Mobile // Mobile Applications
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3/4/2010
12:45 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO Quick Take: Cisco TelePresence Shaping Next-Gen Hotels

TelePresence suites help Starwood Hotels innovate today and be relevant to the tech-immersed business travelers of tomorrow.

Anyone who doubts IT's ability to dramatically alter, disrupt, and enhance well-entrenched business models, take note: Starwood Hotels has opened the first of 10 Cisco TelePresence suites in its properties around the world, further redefining what "meeting" means in our tech-driven world.

From a Cisco press release touting the opening on Tuesday of TelePresence facilities at Starwood hotels in Chicago and Sydney:

"The launch of the new Cisco TelePresence meeting suites at the W Chicago and Sheraton on the Park Sydney is another example of Starwood's commitment to innovation by offering our clients an exciting, new meetings solution that facilitates a 'face-to-face' meeting in the same room regardless of global location," said Christie Hicks, Senior Vice President of Global Sales for Starwood.

Wait a minute: do TelePresence meetings really qualify as "face-to-face" meetings? Well, Starwood and Cisco hedge their bets in the comment above by putting single quotation marks around 'face-to-face,' meaning, I guess, that it's kinda/sorta 'face-to-face' but not really face-to-face.

Linguistics aside, however, the real point is that Starwood has taken a huge leap in recognizing that the mission of its business hotels is to facilitate and enhance the flow of business, and not necessarily to limit that scope to having physical bodies inside its properties. This is a terrific bit of courageous and innovative thinking from Starwood, which clearly acknowledged that if new technologies and evolving customer preferences are going to have an impact on its revenue, better to go the cannibal route than have some outsider jump in and sweep up the new business while Starwood is left in the past.

In addition, this move by Starwood shows a very appropriate level of foresight as it begins to build out an extended range of tech-driven business services that the next generation of business travelers will surely want:

"As the world and the hotel industry grow increasingly more global, Starwood is continuing their legacy of innovation and looking at tomorrow's travelers and how they want to meet. There is also an increasing demand to incorporate technology, virtual meetings and social media into new meeting offerings from the next generation of business travelers," the Cisco press release says.

And while this next comment from a Cisco executive is a bit self-serving, look past that puffery and focus on the real point of what he's saying, which breaks down into a series of interrelated points: technology continues to change what people can do; people will use those new capabilities to become more productive and to reduce friction in their daily lives; as the availability of those new technologies proliferates, profound changes in people's behavior will ensue; and companies that anticipate and move with or even ahead of those shifting behaviors will be the winners. Here's the Cisco comment:

"More businesses are recognizing the value of being able to rent Cisco TelePresence facilities by the hour, either to extend their existing deployment to further locations or to experience Cisco TelePresence for the first time. Having meeting facilities in a comfortable setting with access to business services at times that fit individuals' schedule can help to take some of the grind out of traveling. The value of public suites facilities increases exponentially as more rooms from more providers come on stream, so today's announcement represents another key milestone in making these facilities more practical for business," said Mark Weidick, VP/GM for Cisco's TelePresence Exchange Business Unit. (End of Cisco comment.)

And to make it as easy as possible for travelers/customers to use and pay for the 'face-to-face' experiences, Starwood has teamed with Tata Communications to create an online portal that allows businesspeople to reserve TelePresence facilities and pay for them with major credit cards. In addition to its TelePresence affiliation with Starwood, Tata Communications also offers public rooms in several cities in India, as well as in London, Boston, and several other large cities around the world.

From the press release, here's a Tata comment from Peter Quinlan, director of managed TelePresence services:

"We hope that through this partnership with Starwood, even more business executives can take advantage of the productivity this technology offers and save on costs that can be invested in their core competencies (emphasis added). We intend to make telepresence available to as many users as possible with our global network of public telepresence rooms and our suite of managed telepresence network services for businesses."

There's a lesson here for all of us: don't be surprised by what the future does to you—instead, start shaping it right now. And to help shape your thinking, here are a few more Global CIO pieces about disruptive business models.

Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

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