Shailesh Bhagwat, Corporate IT Head, Kamat Hotels India Ltd, on the role of IT in driving business in the hospitality industry.
Shailesh Bhagwat has over 21 years of experience in the IT industry, of which 14 have been in the hospitality industry. He’s mastered the art of project management, involving budgeting, planning techno-commercial operations, execution and ensuring SLA levels are met. At the moment he’s driving technological upgrades at Kamat Hotels India Ltd. He gives us an insight into how IT is changing the way business is done.
What are some of your responsibilities at Kamat Hotels India Ltd?
“In my role as corporate IT head for the group I’m right now focussed on vetting, selecting, and setting up new technologies and software, and upgrading existing ones up to the mark. We are currently looking at various softwares that can help us stay ahead of competitors and also enhance guest experience. These include software for online reservations, seamless and secured internet connectivity. We are also looking for an ERP solution for the entire group, wherein finance department can handle day-to-day operations centrally as well as from the local hub in order to increase employee productivity. As there isn’t such an ERP software available per se in the hotel industry, I’m playing a key role in that. I’m also working on streamlining processes to help operations drive business.”
How are you using technology to improve guest experience?
“Yes, that’s our first goal. With technology innovations we are enhancing the overall setup to provide a seamless and secured connectivity. We’re aiming for mobile responsive systems for fast and convenient check-ins, providing good service, meeting customer demands promptly and at the same time ensuring they feel the warmth of Indian hospitality. As part of the change I’ve recently implemented central purchase systems, central reservations, central MIS, and put in place protocols for an enhanced guest experience (like thank you emails, feedback system, etc).”
Does that mean the IT department has to work more closely with the marketing and sales teams?
“The IT department has undergone a revamp in the hospitality industry. Earlier it was an expense centre, but now it’s evolving. Owners and operations departments are realising the benefit and the need for technology is the only way forward. We work closely not just with sales, marketing and accounting but also with all other departments. IT and sales have worked together to bring in relevant changes to increase online bookings and also have introduced hotel operation based sales CRM. It’s a continuous effort with sales on these.”
So the CIO’s role is changing as well?
“Yes, it’s not just about IT anymore. It’s also about understanding and working together with operations and sales, especially with the reservation system. Nowadays it’s no longer just number crunching; with the latest technology and advance setups we have enable our hotels to create new values, add few segments, predict future sales trends, etc. So the CIO’s role is constantly on the move.”
What is a skill CIOs in the hospitality vertical need to have?
“CIOs have to keep an eye on marketing strategies and new technologies, and see how they can be blended into one to take the entire group or unit towards the desired goal. They have to learn to work with different departments, including accounting (GST is coming up). CIOs have to understand how the departments function to see where technology can be fitted in an easy, seamless way.”
What are the big challenges for a CIO in the hospitality vertical?
“One of the biggest is Internet connectivity for guests and back office connectivity, which is secured. Bandwidth requirement is growing and sometimes it’s a task to cope up with the speed requirements of tech savvy travellers. Nowadays everyone has 4G phone/gadgets, or they have a minimum of two to three gadgets, and so hotels have to ensure that they’re providing good, seamless connectivity around the hotel. No matter where the guest moves the connection has to be seamless. So that’s a challenge.
“Another challenge is departmental management controls. As we have pan-India presence there is a need to have a perfect control that can be informed and monitored from the HO level. This way expenses can be controlled as well, and we can maintain the bottom line and catch the topline. There’s no centralised control right now; every hotel works as an individual unit. There have to be some systems that are controlled from the unit end and well as from the HO level, and they both get synced. Now, centralising it is not a big task, but maintaining it increases the bandwidth cost. We can only think of removing the software at the unit level when there is perfect Internet connectivity and the bandwidth cost goes down.”
Are customers or CIOs the drivers of change in hospitality?
“Nowadays, it’s 60-40, in favour of customers. New technology is getting upgraded every day hence customers’ expectations are also changing, especially with the younger generation. And so CIOs have to accordingly scale up their services to meet the demands.”
What do you enjoy the most about IT?
“My job! IT is not only about technology. It requires you to have a detailed understanding of operations as well. It’s not enough to just know about new technology only. You need to understand each and every operation in depth. This way you know what solutions to provide if something needs to have a change. You should have alternate solutions ready that you can give ASAP and help the department move forward. This is what I enjoy about my job, that it goes beyond just technology.”
What do you do to maintain a work-life balance?
“I also love photography and have learned it professionally. And have been pursuing that ever since. It’s the thing that brings me joy. I make it a point to practice photography at least once a month. I love nature and take my DSLR camera on hiking trails, and even when I’m travelling for work. Spending time with family is also important. Weekends are dedicated to them and we plan a holiday once or twice a year. The idea is speed valuable time with them, keep stress away and enjoy the moment. If technology is set up right, expectations are met and there’s good team work, then there’s no reason why work should be anything but pleasure.”
If you could go back in time and select a career other than IT, what would it be?
“Honestly, I think IT would always be there. Maybe alongside IT I might have taken up farming. I’m very interested in nature and like to grow things. In my backyard at home I manage to grow some vegetables and have a green thumb. So maybe I’d have done something in that line.”