Entertainment & hospitality seek IT suppliers to complement customer diversity
The working environment is interesting and rewarding for IT folks at hotels, casinos and cruise lines
By Claire Swedberg
Several trends in combination make hotels, casinos and cruise lines especially promising prospects for women and
minority owned businesses, particularly those involved in IT.
First, there's no doubt that hospitality and entertainment are growing industries. A 2006 study by Ernst & Young LLC, the professional services company, shows that growth in hospitality is taking place worldwide. In the U.S., projects costing multi-millions and even more are under way or planned in casino towns like Las Vegas, NV; Atlantic City, NJ; and along the Gulf Coast. And with growth comes opportunity.
The second factor is the new look being sought by company execs in supplier diversity. This relates to the changing climate in the market, points out Linda Denny, president and CEO of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), who is also a member of the MGM Mirage diversity board.
Growing trend to women and minority customers
People spending money for hospitality and entertainment increasingly turn out to be women, traveling for business or leisure. The percentage of minorities enjoying these facilities is also growing.
In response, companies in the industry want to bring in more staffers and suppliers who look like their customers. Many technically oriented M/WBEs are enjoying the benefits of the market trend.
"Hotels are realizing that a major portion of travelers and guests are women," Denny declares. Casinos, cruise lines and other entertainment leaders are also noting customer diversity and seeking to mirror it in their suppliers.
"I think such outreach is a very smart move on their parts," Denny says. She points to a study done by WBENC and SBServices that found women consumers preferred to do business with corporations employing women-owned vendors. Some 80 percent of women polled added that awareness of a company's practice of buying from WBEs would moderately or significantly solidify their loyalty to that brand.
Although the study targeted WBEs, its conclusions might be extended to companies that offer all minority suppliers a good chance to participate.
Working aboard for Royal Caribbean
The work that IT and other technical contractors do in entertainment and hospitality varies widely. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd (Miami, FL), for example, expects its suppliers to provide quality service and diversity, and gives them the chance to do some cruising as well.
"For the most part our software and IT needs are the same as in any company," says Jeff Danis, VP for supply chain management for Royal Caribbean. "What makes working with our company unique is the deployment."
The technology, he explains, has to be deployed aboard cruise ships that are operating all around the world. "IT folks on the deployment team spend most of their time working onboard the ships.
"During day-to-day operations, our ships have one or two staff members on board. They manage IT-related support with help from our shore-side IT operations."
The company operates everything from reservation systems to customer relationship management systems, most of which are common elements at companies across many industries. It has large client/server networks and develops some of its own software, and also buys software and integrates it.
"We're actively engaged in looking for diverse companies to join our supplier community. It's good business, especially in South Florida," Danis notes.
For example, when Royal Caribbean acquired Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise company, a team of techies was brought in to change all the IT systems aboard the Azamara Quest from Pullmantur systems to the Royal Caribbean platform, Danis recalls. "They lived on board for several weeks, but the work they did was pretty much the same as it would be shore-side. It's just a matter of how and where it's done."
Depth and breadth for global support
For a supplier to match the needs of Royal Caribbean it has to have the depth and breadth to support the company globally, says Lorinda Birdsong, director of corporate purchasing and admin. "If we have an issue with one of our technology tools or applications on a ship, we need to have it resolved quickly.
"Whether our ships are at port in Miami, Australia, Europe or up in Alaska, we have to be able to execute for the ships and help them when and where they need it."
Software Plus serves Royal Caribbean and others
Software Plus (St. Louis, MO) is a supplier of tech services to large clients including Royal Caribbean. The company was founded as a WBE/MBE in 1983; in December 2007 it became part of Toronto, Canada-based Softchoice Corp.
Software Plus services help companies manage their IT infrastructures. "This can mean licensing compliance, hardware standards, security analysis, software asset management or just helping them solve IT issues with technology," says company founder Patricia Malashock.
She notes that her company also works as "a liaison between local solution providers, license compliance and the end user."
Considering cruise company clients, "I would say the customers in this industry are different from others," Malashock says. "We serve several companies similar to Royal Caribbean, and we find that each customer requires a tailored solution that accommodates its independent requirements but is cognizant of the special rules and regulations of the industry.
"Very simply, customer service is everything," Malashock concludes. "We aim very high when working with customers."
