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Blake says the problem accelerates, for example, when a major Hyatt property is hosting 3,000 meeting attendees, with a meeting planner or administrative assistant often booking a room on an attendee's behalf. "I can't prevent your secretary from emailing me a credit card number," says Blake. "As good a job as Microsoft does with email, I'm still not comfortable with credit card numbers floating through my email system."
As a result, Blake recently made the rounds in Silicon Valley, meeting with companies such as Symantec, McAfee and Proofpoint in search of a data-loss-prevention solution that will protect those emailed credit card numbers and other sensitive information. He says he wants something in place well before the end of 2012, and he expects to spend in "the low single-digit millions" to make it happen.
Blake expects to save a similar amount each year via hotel-level server virtualization, another 2012 investment priority. Most of Hyatt's 468 hotels have between four and 15 servers running on-premise systems that control things such as parking, door locks and minibars, and Blake says he sees no reason he can't cut server maintenance costs in half for each property. "A typical big hotel has 15 physical servers on premise, and we think with a virtual model that 15 could go down to three," says Blake. The savings would come in the form of reduced maintenance costs, and Blake is working with Dell, Hyatt's outsourced support-desk provider, to determine the right virtualization strategy--and vendor--for consolidating those servers as effectively as possible.
Blake has more in mind than battening down the hatches: He also wants to deliver increased business agility by modernizing Hyatt's reservations system, one of only two legacy applications remaining in the company (the other being group sales). Blake says the system has reached the end of its useful life, which presents him with this conundrum for 2012: Should he have his staff rewrite the app, port it to another platform or turn it over to a cloud-based vendor?
Normally, he says, his preference "is to buy as opposed to build." But none of the available alternatives on the market are as ready as he'd like them to be, cloud-based or not, and Blake has no desire to have his programmers rewrite millions of lines of code. So, he's decided to go with none of the above and is, instead, looking to squeeze a bit more out of the existing application, thus buying Hyatt some time in the hope that a cloud-based reservations solution will be available by 2013.
For example, Blake is having his staff build localization into the system so that users outside of North America can enter and review reservations data in their native language. But he's also aware that such tweaks can only go so far. "There's probably another year's worth of tuning, and then we'll have to figure out exactly what we're going to do," says Blake.
That decision likely will be pushed into the 2013 budget season, which executives at Hyatt, Psomas and Schumacher no doubt hope will arrive amid sunnier economic skies. Then again, with CIOs who all clearly have their eyes on the future, each of these companies is likely to continue balancing cost-cutting measures with forward-looking IT investments--recovery or not.