– The Grand Hyatt Shanghai – Rose to Meet Its Massive High-tech Challenges
|By Terence Ronson - January 2001
Seemed like a tall order: How to “Hot Wire” the
world’s tallest hotel and make it one of the most technologically advanced
on the planet
The hotel integrated some amazing hardware into the fabric of the building, laying 10Mb fibre-optic “backbones”, 61 elevators, 19 escalators and more than 20 computer systems to help the 1,200 staff provide service, par excellence. (It was such a feat to build this monument that even the laundry chute, which drops 88 storeys, had to incorporate buffers to slow down the velocity of soiled linen as it hurtles at the speed of light to the ground below.)
With such a mammoth project, it can be a daunting task to ensure that everything works smoothly, and to provide guests with the human touch. It was a tough enough task for information systems manager Jeffrey Chung and director of engineering Romaine Hayes to connect the numerous pieces of hardware – from computers to water-cooling systems – and to make sure they worked continuously and efficiently.
But it was, perhaps, an even greater challenge for GM Edmund Tai and HR director Angeli Kwauk to get the software to work in harmony with the hard ware, ie, training the staff to work efficiently and comfortably with the technology, while keeping smiles on their faces. Chung, who has been involved in the hotel since the beginning, heads a team of five, who provide round - the - clock system support. Most of the systems have been in since day one, with the most major change being an upgrade to the fibre backbone, taking it from 10Mb to 100Mb. Chung says this now gives him much more bandwidth to play with, and has “future-proofed” the hotel.
It has also removed some response time bottlenecks from the hotel’s Fidelio property management system (PMS), which is at the heart of the hotel’s high-tech systems. Running on v6.12 with a Clipper database, it’s attached to a Micros 8700 POS and the IDEAS yield management system. There are also plans to extend it to incorporate a global data warehouse. An interesting (and often-over-looked) character among the executive committee (Exco) is executive chef Achim Lenders, who is a relatively new convert to the benefits of technology in enhancing guest service.
Apart from getting forecasts off the Fidelio system, Lenders has taken the initiative to create an e-recipe book by using digital photos that can be cut and pasted into a Microsoft Word document, showing how the dishes he has created should be presented to the guest. He also uses the same system for buffet set-ups. This helps to train new staff and, more importantly, ensures consistency in the delivery of the dishes which, as we all know, can be a struggle at times. Using the Maxial F&B costing system (a preferred system of Hyatt) for recipe maintenance, Fidelio’s F&B sales module allows banquet event orders to be prepared and then disseminated to the relevant departments via a Lotus Notes email system. (As an ex-chef, I totally agree with Lenders’ philosophy when it comes to menu design – keep it simple, and do what you do best. And I have to say that his tiramisu is probably the best I’ve ever tasted.)
Another interesting piece of F&B technology is the graphical table reservation system, which has two workstations positioned at different entrances to the restaurants and are synchronised with each other.
Fidelio’s guest history module is indispensable as it allows them to track guest preferences and (heaven forbid) bad experiences from previous visits. When they review the arrival list a few days ahead of time, they can catch potential problems before they happen by assigning the right kind of room and providing suitable amenities.
They have also found that the recent installation of a credit card interface – developed jointly by Micros and the Bank of China – speeds up check-in/out and F&B check processing on the 50 Micros point-of-sale (POS) terminals, and has eliminated the clumsy credit card slips that need to be stapled to the folio at check out.
They are also planning to move some data input functions to the back-office, including PSB logging, so that the front line staff can spend more time interacting with the guests – a great idea. Nancy Wang, who is in charge of the communications centre, PBX and 24-hour business centre, has trained her staff to be “technology concierges”, so they can help guests hook up their laptops or perform simple tasks with minimal fuss.
Chief concierge Franklin Yu also has a neat use for technology: he has
Housekeeping manager Grace Lo has the unenviable challenge of keeping the hotel clean – no easy task, considering it enjoys more than 90% occupancy. She has a team of 168 maids, who are alloted 45 minutes per room. They are also responsible for mini-bar posting, which they do effectively via the guestroom phone.
The restaurants, bars and health club use Micros POS systems for posting guest charges but, strangely enough, the business centre posts directly to the guest’s account via a Fidelio PMS terminal. Director of finance Wilkie Ho, who leads a 20-strong team, uses technology to run his department more efficiently, and he is now looking to speed up his accounts receivable collections by faxing statements at the end of each month.
This, he says, will ensure “they don’t get lost in the mail” and, of course, provides instant delivery. If you can believe it, cash is a problem for the Grand Hyatt Shanghai: on the one hand it has too much and, on the other, not enough. It’s a long standing practice in China for locals who stay at the property to pay cash and, in fact, they make up 10-15% of the daily 200 arrivals, and even more at weekends. Paying cash means the cashier has to count the bills – the highest denomination of which is RMB100 ( US$12) – and, with a room rate of $250, well, go figure. Ho has installed a counting machine behind the counter, but staff have to be extra diligent because of the large amounts of fake money floating around. When I mentioned just now that the hotel does not have enough cash, that’s because the local banks restrict how much can be withdrawn on a daily basis.
The property is obliged, though, to perform foreign exchange transactions even though it does not earn a cent in commission from the service.
