Choice, AWS partner for the digital future

ROCKVILLE, MD—For years, hospitality companies have been singing the praises of cloud-based applications, citing agility and efficiency as chief among their advantages. But the industry also has countless legacy systems, many of which pre-date the common use of the internet. And, given the large nature of hotel portfolios, scale often poses a challenge when it comes to implementing technology changes. But Choice Hotels International Inc. is going all in on the cloud, partnering with Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) to move all of its infrastructure to AWS, changing the landscape for its 6,900-plus hotels.

With a partnership that dates back to 2014, AWS and Choice have worked together on ChoiceEdge, which it touts as the first new GRS from a hotel company in more than 30 years. “We were proud of ChoiceEdge, and we’ve finished all integrations,” said Brian Kirkland, chief technology officer, Choice Hotels. “We also rolled out our cloud-based property management system and our data analytics platform. Everything greenfield we’ve had the past couple of years has been deployed in the cloud.

“If you look at the industry and where digital transformation is happening, where our guests and franchisees are going, those legacy systems the whole industry is built on were not made to meet that demand,” he continued. “We’re looking to modernize our platform and move a lot of our systems out of the data center, really targeting getting everything into the cloud as soon as possible, so we can start leveraging the technology, tools and services available in the cloud [to]focus on providing value for our guests.”

As part of this transformation, more than 1,000 applications will be migrated to AWS over the next two to three years. “We broke our ecosystem into a bunch of buckets and phases over the next couple of years to make sure that it’s actually sequenced right and wouldn’t be a risk or burden on our guests or franchisees in the process,” Kirkland said. “We spent the last five or six months strategizing around how we’ll execute this. And we came up with the six Rs of our migration—retaining, retiring, rehosting, replatforming, refactoring or replacing. Each application is being looked at independently for the right landing outcome for that system, and that’s why it takes a bit of time to do—making sure we land correctly.”

For instance, Kirkland said, if Choice can leverage a technology that’s already available in the cloud without the team needing to maintain the software, then it would make sense to retire the application. “For quite a few, we’re looking at doing a replatforming or refactoring,” he said. “It depends on the state of the system, how old the system is, what makes sense for the future. With ChoiceEdge, for example, we could have chosen to move our legacy mainframe into the cloud; it would’ve never taken advantage of the scalability or the performance capabilities of the cloud, so we chose to completely refactor and replatform and, to be honest, rebuild from the ground up. That same kind of analysis is going through each of the applications.”

Choice is also taking advantage of Amazon’s knowledge, particularly when it comes to advances like machine learning; the company has teamed with Amazon ML Solutions Lab to identify uses for machine learning across its business. “The sky is the limit,” Kirkland said. “We are, as an industry, starting to reach that plateau where people understand what machine learning is but may not see the tangible benefits, and I think that has a lot to do with making sure you’re not just chasing shiny objects, that you’re looking at what will drive ROI for guests and franchisees.

“We look at machine learning for a few different areas,” he continued. “On the operations side, we’re using machine learning and AI to monitor our systems and systems health, and look at what trend analysis says should be happening and what is actually happening. And, if there’s an anomaly, decide what to do; it can be anything from turning on and off partners, to scaling up and down servers—whatever action we can automate that makes sense out of the data and what it tells us. On the other side of the equation, can you use that same machine learning to apply personalization activities around a guest journey in a way that’s meaningful to them and helps with conversion, with getting customers to feel at home with Choice and want to repeat their business with us? There’s different solutions in the franchisee space, the guest space and the operational space, and each one, you have to be careful to make sure you’re targeting something with real ROI around it, and then focusing your efforts around driving that initiative, instead of just chasing generic machine learning capabilities.”

And that’ll be important for the future. “The world is transforming drastically,” he said, pointing to technologies like AI, virtual assistants, augmented reality and blockchain, and how they could potentially alter the hospitality environment. “Our pivot to the cloud and AWS is really about making sure we can react and move quickly. We’ve already seen with ChoiceEdge being on the cloud that we can deliver much faster and much more iteratively than we could previously on our old mainframe systems, so getting the rest of our legacy platforms onto the cloud is about enabling us to move faster and be ready and positioned better for those futures as they become real.” HB

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