IHG’s Chief Tech Officer Shares ‘Missteps’ and Lessons Learned

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There were dozens of people waiting in line to speak with Dan Blanchard after his hour-long HITEC presentation, half of which was an audience Q&A. He has learned a lot over his four years as chief tech officer for IHG, and people were clearly interested in hearing about it.

IHG Hotels & Resorts was a bit too aggressive during the early days of developing its tech.

The hotel brand had a lot of ideas to test but its infrastructure couldn’t keep up, so the company had to backtrack to fix some issues. 

That was one of the lessons that Dan Blanchard, IHG chief technology officer, shared during a presentation Monday at HITEC — and in a brief discussion with Skift. He started the company’s latest tech journey after he was hired four years ago.

“​​There’s a bit of a maturity journey that we have had to go on with this. We had a lot of missteps,” Blanchard said during the presentation. 

“We stubbed our toes plenty of times, and most of that was because we got a little bit too aggressive. We went too fast in one thing or another.”

Blanchard explained how IHG had to rethink that issue and others in order to develop at the level it wanted.

Reducing Organizational Barriers

IHG’s tech infrastructure and processes weren’t in a strong enough position when Blanchard started, he said. That meant the company needed to transfer systems to the cloud, choose which tech vendors to cut, and reduce bureaucratic approvals for experimentation. 

“When I started here at IHG four years ago, I use the term that we had ‘no vendor left behind’ as our philosophy. We spent money on more vendors than you can shake a stick at,” Blanchard said. “We have limited that dramatically.” 

Standardization is key for IHG but it’ s still a work in progress. IHG is using a couple of legacy systems, but he said there’s been enough modernization to lay the groundwork for progress. Almost 60% of the company’s applications are now in the cloud, he said.

“What we found is having a set of standards is really critical for us to move fast,” Blanchard told Skift. “If we’re debating all those standards along the way, it just adds complexity to those discussions. Where we’ve seen success is where we have standards well-defined and people are using them.”

Encouraging Innovation Without Focusing on Revenue

IHG doesn’t worry so much about whether each individual tech or AI experiment generates revenue, Blanchard said.

That idea may stress out some finance-minded people, he said, but the focus has to be on the bigger picture. And defining standards — including establishing a long-term budget for tech experimentation — means IHG has more freedom to try things.

“We don’t know what [that team is] going to do beyond the next quarter … but that allows us to have a lot of flexibility, and that’s going to be really important when we start talking about meeting the needs of the next-generation traveler,” Blanchard said.

IHG released a wishlist feature on its app in September, for example. 

“It turns out this is massive. People love creating wishlists of places they want to go. And it’s very sticky: People create these wishlists, and then they book these things later,” he said.

“And there was no [return on investment plan],” he said. It was an idea from somebody on the team … They built it, and now it’s a huge hit for our customers.”    

Assuring People They Won’t Be Fired for a Failed Experiment

IHG makes a point of not using the word “project” when referring to tests in its internal tech innovation program, Blanchard said.

That’s because there’s a connotation that if a “project” fails, the employees working on it are terminated, he said. That kind of concern could stifle innovation, which includes regular failures as a part of the process. 

“People need to know that their careers are not impacted by being associated with something that didn’t work,” he told Skift. 

And encouraging experimentation in the company’s innovation program will be key for this fast-evolving tech environment, he said.

“We haven’t seen anywhere near what we will see over the course of the next several years with gen AI,” he said.

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