All hotel companies will eventually need to be completely in the cloud to take full advantage of new tech like generative AI.
The CEO suite in the Choice Hotels headquarters is about to get a new wall decoration — a framed piece of an old data server.
Brian Kirkland, chief information officer for the company, kept the metal plate with plans to commemorate a technological era at Choice that’s now come to a close.
Choice decommissioned its last data server on January 19. It’s the end of a five-year project to fully migrate all of the company’s systems and data to the cloud, paving the way for next-generation technology like generative AI.
Choice was the first hotel company to make this full migration commitment with Amazon Web Services, which provides cloud storage and more. The move is a first among hotel companies, most of which still operate significant portions of their businesses on local servers.
“Those systems served us well,” Kirkland said. “It’s time to move on.”
Choice has more than 7,500 hotels within a portfolio of 22 brands, like Radisson and Comfort Inn.
A New Era
Choice decommissioned 3,729 servers over the last five years. Those servers powered past tech initiatives, like a hotel website with real-time rates in 1995, and a mobile app in 2009 about two years after the first iPhone was released.
Choice retired more than 300 older software programs that were based on those servers over the past five years, and upgraded the other 250 as they were migrated to the cloud.
Now, being based in AWS’s cloud means Choice can more effectively experiment with and implement new tech.
The company is a pilot customer of Amazon Connect, a platform that uses AI to streamline operations in customer-service contact centers. Choice is connecting that system with hotel and loyalty data and guest profiles, with plans to power next-generation initiatives for personalization.
“That wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t in the cloud,” Kirkland said.
“Everything you’re seeing around gen AI — there’s so many opportunities there, whether it’s call center, website, or guest experience, or operations back-end, or even our own content creation. It’s the starting line for a lot of teams that have been excited; now, they can run.”
There were many staff whose job was to manage the servers. The transition to the cloud meant that those roles were eliminated over time, and those workers were assigned other roles within the company. Those workers, along with everyone else at the company who touches hotel tech, have had to receive training along the way.
Choice trained more than 500 people on the latest relevant technologies in partnership with AWS, Kirkland said.
Though some experts disagree, Kirkland sees the latest technology as a path for increasing efficiency and “upskilling” employees. The company’s newer pricing tool, for example, determines hotel rates based on thousands of pieces of constantly moving data. All a hotel manager has to do is approve the price change, Kirkland said.
“I don’t think [AI] replaces jobs, but it definitely is going to help make jobs easier,” Kirkland said.