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No one values customer service more than the hospitality industry.

Across a wide array of industries, IT shops are determined to maximise efficiency, many of them with the purpose of reducing costs and increasing revenue. But, for the hospitality industry, IT enables higher quality services to customers. With a whopping two million customers generating over 10 billion page views per year on the club's websites and one billion transactions per year, the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) relies on IT to support its dynamic businesses.

"Clearly, for our significant wagering business, IT is a fundamental driver for delivering our products through our branches, telephone betting and interactive services channels," says Roland Tesmer, head of IT strategy and planning at the HKJC. "In our hospitality business, IT is core to our reservations system, point of sales and materials management activities. In the racing business, IT supports the racing registry, equine hospital operations and laboratory."

In addition to serving external users, the IT team also has to support the 24,000 employees, as well as to manage 3,800 telebet terminals, 5,000 cashbet terminals, 200,000 remote devices (proprietary and mobile phones) and an IT infrastructure with the capability to handle 100 terabytes of data and 3,600 transactions per second.

Overcoming challenges

Despite its heavy investment in technology, the club makes IT decisions cautiously.

"There are numerous forces that have shaped and changed our business over the years," says Tesmer. "While historically some of these forces have moved slowly, there is little doubt that over the last five to 10 years the pace of change has accelerated considerably."

He notes there are changes occurring today that simply were not a concern in the past. Issues like casinos in neighbouring cities, the globalisation of racing and betting, the illegal and offshore bookmaking, government regulations, as well as the changing customer lifestyle and demographics, are some of the major challenges the club is encountering.

In spite of the many challenges, there are also lots of new opportunities emerging that were inconceivable before. The IT division has a clear and significant role to play in mitigating the risks and threats and leveraging the opportunities.

Serve it fast

In an industry vastly different from the HKJC, but also serving the lifestyle needs of people, is the Singapore-based small chain of food cafes called Suzy's Kitchen. Its IT manager Kim Hoo supports the food chain's daily IT needs, which include the five stalls situated around Singapore and the backend support that facilitates an online ordering system.

"We found that order forms sometimes got lost and customers started complaining when they had to wait for food that never arrived. To combat the problem, we introduced mobile devices to our staff so that all orders taken are shown on a screen in the kitchen for the cooks," Hoo explains.

But IT is not the panacea that cures all ills.

Tesmer says a great deal of the racing, wagering and entertainment business is the creation of excitement, which is the value proposition in the eyes of the customer.

"The creation of 'excitement' is an area where IT could potentially take a leading role through application of virtual reality (or augmented reality) technology to enable immersive entertainment," he says. "By digitally combining input from multiple cameras, a 360-degree and three-dimensional panoramic video may be presented to viewers, enabling a visual experience of the race from the perspective of individual jockeys," he adds.

At Suzy's Kitchen, Hoo says although the introduction of wireless and mobile solutions has helped increase efficiency, he wishes these solutions could be more robust and long-lasting.

"Because we have them situated in the kitchen with high heat and sometimes grease, water and dirt, some parts of the solution have had to be replaced fairly regularly as our kitchen layout was already in place before we implemented the solution," he explains.

Future of IT

Moving forward, Tesmer says there is great potential in Web 2.0 technologies. He notes good examples include virtual worlds such as Second Life, and social and collaborative software that support knowledge-based communities, like YouTube or MySpace.

"The power of communities is very strong, and, leveraging it within an enterprise, actually works to increase productivity," he explains.

He also added that on the corporate IT side, he is excited by the prospects offered by Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), and server or storage virtualisation technology as this can drive significant scale benefits and savings that can be re-invested in value-generating projects.

"Continuing advances in the consumer electronics space coupled with high-speed wireless network technology is driving developments in mobility applications for corporate IT that is helping our staff stay connected anywhere and anytime," he adds.

For Hoo, he is looking forward to better wireless technologies and scalable inventory solutions. The better wireless technology is expected to help staff be more efficient in taking orders and ensuring orders are delivered to the right customer.

