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Best Western: Scrappy Digital Transformation


I recently wrote an article for Forbes on Best Western Hotels and Resorts’ digital transformation efforts. For this article I interviewed its Chief Digital Officer Greg Adams and Chief Marketing Officer Dorothy Dowling.

There were two sides to this digital transformation story. The most visible: its customer-facing efforts, including virtual reality as part of an overhaul of its web presence. But behind the scenes, its digital transformation was even more significant.

This two-sided digital effort is a common pattern: flashy tech in the hands of customers, while dull, old back-office IT does the grunt work. However, in the case of Best Western, Adams was not about to let his department follow Gartner’s dangerous bimodal advice and let it slow IT. Instead, he began transforming the IT shop on his first day.

What Adams found when he joined Best Western was an IT organization made up of many senior people, many of whom had been with the company ten years or more. This team focused on maintaining legacy systems and working on back office technology like human resources applications.

Bringing a customer focus was Adams’ first order of business. Fortunately, Best Western’s existing culture facilitated this change in focus, as it had a solid focus on its members – the independent hotels and resorts that feature the Best Western brand. His staff was committed to these members, so when he asked them to change their processes and focus on customers, he found a willing audience.

First, he shifted HR to cloud-based Workday and instead brought mobile and web development in-house. Along with these changes in focus, Adams also instituted Agile software development practices – not all at once, but gradually rolling them out over the course of a few years.

Furthermore, all of these changes took place on a tight budget – much less than the budgets of larger competitors like Hilton and Marriott. In fact, both Adams and Dowling described Best Western as “scrappy” – being able to get the job done with limited resources.

This scrappiness also applied to how Adams’ team dealt with its legacy technology issues. It didn’t have the ability to carelessly throw away resources, so modernization of older technology wasn’t a given. Instead, the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applied.

As a result, Best Western doesn’t fit into a clear bimodal pattern. True, it has older technology alongside newer mobile and web efforts as well as cloud-based applications – but organizationally Adams made a point of moving everybody forward together as a single team.

Overcoming Challenges

The Best Western technology organization faced some bumps in the road. It had to rebuild its web site from the ground up, and even today, changes to the site are difficult and time-consuming, as it doesn’t have a content management system to facilitate managing and updating web-based content.

Furthermore, Best Western’s mobile web site introduced last fall was also a throw-away, as the new responsive site won’t be ready until later in 2016. To get ready for this change, Adams’ team implemented Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), exposing legacy application assets via RESTful interfaces.

Abstracting legacy functionality in this manner is an important enabler of Best Western’s omnichannel strategy. From the consumer perspective, web, mobile, call center, and in-person interactions with the brand must form a single, coherent channel. The applications that support these various touchpoints can access the same functionality and data via RESTful services.

In addition, Adams emphasized the importance of digital performance in the technology his team put in front of customers. Even though some of the web-based capabilities were essentially cobbled together, performance remained paramount, both in terms of speed as well as availability.

Best Western’s reliance on Dynatrace is an essential part of this performance story – and Best Western has repeatedly won performance awards as a result. In fact, Adams’ Dynatrace implementation sends out an email every morning, reviewing the overall digital performance from the day before – an email Adams says helps them keep focus on performance, and hence the customer experience itself.

The Intellyx Take

Best Western exemplifies what it means to take a scrappy approach to digital transformation: focus on what’s important, and avoid everything else.

This scrappiness begins with its customers, which is why digital performance is so important. Maintaining that performance while refocusing the IT organization and dealing with legacy systems is a dual-sided challenge Best Western has been able to meet.

It’s also important to keep in mind that while the consumers that stay at its properties are of paramount importance, the member companies who are Best Western’s immediate customers are every bit as critical to the success of the company.

Digital, therefore, is more than simply web and mobile. It’s an end-to-end challenge that supports member companies as well as end-users, while connecting to legacy systems of record as the IT organization continues to update those systems – all the while maintaining better digital performance than much larger competitors.

If scrappy Best Western can achieve such levels of digital success with limited resources, there’s no excuse for other companies, especially those with larger budgets. In fact, Best Western’s tight purse strings helped them maintain the focus so important for digital initiatives – an important lesson for any digital initiative.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Dynatrace is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, none of the other organizations mentioned in this paper are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this article.