Ormond Group’s CTO Julian Wong guides us through the technological solutions being implemented in the group’s hotels and the benefits that guests ar...
In recent times, one-size-fits-all hotels are facing competition by locations that can cater to a specific type of customer. Ormond Group is a Malaysia-based hospitality business which operates 13 hotels under its Tune brand. With locations in Malaysia and the UK, its business model has undergone a change in response to an evolving market, taking it from a no-frills budget hotel chain where most amenities were add-ons to a more inclusive basic hotel model.
Accompanying this change in its existing properties, the organisation is launching two new hotel brands in the coming months: MoMo’s, a social hotel brand featuring micro-rooms and fun communal spaces, and Ormond Hotels - its flagship boutique brand for the contemporary traveler looking for simplified luxury. Following the debut of both brands at the end of 2019, The Ormond Hotel will open in Dublin in 2021 while a MoMo’s and Ormond will open on a dual brand site on Flinders Street in Melbourne in 2022. Julian Wong, Chief Technology Officer for Ormond Group, has overseen the digital transformation taking place across its current and future locations.
For modern hotel guests, technology is often the first thing that comes to mind upon their arrival. “We realise that the most important priority for any guest is reliable and fast wifi,” says Wong. “That's normally the first thing that guests ask for when they check into a hotel. ‘What is the wifi password? How do I log in?’” Owing to that, one of Wong’s first tasks was ensuring that network infrastructure was fit for purpose in Ormond’s hotels. “As Tune is a limited service hotel, focused on the 5 essentials – a 5-star bed, hot power shower, cleanliness, 24-hour security and finally high-speed wifi. Therefore we really needed to ensure that our WiFi infrastructure could stand up to that promise. After review, Ormond Group employed the services of Ruckus Networks to provide a high quality, reliable service to its guests. “Ruckus is a proven technology and the support is excellent,” says Wong. “In terms of speed, our results show that Ruckus is the best option. It gives us peace of mind for the next five, six, seven years.”
Forming good relationships with guests is vital in the hospitality industry, and Wong has implemented customer relationship management (CRM) systems to better understand Ormond Group’s guests. “We went through a lengthy evaluation for all our systems, and picked Cendyn CRM,” he explains. “One of the most important parts of our data collection is knowing our guests. In the hospitality industry, understanding our guests’ needs, wants and requirements is key to providing great service.” To manage its room bookings, Ormond Group partners with Sabre Hospitality to leverage its SynXis Central Reservations system. Completing a trio of core hotel systems is the property management system (PMS), vital for organising things such as maintenance and personnel. For its PMS systems, Ormond Group relies on Opera by Oracle. “Every question that we asked Oracle with regards to Opera, they responded back very quickly. They even took the trouble to come onsite to do workshops with us to ensure that we utilize fully all of Opera’s features. We’ll continue to work closely with Oracle to ensure Opera’s implementation in our new brand hotels.” Operating in unison, the three systems help to implement the group’s goals, such as increasing direct bookings, better understanding guests and streamlining hotel operations. To complement its food and beverage operations, Ormond Group deploys the Agilysys InfoGenesis point of sale (POS) system across its various hotels, interfacing with PMS and allowing guests to seamlessly perform a room charge directly to their room folios.
Aside from ensuring the smooth operation of its hotels, Ormond Group has found numerous opportunities to transform the experience of guests through technology. One such initiative has resulted in the ongoing trial of an AI chatbot. “We’ve been trialing the system for six months in our airport hotel. As a limited service, short stay hotel, the very bold decision was made to not include phones in rooms, leading to many of our guests having to go to the front desk for any basic information required. Now our guests can do so in the comfort of their room, via a chatbot. Providing this basic information via a chatbot also means we will never require manpower resources to man phones – allowing the hotel ro run a lot more cost efficiently. To date, on average, we’re getting about 30 to 40 chats a day from guests, and if an unusual question is asked, staff can take over the conversation in real time. It helps improve our guest experience.”
Wong faced some challenges in making sure that the benefits of digital transformation were understood throughout the organisation. “It’s very hard to show an immediate return on investment with IT systems – it’s different from selling rooms,” says Wong. “If I sell a room at $200 and my cost is $100, my ROI is $100. It takes a long time to realise the value of putting, say, $1mn into an IT system.” Wong is clear that such investments do bear fruit, even if their effect is not immediately obvious. It can be the case, however, that some solutions are prohibitively expensive, especially to a company based in Southeast Asia and at the mercy of currency fluctuations. “When it comes to Malaysia, for example, the cost is four times more than it is in America once you factor in forex rates. This puts some things out of our reach. Based on the challenges that we have dealing with vendors in terms of cost, we have evaluated the cost of hiring developers in Asia, developing a system and getting it up and running and it would still be cheaper than buying from Europe,” he comments. “We would love to look into any possibilities of developing our own hospitality tech in the near future to overcome the various challenges we have, especially when it comes to cost feasibility.”
It is clear that Ormond Group is a company with both ambition and a clear idea of the technological solutions needed to achieve its goals. Under the stewardship of Wong, there is a sense that Ormond Group’s digital transformation journey is far from over. Equally, however, as the company embarks upon the opening of its new brands, it is the pride the company takes in the hospitality it provides that is propelling it onwards: “As a group, we want to provide what is essential to our guests and look at ways of optimising the human touch, not removing it,” says Wong. “Our strategy isn’t to invest in hardware that can date quickly, but to stay focused on software that can enhance our guests’ experience rather than distract from them.”