Choice Hotels Names CTO Best of the Best

Itís not often back-of-the-house executives get recognized for their contributions to a hotel companyís success. Choice Hotels apparently understands the important role technology plays for the company and its franchisees as it recently awarded the CEOís Best of the Best Award to Todd Davis, chief technology officer. The award recognizes company leaders who embody respect, customer focus, integrity and inclusion.

Davis, a 15-year veteran of the company, discusses the challenges and opportunities he faces managing a large and diverse IT operation:

How would you describe your management philosophy?
Iím very performance-based and customer-focused. I also believe in collaboration, including bringing in people from the outside. We donít know it all, and there are a lot of things we can learn from whatís going on, not only in the hospitality industry, but from things around information technology at different corporations.

What is the key to maximizing productivity from IT professionals? What turns them on?
It depends on the generation. We have a plethora of people here from one age group to another, so itís important for my team to understand you canít treat everyone the same. You must treat everyone as individuals, so the motivation may come in different ways.

Here at Choice, we bring functional groups together to create more consistency, and thatís helped drive higher-quality solutions and created some peer motivation among the groups. Creating more professional growth opportunities and career pathing is extremely important to people. Thatís especially important in this economy, as people want to understand where their careers are going.

What are the generational differences?
The way developers work and think differs from Generation Y to my age group. A lot of my younger people like to work in bullpens and as groups and teams with a more dynamic and agile approach. Other developers prefer to work in a waterfall approach, and since some of the systems that keep this business running are of high risk in regard to outages, this approach works better in some cases.

What is the profile of your department?
I have a property systems organization, which has a true P&L versus being just a shared IT expense. We supply all of our franchisees with their systems at a hotel level so that requires a 24/7 desk and about 250 people. Our central systems development group, which handles central reservations, customer information systems and our loyalty program, from a software development, database, systems intelligence and data warehousing. That group has another couple of hundred of people.

We serve a variety of customers, including our owners. We also have customers who interact with the systems from behind the front desk at hotels. And there is the internal staff for which we support their global infrastructure, from the phones to the network to the data centers.

What are the key technology issues ahead for Choice?
Internationalization is a big one. As a result, we need to create and ensure a stable and robust IT structure to support global growth. Weíre working toward an enterprise architecture focusing on business architecture and business processes and how they relate to our systems architecture. Itís extremely important to create a collaborative environment between IT and the business that allows IT to gain domain expertise across all business units within the organization.

What are the key technology issues from the ownersí point of view?
For many years, the philosophy of Choice has been to try to provide the best ROI possible for our franchisees. Weíre focusing a lot on rate management capabilities at the hotel level and best practices around rate management. Weíre looking at ways for owners to take advantage of the market, whether it be package or groups or other ways to drive business into their hotels.

What are the challenges that block fulfilling these goals?
Everything comes at a cost. That will be one of the challenges, but itís also a benefit of being a franchisee of Choice. Given the scale we have, we can bring these products to market for the franchisees at very good price points.

What is your background?
Iíve been at Choice for 15 years next April. Prior to Choice, I was with Electronic Data Systems here in Phoenix. Iíve been in the hospitality business for 20 years. At Cendant, I worked on its global reservations and airline systems. Iíve been involved in property management systems and central reservations systems over a number of years, both from a software development standpoint and from managing infrastructure.

I have a degree in hotel restaurant management and Iím chair of the advisory board at my alma mater, Northern Arizona University.

How do you help students thinking of a career in hotel IT?
The property management system we provide to our hotels, Choice Advantage, is a tool they in the classrooms at NAU. Companies like Choice allow the students to participate in technology used in real applications. We talk to students a lot about everything from PBXs to what you need for high-speed Internet access for the room and whatís coming down the road.

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