"With mobile solutions, we would be able to track inventory levels from the point of order. This would help us keep more accurate levels of inventory and help our tracking," he says. Hoo also says he wishes IT could help with both the preparation and cooking of food.

Hong Kong Jockey Club

Senior IT executive: Sunny Lee, executive director, information technology

Screens: 680,640

Website: www.hkjc.com

IT has always played an integral part at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the city's only authorized horse racing operator.

The club's IT division recently has a new strategy, which is to be a value partner for business. Within this framework, all IT resources, including human, financial or technical, are being coordinated and focused on delivering maximum value to business. The team aims to support the businesses in bringing revenue growth, managing cost and risk.

In the past year, a significant number of new systems were implemented to meet with the new strategy. According to Sunny Lee, executive director, information technology, the club has increased the number of system released in the past year by 25 per cent, in order to meet the growing demand for technology from its business.

According to the club's latest financial result for the season 2006/2007, the turnover from all operations within the period exceed US$12.8 billion for the first time. The growth was partly brought from the 6.6 per cent increase turnover in horse racing activities and two per cent increase in attendance.

"The increase in attendance shows that our continuing efforts to upgrade the racecourse facilities and provide more on-course programmes are paying off. We want to make a racecourse visit an all-round entertainment experience," chief executive officer Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges has said.

Lee adds many of the newly released projects were focused on developing or enhancing customer services in using different channels for transactions, particularly in horse racing and football betting businesses. The new systems also improve customer experiences, particularly in the telephone betting, online and interactive services channels.

Apart from customer experience, the IT division also enhanced its service delivery for the internal business customers, to help deliver effectiveness and efficiency for the club's operation. The IT division enhanced the data warehousing and Business Intelligence capabilities. The enhancement was coupled with more aggressive use of workflow tools to drive significant improvement in operation.

One example is the Veterinary Management Information System (VMIS), which manages the medical records of more than 1,500 horses to ensure their health and fitness. The system will also support and manage horses participating at the equestrian events of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

"This project is a very innovative system and I believe it is not only the first system of its type used in world horse racing, it is also a pioneering model for the veterinary sector," Lee has said.

Current projects

* Chargeback and cost recovery

* Outsourcing

* Single sign-on

* Knowledge Management

* Service virtualization

Completed projects

* Storage virtualization

* Business Continuity

* Two-factor authentication

* Enterprise Content Management

* Thin client

Midland Realty

Senior IT executive: Francis Fung,

chief technology officer

Screens: 5,500

Website: www.midland.com.hk

Hong Kong has one of the world's most volatile property markets, bringing also a very active property-related servicing industry. One of the parties that benefit from Hong Kong's property market is the real estate agency.

Midland Realty is one of Hong Kong's largest real estate agencies. The company has 30 years of experience in Hong Kong's market. The company has also recently expanded its business in Macau, where the property market has been booming due to the active gaming sector.

For Midland Realty's IT division, process improvement was the main focus in 2006. CTO Francis Fung, notes the company last year rolled out the leave application approval, roaster management system for staff, to optimize administrative work.

In addition, the IT division also rolled out WiFi support across 50 branches, allowing business users, as well as customers, to access property information, and different property projects within the city.

The IT division has also brought information more accessible for its customer, by providing property's transaction history, floor plan and property videos at the company's web site, intranet, as well as the 3G phone portals for customer. These services have doubled the website's page hit.

Current projects

* Business Process Management

* IT governance framework

* IT service management

* Mobile computing with pocket PC and 3G phones

Completed projects

* IT consolidation

* Information Lifecycle Management

* Business Continuity

* Business Intelligence

* Enterprise Content Management

Jones Lang LaSalle

Senior IT executive: Liew Yong Kuan, regional IT director, Asia Pacific

Screens: 4,000

Website: www.joneslanglasalle.com

For international REAL estate management and servicing provider, Jones Lang LaSalle, the IT strategy in Asia is very much integrated with the main objective, which is to achieve a global system and infrastructure consolidation.

