Bringing Customer Experience And Business Channel Development Together With IT

As one of the largest hospitality companies in the world, Marriott has over 3,500 lodging properties in the U.S. and 69 other countries and territories, and a daily workload of over 750,000 new reservations. Transaction throughput must be rapid, unfailing and 24/7. If problems arise, failover must be swift and absolute. Simultaneously, business intelligence systems must be able to "right fit" pricing and accommodations for customers during transactions--and the systems must have the ability to e

May 24, 2011

4 Min Read
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As one of the largest hospitality companies in the world, Marriott has over 3,500 lodging properties in the U.S. and 69 other countries and territories, and a daily workload of over 750,000 new reservations. Transaction throughput must be rapid, unfailing and 24/7. If problems arise, failover must be swift and absolute.

Simultaneously, business intelligence systems must be able to "right fit" pricing and accommodations for customers during transactions--and the systems must have the ability to extend the "reach" of Marriott's reservation community from the company-hosted Website and systems to the Websites and systems of worldwide channel partners that sell Marriott reservations along with other services.

"One of our goals is to increase the number of distribution channels for our inventory," said Misha Kravchenko, Vice President, Global Enterprise Mainframe Systems for Marriott International. "As the Internet continues to take off, there are more and more niche players, such as travel agencies, that do the bookings. This is the "long tail" of our distribution network, and we want to be a part of this."

Marriott also wants to optimize the customer experience. This means not only instantaneous order fulfillment at any time and from any point, but also best pricing for any given location, coupled with the ability for Marriott Rewards customers to capitalize on the special qualities of that relationship. It also wants to optimize occupancy rates for its accommodations.

As part of the effort, an average of 1,500 transactions per second are processed, offering multi-lingual capability to customers in both single-byte format and the double-byte format that is used for Asian languages that employ ideographic characters. Ninety-nine percent of all transactions take less than one second, regardless of where you are in the world. "Many of these transactions come in through Internet threads that are parallel-processed," said Kravchenko. "We've seen an eighteen percent jump in Internet shopping over the past year, and we expect that trend to continue."Here's how the parallel processing works:
At the time that the customer is shopping, the customer reservation transaction is simultaneously run on an IBM zEnterprise system with business intelligence software that looks at member status, inventory status and dynamic pricing models. Factors considered include whether the customer is staying over on a Wednesday night or through a weekend, and whether the customer is a Marriott Rewards Platinum member. On the room inventory side, systems also consider whether rooms in the area the customer is requesting lodging for are in an under- or over-sold status. All of this system intelligence comes together in a "best price, best yield" scenario for both Marriott and the customer in less than one second. "The goal is to book inventory down to the last room available to maximize yield," said Kravchenko. We can expeditiously do this from a centralized reservations system, no matter where in the world the reservation is requested."

Marriott also wants to make it simple and inexpensive for channel partners to connect with Marriott's central systems. "In the past, this process was labor-intensive and high cost, because we had to effect these connections serially, with each business partner," said Kravchenko. "We were able to drastically reduce both the costs and the timeframes for on-boarding new channel partners by migrating to an SOA (service-oriented architecture) paradigm for software and converting our application transactions into open XML (extensible markup language) components. This allows for the actual translation of in-coming channel partner transactions, which is performed in real time on IBM DataPower appliances."

Kravchenko noted that the change to a SOA-based solution wasn't easy. "It required an upfront investment in software that ported legacy application code to XML, but we also had to go through the process of parsing the original application code and then moving it to the XML format. This required intense testing, but the resulting code is fully reusable and has in fact become a key leverage point for helping us to continue to reduce our costs in the future. We also can now expedite adding new channel partners because we are no longer working with bilateral interfaces."

Marriott is continuing to expand its product offerings throughout the world, which also means continuing to add hotels, channel partners and brands on a worldwide scale. It backs this business expansion with agile, highly reliable computing constructed around rapid and intelligent transaction processing. "We plan to continue to add computing capacity as we need it, but meanwhile, we are seeing enormous efficiencies in our IT infrastructure, and we are also leveraging the 64-bit architecture," said Kravchenko. "As a global company, we have to have a 24/7 operation that not only positions us for growth, but also for the delivery of richer functionality. To be able to continue to scale out our supply chain of business channels, we must have viable platforms to do this with, combined with vendor-supplied software and hardware that enhance the IT value proposition for our business."

See more on this topic by subscribing to Network Computing Pro Reports Strategy: Bringing APM to the Cloud (subscription required).

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