SINCE the birth of computers, we have all lived the dream of one day being part of a paperless society but, to date, it’s been nothing more than a myth. Instead of eradicating the stuff, hoteliers are finding themselves deluged under reams of A4 paper and discarded toner cartridges, while paper shredders grind away in the background.
But the Conrad Hong Kong, under the driving force of GM Dennis Clarke, is on a mission to change all that – and get rid of as much unnecessary paperwork as possible.
Clarke is known for walking round offices, opening filing cabinets and challenging the need to store so much paper. Together with information-systems manager William Wong, he has embarked on an ambitious mission to clear the forest of paper that has sprouted at his hotel.
The need for drastic action became clear in April when the hotel renovated the 7th floor and converted the little-used business centre into more productive banquet space.
“The need quickly arose to drastically streamline administrative functions, especially since the workload was about to increase exponentially following a surge in bookings,” says Clarke. “But response times to customers were far from satisfactory.”
Charged with the challenge of emptying several years’ worth of filing cabinets that were choc full of files containing frayed-edged paperwork, the F&B sales team got down to the business at hand.
Under the watchful guidance of Giovanni Viterale, EAM of F&B operations, the hotel set about designing a sales and catering workflow system that would not only allow them to archive valuable historical data, but also put in place an efficient data-retrieval mechanism.
Several staff were uncomfortable with the thought of having to view customer files on screen instead of being able to leaf through hard-copy paper files.
But their fears were quickly put to rest after a prototype of the new system was delivered, particularly as it had been designed for ease of use, and did not require a PhD to operate.
Following the Y2K debacle, the hotel had already laid down an architecture, called Active Directory, and also utilised Microsoft Office applications, which were later upgraded to the XP version.
It then turned its attention to the incumbent sales and catering system, which lacked functionality. After enrolling the help of local programming house, China Electronics, it started building processes designed to work around the existing system’s limitations, while taking full advantage of the underlying architecture, thereby maximising its existing investment.
The hotel decided to use a new version of Microsoft Share Point Portal and Internet Explorer as a front-end application, instead of a proprietary software application. It deployed a series of ASP (application service provider) applications that allowed the sales and catering team to more efficiently handle telephone enquiries, proposals, agreements, floor plans, set-ups, event orders, adjustments, thank-you letters – as well as the occasional loss-of-business report.
It was a major success, and the team now boasts that it can turn round a proposal as fast as you can say, “Show me the money”.
Phase two began in October, with the property being used as a case study for Info-Path at the Hong Kong launch of Microsoft Office 2003. The event emphasised Microsoft’s focus on recognising the hospitality industry as a viable and potentially lucrative market.
[This is extremely interesting to note, as most of the large technology companies have always tended to focus on other sectors, particularly banking/finance, insurance, automotive, retail, medical and manufacturing. A few are now slowly removing their blinkers and starting to see the hospitality industry on their radar screens.]
Along with China Electronics and Microsoft Hong Kong’s technical support team, the hotel studied the extended capabilities of a beta version of Info-Path, along with the enhanced functionality of Office 2003.
They mapped out a framework for an e-procurement system which aims to take the hotel closer to the eventual annihilation of paperwork and associated bureaucratic procedures surrounding its archaic approval process.
Streamlining this process with just a couple of e-forms, such as capex request and general purchase request, means that approvals can be given at the press of a few buttons [I refuse to say one button – it will never happen] and in a much more cost-effective manner.
The document flow starts with the department head raising a purchase request, which is then sent to purchasing for competitive quotes. It then goes back to the department head for vendor selection and price acceptance, then on to the financial controller for budget approval and, finally, to the GM for his blessing. Once approved, an e-PO (purchasing order) is generated and emailed out.
According to Wong, the third phase will include doing away with the stacks of files in HR. “Although this is a way off, it’s on the road map and we will, without doubt, achieve it,” he says.
There are also ambitious plans to computerise the chef’s daily market list by equipping him with a PDA (personal digital assistant), which he can use for data entry as he walks round and checks the various cold rooms and stores.
“My office is now a virtually paper-free office, with no filing cabinets,” says Viterale. “My secretary automatically trashes nearly all incoming faxes, and asks instead for an email version.”
So what has become of all this extra space? “Where the cabinets once stood, there is now a calming waterfall, which is great fung shui,” he says.
Email Terence Ronson at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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