind (12 – 15 years or so). In 1995, it would have been difficult to accurately predict the technology required in a hotel in 2010. And since then, hotel guests are becoming more reliant on technology.

An increasingly technology-savvy guest now expects available technologies that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Meeting guest expectations requires hotel room technology systems and connectivity bandwidth that, at a minimum, mirror what we have all become accustomed to in our homes. Older guests who once watched black & white TV may now desire HDTV. Conversely, for the younger guest, poor cellular coverage or slow Wi-Fi may be the reason not to return to a hotel.

  “Planning Before Building” 

The above tagline, which our firm recently registered as a trademark, is our mantra. Hoteliers are increasingly recognizing the value of planning ahead for technology and employing a technology consultant to assist in the early project stages to address key considerations.  Which technologies are proven and profitable? Which are questionable, or about to become obsolete? Which are soon to be considered standard? What technologies are on the horizon that will likely be widely in use before the hotel is celebrating its 3rd birthday? And perhaps, most importantly, what is the optimal infrastructure design that will provide the technology foundation to carry the property between renovations.

Ten years ago, very few of our clients called us to assist with a budgeting effort for the technology. In 2010, all of our projects included some level of technology system budgeting/programming efforts. We anticipate this trend will continue in 2011, and become routine in the years to come.

by Jeff Cook

NTI Founder

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