The budget hotel chain is digitalizing differently in different countries. In France, it relies on a classic organization with separate “build” and “run” teams. In other countries, a single team oversees hosted services. Each organization has its advantages and disadvantages,” explains the group’s CIO. But the cloud is gaining more and more support.
Jean-Jacques Loehac Chief Information Officer of B&B Hotels
How do you organize your IT services?
Jean-Jacques Loehac: Our organization is somewhat atypical. B&B Hotels is present in seven European countries and each country is autonomous in terms of its information system. As a result, we have very few cross-functional IT applications for the entire group. In 2014, however, we decided to unify our messaging and business-to-business communication tools by switching to Google Apps. It had become too expensive and complicated to maintain a different messaging suite for each country. This unification has simplified things and reduced our network costs.
Apart from this project, each country is carrying out its digital transformation in its own way. This is the case, for example, for online reservation services, developed differently in each country with local partners. In the end, the group’s IT department, for which I am responsible, has a relatively limited operational role. I am in contact with the CIOs of the different countries to help them in their developments. But there are different projects from one country to another. In terms of staffing, the IT teams are fairly small, with, for example, about 15 people in France, 10 in Germany and one consultant in Italy.
From one country to another, how are digital transformation projects conducted, particularly with regard to reservation systems?
J-J L: There are two approaches. Outside of France, we have migrated most of our information systems to cloud services that are fully hosted by partners. The role of the IT department is therefore mainly to manage requests for service evolution and to ensure that the service-level agreement (SLA) is respected. This cloud approach frees up a lot of time for IT teams to work on other projects. This is a good formula for smaller CIOs.
In France, we have a more traditional approach. We built a centralized reservation service from the existing systems, which were specific to each hotel. In concrete terms, we added a communication layer between the systems so that they work together. This work was carried out according to the “build” and “run” principle with two separate teams.
I understand and appreciate DevOps-type approaches where the same teams do the whole project. But I also see a benefit in separating the development and production teams. Each team can thus validate the work of its collaborators in complete neutrality, without being judge and jury. But of course, a minimum number of people is needed to be able to organize in two teams.
In your opinion, which approach best reconciles the challenges of digital transformation with the daily constraints of IT production?
J-J L: We haven’t had to deplore any strong opposition between the “build” and “run” teams in France. They were able to work together very efficiently. But I know that this type of approach can sometimes lead to difficulties when there is poor coordination between the teams or if one team takes the lead over the other.
The cloud approach also generates difficulties, as there can be a feeling of being relieved of some of its responsibilities by the production teams. They do not necessarily look favorably on outsourcing the management and maintenance of their IS to a partner. Their role is evolving and becoming essentially supervisory. So there are pros and cons to both approaches.
However, I believe that the cloud, and more broadly hosted computing, is the future. This mechanically reconciles the challenges of digital transformation with the constraints of IT production. Hosting services with a partner will also outsource the main technical constraints to that partner. This does not mean that there is nothing more to do. There is always supervision to be provided, focused on the management of providers. But there are no longer, a priori, problems with storage, network, updates, etc. This frees up time for IT teams to work together more easily on complex projects, including those related to digital transformation.