The company stated that such consolidation provides practical differentiation for the firm through technical advancement. As a global company, Jones Lang LaSalle can enjoy the economies of scale with its continuous growth and a consolidated technology platform.

One example of that is the adoption of outsourcing. The company's IT division relies on outsourcing partners to provide help desk services. Through outsourcing this function, the core IT team members, who have better business knowledge, can spend more effort in adding value to business, like client service delivery.

Like many industries, the real estate services sector is changing and becoming more dynamic. The widening service scopes have made it more challenging for the IT team at Jones Lang LaSalle to understand the businesses model and priorities.

Through outsourcing, the firm's IT staff is able to not only better understand the internal business users, but also to better serve external customers. The company stated it has achieved 69 per cent higher external customer satisfaction response rate. 45 per cent of the company's customers are also marking a higher score on the company's use of technology.

Current projects

* IT consolidation

* Customer Relationship Management

* Single sign-on

* Wireless Networks

* Sarbanes Oxley compliance

Completed projects

* IT consolidation

* Shared services

* Outsourcing

* Enterprise Resource Planning

* Sarbanes Oxley compliance

Sunway International Holdings

Senior IT executive: Gerard Yuen,

general manager, Group IT

Screens: 2,730

Website: www.sunway.com.my

Founded as a tin mining company in 1974, Sunway has grown to become one of the most diversified conglomerates based in Malaysia.

The group's core activities include construction, property development and investment, building materials, quarrying, trading and manufacturing, toll concession, higher education, healthcare, leisure, entertainment and hospitality and information technology.

Despite being a diverse enterprise , Sunway established a consolidated IT operation in 2003, called the IT shared service center (IT SSC). Built on a business partnering mindset of providing world class support services, IT SSC aims to enhance shareholders' values through the concept of standardization, consolidation and optimization of IT resources within the group.

One of the projects introduced by IT SSC is the practice of Knowledge Management (POKM). Started in March 2006, the POKM aims to consolidate resources and knowledge by creating eight key habits, which are knowledge identification, acquisition, application, sharing development, creation, prevention and measurement.

IT SSC focused on knowledge sharing and knowledge preservation. To put these two ideas into practice, the team implemented the idea management system and a learning directory.

Apart from developing a system to capture new ideas and record the lessons learned, various training sections, workshops and forums were set up to encourage the sharing of knowledge.

Through POKM, IT SSC noted the organization have not only fostered innovation, but also seen improvement in services. Response time of operations is streamlined and costs lowered by eliminating redundant processes.

British American Tobacco

Senior IT executive: Tan Kok Meng,

Head of GSD, Zone 3

Screens: Undisclosed

Website: www.bat.com

The Asia Pacific IS THE second most profitable region for British American Tobacco (BAT), after Europe. On top of being a major market, the region also hosts one of BAT's IT hubs.

BAT's global shared IT service organization, Group Service Delivery (GSD), was set up in 2001. GSD manages IT services for the group and support its operation across 130 countries. It has more than 400 employees and two-thirds of them are based in Malaysia, the hub of Zone 3.

"GSD is proud to be part of the growing shared services and outsourcing industry in Malaysia," Tan Kok Meng, head of GSD Zone 3 has said. "The nation's infrastructure and support from governing bodies, complemented by the availability of the necessary skills and competitive cost structure, had provided the impetus for us to make Malaysia our largest operational base."

GSD currently manages BAT's applications support, technical and end-user support, data center operations, global IT infrastructure, asset management, business services and project management, solutions delivery, IT security and end user help desk.

The shared services model has proven to be a success after five years. According to Tan, GSD delivers more than 60 per cent of BAT's IT services and has achieved a cumulative cost saving of US$60.4 million as at December 2006. He added GSD aims to support 100 per cent of IT services by 2009.

On top of GSD, which acts at the supply side for IT services, there's also a demand side IT organization under BAT. The demand side is smaller, but plays a more strategic role within the organization.

"This is the group that engaged with the business, they understand the business demand and try to change the solution requirement according to business demand," Tan has said. "They will then hand the implementation job over to GSD."

MIS

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