Resident manager Christopher Koehler (whose background is in F&B), uses a Palm Pilot to help organise his busy workday, and this techno - wizardry allows him to free up his grey cells for more creative use than just remembering things to do. During his frequent walks through the public areas, he often encounters noteworthy incidents, which he diligently jots down and entrusts to his electronic companion for future delegation or follow-up. Actually, he tells me that many Exco members have such e-companions, and they beam notes to each other, thereby removing the need for email or paper-based communications.
Koehler also makes journal entries about forthcoming events, such as the arrival of VIPs, and he boasts a comprehensive database of useful telephone numbers, including internal extensions, and (hard to imagine) good places to eat outside of the hotel. He sees this gizmo as providing useful storage for hotel stats and, with the proliferation of these devices, I wonder how long it will be before some visionary PMS company produces a night audit report or manager’s workbook in this format?
During our conversation, we toyed a round with other uses for these machines, and came up with the idea of not only a city guide (such as Worldroom.com offers), but also taking it one step further with all hotel info included, as well as an electronic comment card.
Upon arrival, guests could synch their Pilots at the front desk or business
Now, wouldn’t that be a cool way to improve guest services through technology?
Director of HR Kwauk uses technology to help her communicate with staff, as well as for recruiting new staff via a website. She has already implemented an intranet where policies and procedures are available online, as well as a weekly e-newsletter. As a next step, she is building back of house net-kiosks so that staff can browse the manuals and, at the same time, learn how to use a computer.
Despite the hotel’s intelligent use of technology, in room high speed internet connectivity is sadly lacking. It’s on its way, according to GM Tai, and the guest rooms already have data ports in the desk drawer, but there is no leased line yet. At one point, it was installed for a recent GMs’ conference, but then removed due to instability. Personally, I would have put up with the instability, versus dialling an IDD call back to my ISP in Hong Kong each time I wanted to stay in touch with the real world via email, or surf the web. It was a costly and cumbersome exercise: my phone bill exceeded US$192, and that did not please me in the slightest. So I encourage the hotel to sort this out with haste, otherwise it could easily result in a growing list of less-than-happy road warriors.
Of course, the guests’ history files ought to tell the whole story,
and it would be better to nip these glitches in the bud, as guests may
put this particular facility high on their priority lists of must haves,
especially if they’re paying premium rates to stay at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai.
Otherwise, those other fine properties lurking around the corner might
be the ones that get the business the next time around.
The internet is available via the TV, and is free, but the response time is slow which, in China, is pretty standard. You need to use a virtual keyboard displayed on the TV screen which, if you have a complex URL to key in, could become extremely frustrating to use.
The spacious glass-and-leather desk is equipped with a reading light, a digital display speakerphone and a modem port with adjacent power socket.
Next to my desk were power sockets labelled “24-hour power”, which I
interpret to mean that the supply will not be terminated when you take
out your key card from the energy-saving slot by the door. I doubt it means
they are on an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) or connected to the hotel’s
generator. Sadly, though, with all the power sockets available in the room,
none are close enough to the bed, so you cannot charge your mobile phone
and keep it within easy reach when the proverbial wrong - number call wakes
you up in the middle of the night. The TV has a good selection of channels,
but I could not get any music worth listening to, or even a live feed from
My wake-up calls were on time and, surprisingly, were given by a real human being. (Nice to have that “human touch” first thing in the morning.) I was relieved that, among all the chrome, glass and switches, there was a traditional Chinese tea service and the familiar red - and - brown sachet of Nescafe instant coffee, even though it had to be savoured out of an “institutional feeling” stainless-steel cup and saucer.
The four phones all have data ports even the one in the toilet, so you can download your emails while you, erm ... The bathroom (mine was almost as big as the workstation area of the business centre) features a separate toilet cubicle, a clear glass washbasin with sparkling chrome taps and a surrounding wall of glass – and even more chrome. The floor is white marble, and the bathtub is separate from the shower cubicle. Even the weighing scale is glass and, appropriately, branded “Thinner” – not really a subtle hint.
The bathtub is next to the window and, as you soak in the bubbles, you can dim the lights and enjoy great views of the Shanghai skyline. The shower tower features multiple heads, with the top one tall enough to let the water shoot down over you – which is unusual if you are as tall as I am. Adding to this treat is a self-demisting mirror, so you can wet-shave and see what’s going on.
So unusual is the shower that some guests need to be educated on how to use it, and a multilingual instruction leaflet resides in the guest dire c t o ry, along with a diagram of how to turn on the desk light – which can be a real sleight-of-hand trick. The two Presidential suites (Western and Asian) and the Chairman’s Suite go even more over the top, with TVs in the tub, a sauna and surround-sound hi-fi.
Cloud Nine is the highest bar in the world and, as you partake of your
favourite pre or post prandial libation, you can take in the most incredible
views of the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, a very long way down, making
you feel that you are, indeed, on top of the world.
This article first appeared in JAN 2001 Hotel Asia Pacific - www.hotelasiapacific.com
|Also See||Pertlink Launches HOTELINMYHAND; A Unique Handheld PC Application Designed Specifically to Improve Service Delivery in the Hospitality Industry / Jan 2001|