American Hotel Register’s Digital Transformation

No company or industry is exempt from digital disruption. However, charting a course through today’s radically changing IT environment can challenge even the savviest business and IT leaders. At American Hotel Register, a 150-year old hospitality firm that supplies furniture, shampoos, towels, cleaning supplies and other products to major hotel chains, health care organizations, military lodging institutions and others, the need to advance and evolve had become glaringly apparent.

The company had long relied on a legacy ERP system to manage the business. While functional, it couldn’t deliver a level of digital integration required for the current business environment. “We had to introduce greater automation and efficiencies than the existing enterprise software could deliver,” states Lee Boyce, chief financial officer and senior vice president at American Hotel Register. The global firm handles more than 50,000 products. “Our ERP infrastructure is our backbone,” he explains.

Boyce arrived at the company in October 2015. His credentials included a 20-year stint at Kraft Foods, where he became CFO for the firm’s beverage unit. While there, he worked with the enterprise CIO to tackle a major SAP ERP implementation. So, when he landed at American Hotel Register, the firm’s CIO there tapped him again. Boyce was asked to aid in the data integration process, spot gaps, build out an IT leadership team and develop a strategic roadmap. “It may be a cliché, but today’s technology is disruptive and it touches every corner of the enterprise,” he says.

The firm is the market leader in the hospitality goods space. However, “We recognized that we had to evolve. We wanted to drive a more innovative approach and a better experience for customers,” Boyce explains. “We needed functionality like real-time reporting and predictive analytics to generate value for our customers and ourselves.” The challenges were magnified by enormous data sets, including unstructured data, he adds.

The SAP S/4HANA project launched shortly after Boyce’s arrival. The highly collaborative approach between the CIO and CFO has paid dividends. “Over the last two years, we moved from blueprint to a live system,” he says. Although the platform now delivers real-time reports and some predictive analytics, the disruptive nature of the marketplace has meant that the company can’t stand still. American Hotel Register recognized a need to upgrade the company’s e-commerce system and further boost analytics insight. “We want to use AI and machine learning to understand what products to promote and which groups of products customers are likely to desire. We want to be able to optimize the portfolio of products offers to the specific customer.”

The company is also investing in complementary technologies, including a new enterprise data warehouse — and it is now eyeing robotic process automation. Boyce says the biggest challenges have been cultural, including getting siloed groups and data connected. “We want to become more agile and scale better globally,” Boyce says. “The way we approach business and IT is very different than in the past. The way people access and use data is very different. This is the largest investment we have ever made as a company. The aim is to transform the company and the industry.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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