Wyndham Checks Out Benefits of Centralized Call-Accounting

It's an unpleasant but all-too-common experience: You are checking out of a hotel and are outraged to find your bill littered with long-distance telephone charges, at $10 to $20 a pop. And there are about a dozen $1 charges for local calls—one for every time you connected to the Internet. You stay at hotels in this chain often, you tell the desk clerk, and they ought to treat you better. He agrees to remove the charges, but he makes you wait while he fixes your bill.

Thanks to some innovative work by project leader Mark F. Hedley, that scenario doesn't play out anymore at Wyndham hotels. Hedley, a senior vice president and chief technology officer at Wyndham International Inc. in Dallas, is the mastermind behind a chainwide, centralized call-accounting system that has reduced operating costs at the company's hotels while removing a key source of customer dissatisfaction.

On a central server in Dallas that interfaces to each hotel, the new system keeps track of telephone rates that can vary by hotel, corporate customer, guest group, date or even by individual guest. A Wyndham salesperson can, for example, promise a convention group a block of rooms with a special low phone rate for the duration of their stay and be confident that the group will get that rate—automatically and transparently.

The system also recognizes Wyndham's ByRequest premier members and ensures that they get free long-distance and local telephone service and free high-speed Internet access. It also supports administrative functions such as call-pattern analysis and compliance with national carrier contracts.

The call-accounting system eliminated more than 100 local systems and is expected to produce a 269% return on investment over five years, not counting additional revenue it might bring from happy guests, says Hedley. "This is the first time in the industry this has been done, first and foremost, on a centralized basis," he says. "It used to be a tremendous overhead for a hotel to keep the rate tables up to date, to keep the equipment configured properly and so on."

"It's pretty slick," says W. Douglas Lewis, a senior partner at Edge Consulting Group LLC in Atlanta and former CIO at InterContinental Hotels Group. "It allows your frequent stayers to automatically get the charges not put on the bill. It removes one of the largest dissatisfiers of hotel guests."

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Mark F. Hedley, senior vice president and CTO, Wyndham International Inc.
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Lewis also praises the system's architecture. "They have managed to link their ByRequest database in with their call-accounting system and the PBXs in the hotels. That's technically very interesting," he says.

Some of the project's innovations were more prosaic. It was necessary to install a brick-size data-collection and network-interface device at every hotel, but Hedley didn't want to bear the cost of sending an IT person to each site to do that. "We created a very extensive set of instructions, a book, on how to install the device," he says. "We had to make it so anyone could install it, but here we were asking them to touch the parts of a phone system that you generally wouldn't touch."

Senior project manager Doug Oppenheimer wrote the instructions and even photographed a Phillips screwdriver to show the installers what one looks like. "I came from a hotel before getting into IT," says Oppenheimer. "I said, 'How would someone who never saw a computer deploy this device properly the first time?' "

Oppenheimer also set up a Web site with frequently asked questions about the new system, created a training course that could be downloaded or obtained on a CD, and beta-tested everything at two hotels.

"The whole implementation of that device went seamlessly, vs. what a disaster it could have been and how much time and cost it could have added," Hedley says. "We did the entire system rollout in 90 days."

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Wyndham International Inc.

www.wyndham.com

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Business: Based in Dallas, Wyndham International owns, leases, manages and franchises hotels and resorts in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.

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Project champion: Mark F. Hedley

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IT department: 67

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Project payback: Guest call-accounting system eliminated more than 100 local systems and is expected to produce a 269% return on investment over five years.

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