A Q&A with Darrin Pinkham, Chief Technology Officer of theWit, a Doubletree Hotel.
Even in a city known for its architecture, theWit – A Doubletree Hotel in Chicago, Illinois stands out, thanks in no small part to the neon green lightning bolt down the exterior facade. It is a design element that boldly proclaims something even more interesting is going on inside. Indeed, theWit is one of the most technologically advanced hotels in the world.
At the heart of theWit is an IP-based infrastructure powered by NEC Univerge IP Solutions that enhances the guest experience. In guest rooms, temperature adjusts automatically through sensors that detect the space a guest is occupying and moves the energy accordingly to warm or cool. In public spaces, atmosphere is programmed via carefully selected audio — birds chirp during the day, crickets each night.
In-room VoIP color touch screen phones connect guests with information such as weather updates, flight status, and hotel services without any human-to-human interaction. Each staff member carries an iPhone or an iPod Touch, so when a guest needs an extra pillow or bag pick up, an alert goes from the guest room phone to theWit staffer that is closest. As a result, the request is fulfilled faster.
But this isn’t just technology for technology’s sake. Everything has a purpose. To better understand those purposes, we caught up with Darrin Pinkham, Chief Technology Officer for the hotel, and got a sneak peek at the technologies that theWit’s parent company, Hilton, will roll out in the years to come.
What inspired the technology strategy at theWit?
This concept & creativity began with the vision of its founder & creator, Scott Greenberg, as he wanted something unlike other hotels that were being built at the time. His goal was to employ some of the latest technology: converged networking, VoIP display phone system, IPTV guest room entertainment, RFIP & ZigBee wireless solutions, Internet everywhere, and wireless. We also wanted a completely redundant architecture when creating the computer room/MDF/heart of the technology operations, so there wouldn’t be any downtime at the property.
theWit is pretty cutting edge. Do you think other hotels will catch up anytime soon?
The hospitality industry has always been a step behind when it comes to technology for its guests and what guests are expecting. We have seen a few properties with similar types of technology since the opening of theWit, but very few have the vision to carry out these solutions due to the constraints in our current financial economy and long term IT infrastructure requirements.
As technology executives, we must always look at ways to make the technology installed work for all demographic groups within our industry. Many say the guest room phone will go away, but they might just be replaced with something that does many other functions – like direct ring down to service personnel, a message console, local alerts, music player, and so on.
What’s next for theWit?
We continue to look at the latest technology solutions, like using the iPad – maybe in every guest room – as well as IPTV and catered content to each guest’s specific needs (Netflix, Hulu, language requirements, etc.).
We’re looking at other wireless solutions, so we can continue to look forward at the technology that will improve the business intelligence requirements of our guests.
And, on the subject of charging for WiFi?
My philosophy is simple; it costs money to provide, so create a model that works for your property and it’s competitive set. Hotels should always provide top quality wireless & wired internet coverage to all locations, and then provide a minimum bandwidth for free, say 256k-bps; then offer tiers of bandwidth choices that can be paid on a usage basis. This way you don’t cannibalize your full pipe of Internet services and can continue to provide this for whoever wants or needs this service, which is really everyone these days.