Edward Malinowski joined the Shangri-La family as our Chief Information Officer. He told us about his vision on technology and his journey with us so far.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype of new products and technologies. What are your considerations when aligning Shangri-La’s technology roadmap with the overall business strategy?
This is a tricky area. Technology can be seductive, and for some, “newest & fastest” carries an allure greater than gold. Even worse is the temptation to grab an emerging technology and attempt to build a business strategy around it; the tail should not wag the dog.
I like the word “roadmap” because it conveys a very literal and appropriate image. The strategy should begin with a question – “what business problem am I attempting to solve”, or perhaps, “what would I like the experience to be like”. In map terms, this is the destination; it is the place we circle that we are attempting to reach. Technology’s role, then, is to figure out how to get from where we are presently to where we want to go in the best fashion possible. It is the mode of transportation, and its implementation strategy is the route we are going to take. Continuing this analogy, as technology is ever-evolving, new and faster forms of transportation will appear; some of these may be vastly better than what we used before, and some may be inappropriate for the places we wish to reach. The key is to remain focused on the destination, and ensure that we are always looking for the most advantageous means to get there, not the “newest” one.
It is worth pointing out that there are cases where a piece of technology can spark ideas, concepts, or approaches that had not previously been considered. Transformative concepts are like that, they create ripples throughout industries far removed from their source. These are extraordinarily important and should be carefully considered, but again wrapped in the context of “what do I want the experience to be like”, and not embracing a technology simply for the sake of having it.
The efficiencies allowed by new technologies may mean replacement of humans in the process. How do you think this will impact the hospitality industry?
This phenomenon is called “technological unemployment”, and while it is certainly true that efficiencies gained through the use of technology can impact the number of persons required to perform a given task in a set period of time, it does not necessarily have to mean the replacement of humans. Each time we implement a system which adds efficiency, we free up some measure of a person time to do something else. Ideally, that person could do something which the current state of technology would find very difficult to do. As we know, there are lots of those sorts of things in the hospitality industry.
At Shangri-La, we talk about “hospitality from the heart”, and it sits at the core of everything we do. Machines today are quite remarkable, but they cannot (yet) empathise, they cannot feel, they cannot identify the unique needs of each guest and know the best way to offer genuine care. Automated service may be exceptionally consistent, but it is entirely without soul. Where technology best meshes with hospitality is not in seeking to replace humans, but instead, in delivering the right information via the right tools to our colleague at the right time, so that in that “actionable moment” they can create something magical for our guests. Done well, new technology in hospitality does not mean replacement of humans; it means enablement of them. (That said, when the technological singularity does finally occur, I will be among the first to welcome our new robot overlords.)
What are the technology trends you see in the next five years?
I love questions like this because they assume that technologists have crystal balls, and they fail to take into account just how long a time five years is in technology. As a simple example, five years ago this April the very first iPad was released. Think about that for a moment. Every iPad that has ever been has only existed in the past five years.
Several years ago I was asked a similar question, and I cited three major technologies as being the ones which would shape the world over the next decade: 3D printing, unmanned vehicles, and augmented reality. Already today you can have nearly any object you can imagine cast out of a variety of materials (including edible ones!) in mere minutes to hours. Drones (both amateur and professional) are becoming more common in our skies, and are responsible for amazing camera footage as well as delivery of pizzas in Russia and candy bars in Hong Kong, while the testing of unmanned cars continues on our roads. Augmented reality exists today in the form of select mobile applications, but promises to make a big leap forward later this year when Microsoft unveils the HoloLens.
Beyond developments in these areas, you should expect to see continued evolution of wearable computing devices. Today, even the most advanced of them is fairly limited by objective standards, and eventually, I think the line between “smartphone” and “wearables” will dissolve, perhaps with a series of different components (e.g. a special eyeglass, earpiece, and wristwatch replacing the smartphone). Fitness and general health awareness will continue to move into the technology space, with more diagnostics being able to be performed at home, their assessments backed by extraordinarily powerful computer farms. Our identities, including authorization and payment information, will also become intertwined with technology, with the expectation that the world around us simply recognizes these digital fingerprints without presenting to us any artificial barriers. Lastly, social interaction will also move further into the tech realm. As social creatures, I’m not certain this one is entirely to our benefit.
Which part of your job excites you most?
It’s no secret that I’m a geek and highly passionate about technology. What I love the most about my job, however, is getting to apply that passion in the creation of a memory for one of our guests. Creating a memory isn’t about putting some shiny gizmo in someone’s hands or setting off a bank of blinky lights; it’s about listening to the hundred and one things that guests said about themselves without ever having spoken a word, and setting things in place so that what they never even dreamed was possible happens for them, almost as if by magic. There is a tremendous amount of effort that goes in to something like that, and let’s face it, technologists are not typically good at “subtle”. But the challenge of it all, and the feeling I get when I know someone will always remember the experience they had at one of our hotels because of something I contributed to… that’s priceless. Having the opportunity to be a part of a moment like that is what thrills me the most about working for Shangri-La.