Make IT part of the team and everyone benefits

I’ve been working with a lot of different properties lately, and was recently struck by an irony. In an age when we place more and more emphasis on integrating our systems and the data used across all operational departments, the one exception is often the one underlying all of this: the IT Department.

This isn’t always the case; in many properties IT is a valued partner, and the IT Director – or, in smaller operations, the senior operations officer with responsibility for IT – reports directly to the highest levels and is a valued member of the corporate steering committee. In other situations, however,

IT is kept at a distance, and this handicaps everyone. Let’s take three examples:

– Support: I hear the comment that “it’s ITs job to fix all our system problems” surprisingly often, and this can never be the case. Just as vendors have to accept that their customers know the systems better than they do themselves, simply because they use them intensively every single day, so hotel operational departments cannot expect IT to understand the circumstances when a software problem was first noticed, nor its impact on operations. IT may well be a critical part of the solution, especially if interfaces, servers or communications are involved, but they cannot be the drivers of it. That responsibility can only lie with the operational department most affected, which is best suited to contacting the vendor(s) and describing the symptoms, and has the most to gain by bird-dogging the issue all the way to resolution.

– Strategy: In the corporate steering committees deciding hotel priorities, most discussions must necessarily be led by operational needs, unless there’s some specific technical issue affecting the operation’s security or legality. But this doesn’t mean that IT has nothing to add; its involvement is essential to ensure that the full ramifications of operational decisions are understood. The business reasons for introducing a change will always take precedence, but (for example) knowing that a desired approach is incompatible with the existing systems and will require a new database or some custom interface development is an important factor in that discussion.

– Security: Finding the right balance between security and usability is always an exercise in risk management, but the refrain that “IT won’t let us do X” needs a broader perspective. IT doesn’t make the rules about which systems or data sets are worth the tightest protection, upper management does; IT just enforces them. If an operational department has a genuine need to do “X” there must be a way to allow that, but that solution has to be worked out together. Perhaps there’s a different piece of software that has equivalent functionality but is easier to protect, or maybe the security barriers can be dropped for a specific time and circumstance, such as unblocking a USB port temporarily to import some key information. But there’s a reason the barriers are in place; deciding what level of risk can be tolerated is a team effort, and requires understanding of the needs and the risks by both sides.

IT needs to reach out, too, and not take any of this personally. If someone asks for something but it needs some clarification and there’s no response, IT needs to be persistently pro-active, diplomatically pursuing the issue until they know the problem has been resolved – and should find out what else they can help with along the way. Bridges get built from both ends.

One of the big “aha” moments in my career was going through a department-wide Myers-Briggs evaluation. For the first time (I’m a slow learner) it became apparent to me that people weren’t being deliberately antagonistic or stupid when I wanted them to do something; they were just looking at the situation from a different viewpoint and different mindset. It was suddenly OK for everyone to be different; each of us had worthwhile skills and experience, but different ways of expressing them. Understanding that Joe got more satisfaction out of working on a problem than out of completing it but Mary wanted to get a decision made as quickly as possible, made it much easier to work out how to combine their talents effectively, and we all became much more productive as a result.

All aspects of a hotel operation have something to contribute. Make sure IT’s part of the team.

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