S'pore hotel improves 'heartbeat' with wireless tech

case study Hotel InterContinental Singapore shifts from standalone routers and patchy connections to automated wireless network management system that it says improves device accessibility and, ultimately, customer and employee satisfaction.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

case study Hotel InterContinental Singapore had been bogged down by poor wireless capability and inefficiency in preventing and troubleshooting network disruptions, which subsequently resulted in business limitations and poor customer experiences.

That was until the five-star hotel's IT manager, Law Swee Heng, turned to a more modern, automated wireless network management system that offered better access and automated provisioning to both guests and employees.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in an interview, the executive recounted that the hotel was relying on standalone routers situated around the premise to provide wireless access. This resulted in several limitations. For example, its service staff had to go to individual guests' rooms to troubleshoot their network connectivity troubles or help them log on to the network, and each visit would sometimes last about 30 minutes, Law said.

The manpower and network challenges were further exacerbated when several corporate functions were organized simultaneously, he pointed out. To alleviate network strain, he said there were times when it had to prioritize corporate wireless access over individual guests, which angered the latter demographic.

Law also said the hotel would spend two hours a week on staff training to get employees up to speed on how to solve network-related issues.

In total, Hotel InterContinental spent S$4,000 to S$5,000 (US$3,133 to US$3,917) for all its wireless network hardware equipment, the manager revealed. This sum included routers that had been placed in rooms but were later found missing, and had to be chalked down as losses, he added.

Not all about pricing
With these challenges in mind, Law called for an open tender that stretched about two months for vendors to recommend a solution for these challenges.

Topmost on his checklist were ubiquitous wireless coverage across the entire hotel premise, ease of managing the system so IT staff can focus on business-oriented projects, and no network downtime, he shared.

Among the vendors that participated were Aruba Networks, Hewlett-Packard and Ruckus Wireless, he said, adding that bidders not only had to compete on pricing and features of their overall proposed solution, but also on after-sales support in the form of services and maintenance.

Quizzed why the hotel eventually plumped for Aruba and its Mobile Virtual Enterprise (MOVE) architecture, Law related that price was not the main consideration. Rather, he pointed to other aspects such as easy deployment and Aruba's "smart controller" capability to differentiate between guest and employee access, as key winning points.

Furthermore, he said HP had proposed to incorporate the older 802.11g wireless technology in its pitch, rather than the newer 802.11n specification. This is because it didn't offer the latter technology at the time, and the price for Wireless-G was on par with other vendors offering Wireless-N options.

"Of course, we would opt for the newer technology to achieve better coverage," he noted.

Albert Tay, general manager of Aruba Networks Southeast Asia, who sat in on same interview with Law, added its backend access management system meant Hotel InterContinental's IT department only needed to set the security and access parameters once according to user profile, such as guest, employee or third-party contractor.

Upon completion, the system runs automatically and security is maintained via the in-built "stateful firewall" feature to ensure access is properly authenticated, Tay explained.

Its Adaptive Radio Management feature also ensures there are no network blockages, he stated. Should one be detected, the system automatically switches users to an available bandwidth to ensure user experience is not compromised, he said.

Productivity, satisfaction on the up
The entire deployment, which involved setting up the physical network points, took three-and-a-half months to complete in November 2011--ahead of its four-month projected timeframe, Law recounted. He declined to reveal how much the hotel had invested in the implementation, but did say it was more than the S$5,000 (US$3,917) it previously spent on standalone routers.

The hotel has since reaped the benefits including improvements in access, where hotel guests now can log into the network with up to four mobile devices free-of-charge, the IT manager pointed out.

The time it takes to troubleshoot has also gone down, with such sessions now holding back staff by only 5 to 10 minutes. Law added that guest calls asking for assistance on wireless access have also fallen from "100-plus" previously to some 20 calls per month.

And because the network is running smoothly, the hotel has found no need to continue providing the two-hour training sessions for its service staff, he added.

Law pointed to the hotel's "heartbeat" survey, which measures anything from cleanliness to Internet access, as an indicator of how the new wireless capability has helped guest satisfaction. "Previously, our heartbeat score was 70 percent. Since the deployment, our heartbeat score for the last two to three months reached 81 percent," he shared.

Hotel InterContinental's marketing executives can also better sell its corporate packages, as they now have confidence the IT infrastructure is better able to handle the guest load it aims to bring in, Law said.

IT staff, too, no longer need to "stress about connectivity", he added. This frees them up to focus on higher priority projects such as upgrading the hotel's check-in systems, he said.

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