The five minute CIO: Mojtaba Akbari

24 Feb 2012

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Mojtaba Akbari, head of IT at the K Club

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Welcome to a new series of exclusive interviews on Siliconrepublic.com, where we learn the thoughts of Ireland’s IT leaders on tech trends and strategy. This week we talk to Mojtaba Akbari, who is head of IT at the K Club.

Host of the 2006 Ryder Cup, the K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare, is also home to a 69-room and suite AA Five Red Star hotel, spa, swimming pool and health club, two full championship golf courses with a clubhouse, along with 197 private residences, all set upon a 550-acre site of woodland, lakes and grassland.

How big is your organisation?

Almost 120 users across five fibre-linked buildings.

What are the typical applications you use?

The resort comprises accommodation, restaurants, retail outlets, spa and golf facilities, each of which has its own software. We have around 40 applications: some as simple as Exchange, Active Directory, payroll and GPS tracking system or as complex as our PMS (Property Management System), which is our main business application.

On the hotel and golf side, SynXis is our Central Reservation System which seamlessly integrates with our in-house PMS – Opera of MICROS-Fidelio – which provides us with a holistic view of our revenue.

How would you describe your own approach to IT?

As the head of IT, the job that I have is to streamline the technology process and simplify operations for the management.

Technology is moving forward much faster than hotels have the ability to drive themselves, and it is my job therefore to look at, and be informed by, what is happening in the technology market for hospitality.

The goal is the ability to provide technology solutions that enable interactive possibilities between guests’ personal devices, ensuring those devices can be used as effectively as they would at home.

Do you see your role primarily as a technical one or a business one?

I would see it a mixture of business and tech, but it’s mainly business. Unlike a couple of years ago, where IT was seen simply as a cost, we have changed that approach for IT to be considered a facilitator and a tool to simplify the business procedures by removing barriers between hotel technology, marketing and other operations.

What is your main IT project for this year?

We have already seen a huge decline in telephone revenues and soon in-room revenues, hence what might be a long-term project is upgrading our telecoms infrastructure to a unified communication solution, making it more adaptable and also to generate revenue through smart UC marketing in the rooms, and that is the OpEx model in terms of repayments for such projects.

Investing in renewable energy would be another project going on from 2011. Energy-saving projects are always interesting and paybacks can easily be seen. We are also reviewing the licence schemes for the 40 applications we’ve in place, to see where we can benefit.

What IT initiative are you most proud of?

Virtualisation, which was about reducing costs and complexity of hardware management, would be a good example. The main savings were in reducing our energy costs. We hired an external energy company to monitor our 22 servers and compared it to the model that we were bringing to the board.

We had a €105,000 annual cost for those servers in terms of power, cooling and maintenance. The annual cost of running just two ESX servers to host 22 virtual machines was about €6,000 over five years so it was around €90,000 saving, even considering that the energy rate is going up every year.

What has been the hardest challenge since you took your current role?

Sometimes, the difficulty in the hospitality sector is that IT is not seen as a revenue generator but mostly as a cost. The hardest challenge was to change that culture.

What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?

Cloud computing would be one of the best inventions for hoteliers because they can upscale and downscale depending on demand for the time of year.

What’s your opinion of tablets: cool toys, or a useful part of your IT toolkit?

You don’t have to give your sales director a laptop that could cost €3,000 once you take in insurance and the other charges; you give them an iPad that can do the same job easily. It makes a lot of sense to bring such technologies on board.

Outsource or in-house IT?

We try to keep things in-house as much as possible and to get help only when required. If there are resources available, there’s no need to have external consultants. When we do get help, we try to pick the best that matches our own mission.

When you go external, do you prefer indigenous IT service companies or the multinationals?

We’ve no interest in the names. They might give you some comfort, but we look at any business that could help our business, regardless of the brand. We try to use domestic companies and so far we have, even when we try to buy the smallest stuff.