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12/2/2010
01:30 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Hilton CIO: Idea To iPad App In 90 Days

When 2,500 Hilton hotel owners from around the world came to the U.S. for the annual meeting in October, they got more than a conference badge and tote bag at registration. They got an iPad.

Pretty nice tchotchke, right? Hilton Worldwide CIO Robert Webb's goal was to make it about more than glitz, of course. He wanted to show off two custom-built apps and demonstrate to owners how the tablet and mobile computing could change the hotel guest experience.

One was a virtual concierge app, through which guests could order room service, ask for a car from valet parking, book tee times, and get information about the area. The second was a collaboration app for the owners. It showed photos and bios of the attendees, and let them exchange messages and arrange in-person meet-ups.

Webb says it was only about 90 days before the meeting that Hilton leadership decided to do the iPad project. In that time, the team had to equip the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where the event was held, for higher-speed wireless broadband than any of its hotels in the country. They needed to write the two apps. And they had to provision 2,500 personalized iPads in one day.

For that, Webb's team converted the Waldorf Astoria's bar into something like a traveling Genius Bar, where staff took a picture, added it to the iPad, and quickly showed the owners how the apps worked. For the infrastructure and app development, Hilton worked with Accenture, IBM, AT&T, and a few smaller vendors with specialized skills in iPad app development.

Now, Webb is expanding Hilton's iPad use in three areas. One is corporate, with 350-plus senior executives getting iPads and IT piloting business intelligence on the devices for operations reporting. Second is with hotel owners, as a way of sharing operating and customer information with them. Last is with guests. Webb believes the iPad and other tablets could be used for "next-generation in-room entertainment" and allow new kinds of interactions with guests, such as the virtual concierge.

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