Jay T. Reed – Aimbridge
Hotels are always abuzz with activity. It’s almost a Broadway play, with acts including conference and guest reservations, catering and room service, meeting room scheduling, housekeeping, event management, facility maintenance, custodial, security and more.
Yet guests don’t care why the elevator works or how the hotel ballroom booked a headliner, just as they might not be able to express what makes a Broadway show great.
That’s fine with Jay T. Reed, who, in his words, “services people who service people that are serving people.”
As executive vice president and chief information officer for Aimbridge Hospitality, Reed is now responsible for technology integrations that drive all operations for a growing number of hotels—from 400 in 2016 to 1,400 currently, across more than 30 brands globally.
Launched in 2003 with eight properties, Aimbridge has exploded into a leading third-party hotel management company operating branded full-service hotels, select service hotels, luxury hotels, destination resorts, convention centers and lifestyle hotels.
When Aimbridge merged with top competitor Interstate Hotels & Resorts in 2019, it created a portfolio of premium properties in 49 states and 20 countries. Aimbridge has been a top name in hotel management—and Reed is responsible for all technological aspects of keeping it there.
Reed’s strategy, titled “One Solution,” required the integration of all strategic systems to a myriad of automated solutions across the Aimbridge family.
Aimbridge can now leverage the data to make better decisions about purchasing, pricing, budget forecasting, sales leads, electronic communications and more.
In hindsight, Reed describes the project as “ominous” for all the things that could have gone wrong, all the operations it could have affected.
But it reduced labor needs, improved accuracy and left the brand-mandated property management systems at each of the hotels intact.
“Ultimately, to be successful in IT, you must be excited about ushering in change,” says Reed, who sees his challenge as “mastering the art of change management and simplifying the enterprise as you grow.”
That high-level view belies the fact that mission-critical projects are always percolating.
“All the brands are saying, ‘Hey your minimum bandwidth requirements for WiFi are X. Next year, it will be X+ 100Mb,’ or whatever. So we are constantly managing the annual brand standards and working with ownership to plan capital upgrades to hotels so they stay compliant with the brand while also being fiscally responsible. I regard the owner’s capital investment in the company’s assets as if it’s my own money.”
Room to grow
His continued focus is to continually update cybersecurity to comply with privacy regulations in foreign countries and U.S. states, while staying on top of systems that drive finance, procurement, human capital management, internal communication and more.
These efforts are already having an impact. With mergers the past several years, Reed’s initiatives helped reduce IT staff by 80 percent from the acquired companies. Reed also empaneled an IT steering committee to match budget and priorities with business partners. And he transitioned the company to a single financial model that includes financial, business intelligence, and procurement from three alternative models.
“In today’s world, CIOs need to really be accountable on the financial side, both in terms of operating and capital budgets, Reed says. “Being accountable for the numbers and managing it effectively is key, especially when they’ve got constant additions of hotels to manage.”
But it’s hardly a one-man show. Reed leads a lean team of IT service staff, as well as vendors such as RealCom Solutions, Centrada Solutions, ManageForce, Quebit and Interactive Sites, to retain the virtual memory of systems gone by, the better to integrate them into the present.
“They’re all good companies that allowed us to not do much recruiting,” he says. “It would have been really difficult to grow a huge IT team from scratch and be selective as we added. There’s no way we could do it for every hotel.
“Our focus has been to complement our team with strategic partners who have a core competency that matches our needs.”
One size does not …
But not all integrations are created equal, a truism that became especially clear with email.
Aimbridge likes its hotel personnel to use their own branded emails where available, rather than centralize that function at corporate.
“We like to have the brand associated with our on-premise people,” he says. “That’s been quite a challenge.”
For core technology, Reed is leading Aimbridge away from old financial systems from acquired companies and moving to best-of-breed software for core technologies.
“On the hotel technology side of the business, I’m constantly working with the brands to make sure we’re being compliant but also to challenge them sometimes on their standards,” he says.
“Every management company has that core tech you need to have,” Reed says. “For us, it’s back-of-the-house accounting, and every acquisition we make seems to have a different financial solution in place.”
For budget forecasting, Reed found a solution that helps manage cost and budgeting with each hotel but also provides access to each ownership group.
With procurement, Aimbridge’s buying power has grown along with its acquisitions, “so we’ve worked to stay on one procurement solution, transitioning hotels into that solution. It’s been a challenge but we’ve got that down also.”
Coming soon: how to apply artificial intelligence and other high-tech innovations to the hotel experience.
That could mean you get a room key on your phone when you check in. Or perhaps someday, an AI-enabled robot delivers your room service.
“I don’t know I’m real enamored with that,” Reed laughs, “but some brands are looking at it.”
Keeping your IT in line and integrating it across the globe with wildly different customer expectations—and allowing properties their own identity along the way—is a little like being a Broadway stage director.
Lots to do, but, ultimately a labor of love, with visible results.
For Reed, implementing IT platforms is only the first step.
It’s what the hotel management does with the data that intrigues him.
“Because of the info we have across all brands, all the hotels, there’s a wealth of information about best practices,” Reed says. “How do we take that data and differentiate ourselves? That’ll be a strategy for us in coming years.”
And there’s sure to be more change checking in soon.
“If you’re in the tech field and you don’t like change, you’re in the wrong field,” Reed says. “And the hospitality industry is constantly changing, with brand standards, migrations, one ownership group to another …
“I’m just really good at managing change.”
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