Hilton Hotels employs a broad range of resources
Hospitality giant Hilton Hotels Corp (Beverly Hills, CA) requires a broad range of technical resources from its suppliers, says Mark Mittelmeier, director of IT business planning and strategy. The tech experts it brings in include project managers, software developers, engineers, specific subject matter experts, and specialists who deploy technology onsite at various hotels.
The company has a fulltime IT team of about 800. They work primarily in Memphis, TN, along with a large number of consultants, says Hilton's Delia Molinski, senior director of the IT program management office. Diversity in Hilton's IT area is at its highest level ever, Molinski adds. Fred Lona, senior director of supplier diversity, believes that diversity helps Hilton "bring a critical mass of talent together very quickly for large projects." That's good for business and ultimately for hotel guests, he adds.
Hilton was recently acquired by the Blackstone Group, and is in the process of deploying its proprietary software, OnQ, to the group's hotel properties across the world. More than 2,500 hotels in the U.S. already have OnQ, and an international rollout is underway. Hilton plans to add another 300 hotels in the U.S. this year.
Pros who can work with managers
Obviously, Hilton needs high-quality support. "We've developed a scorecard we use with suppliers who know our business and are willing to learn our needs," Lona discloses. "We need pros who can work with our managers and meet our turnaround times."
Molinski agrees. "For us, partnering is not something you do at arms' length. Our suppliers must understand our goals and ethics and really become a part of the Hilton team."
"Hotels are a 24/7 job," Mittelmeier notes. "Guests come in at all times of the day or night. We're a very customer-driven business and we need to be there for them all the time. That means there must always be someone on call at our support center if help is needed."
"Diverse suppliers provide us with the flexibility we need. They can respond quickly to tactical projects while our team members work to achieve our strategic goals," Molinski reflects.
"They need to know who they're partnering with and be relationship creators."
JDResources, Inc finds IT folks for Hilton
Hilton Hotels supplier JDResources, Inc (JDR, Memphis, TN) specializes in IT recruiting and consulting. "We provide our clients with people at every level from helpdesk to VP and CIO," says Jill T. Herrin, CPC, who, with technical guru partner Danny McKinney, created and owns the full-service IT practice. Her claim of providing CIOs is no exaggeration: the company is recognized for its ability to provide executive leadership during corporate transitions, including interim CIOs.
JDR celebrated its twentieth year in business last fall. In addition to IT recruiting it provides direct-hire staffing, contract and contract-for-hire consulting and outsourced project resources. Partners Herrin, who came from England in 1982, and McKinney think of their firm as "an American company with a European flair." Its 2007 revenues will exceed $5.5 million.
"As you can imagine, the corporate culture of each client is unique," Herrin says. "It is critical that we have a deep understanding of the position to be filled, and we must also determine the candidate's personality and career goals to establish a true fit and a winning situation."
Don Carmon is JDResources' account manager for Hilton. He brought the company an insider's view of how the hotel group operates. Before he joined JDR, Carmon had been an IT developer for Promos Corp, now part of Hilton. "Of course the technology has changed dramatically over time," says Herrin, "but Don is better able to understand Hilton's needs because of his personal experience with their technical operations."
JDR has worked with Hilton from the start. "The relationships we established at Hilton have been critical to our success and this has been a very successful partnership for both organizations," Herrin declares.
JDR's services originally targeted Memphis and environs, but the firm continues to expand into the national marketplace. Recent clients include major companies as far away as California and New York, and JDR has more than fifty consultants working at client locations and remotely. By offering a great employment experience, JDR is able to recruit some of the top IT talent in the country, Herrin says with pride.
Hotel operator Wyndham Worldwide (Parsippany, NJ) works to implement a self-reinforcing approach to supplier diversity, making it part of the company's daily culture. Sonia Mercado, senior manager of supplier diversity, notes that by partnering with minority suppliers the company can generate new ideas and opportunities which contribute to its own success and ultimately the strength and dynamics of the U.S. economy.
Wyndham Worldwide business units and brands practice an integral, all-inclusive supplier diversity initiative, Mercado says. Suppliers must offer a minimum three-year business history, competitive pricing, cost-saving solutions, and preferably a hospitality reference and third-party certification as an M/WBE.
Mercado is interested in certifications by NMSDC, WBENC or the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). "Get certified by one of these organizations and then network," is the advice she gives diverse supplier candidates. "That's how you meet potential business partners.
"And don't limit yourself to just corporations," she adds. "You'll find small businesses in your peer group that also need your services."