Technology is often not the answer to telecommunications problems in the hospitality industry, according to Accor director of telecommunications, Kyle Stubbs.
She should know as she is responsible for the successful operation of multiple applications across Accor’s wide range of brands from budget to five-star accommodation in Australia and New Zealand, including its carrier services, PABXs, contact centre for reservations, cost accounting for guest billing and centralised management. In her current role at Accor Asia Pacific she is directly responsible for more than 250 hotels and business units in Australia/New Zealand/French Polynesia/Fiji and Japan and a resource to Asia and whoever else needs assistance.
A trade-based telecommunications engineer, if there is such a thing, with a degree in fine arts and PR, Kyle is well-known for taking an unorthodox approach to solving telecommunications challenges in large hotel chains and is a sought-after speaker on the world stage.
She has addressed conferences such as HOT11 at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre last March, the Alcatel Lucent Dynamic Enterprise Tours in Paris last October and the HospitalityTech 2009 at The Palace Hotel, Old Town, Dubai and has addressed ATUG and many more.
“In finding solutions, everything must be reviewed with people, process and product in front of mind,” she said during a recent interview with AMG at the Accor Vacation Club building in Robina on the Gold Coast where she was scoping the telecommunications and IT set- up for a building consolidation. Wearing a tailor’s tape measure around her neck, she had been going over the building using a not-to-scale plan looking for somewhere to put a door to extend the comms room.
“I’ve been photographing walls and looking for the structural pillars and beams so that I do not upset the integrity of the building,” she said. “I’ve spent my day crawling around double- checking port numbers. I will be doing the same for the Novatel Auckland Airport next month.
So now we are discussing whether we can get easement access written into the contracts for the strata so I won’t have to demolish a door for a ramp.
“Lots of things can be solved contractually to get different infrastructure, but you have to work hard to find solutions, everything is earned. Things just don’t appear in your hand.”
A problem generally finds its way to Kyle by word-of mouth.
“So it is getting to the very root cause and often it is misunderstanding or mis-education on how equipment works,” she said. “A lot of the time there are fundamental technology problems with hardware and software but everything has the potential to be part of the solution: the users, software hardware and cabling. I am daily explaining how stuff works to people and I am happy to do it and share the knowledge.
“Trouble shooting and triage are an art. I can work on things for months with a dogmatic determination of never give up, never surrender, as was said on Galaxy Quest the other night.
I haven’t found a problem I haven’t been able to fix. I am a plumber basically, a technology plumber.”
In Accor, Mitch Williams is the IT manager, Richard Rosak, the applications manager and Kyle the telecommunications manger.
“Mitch is the taps, Richard is the water and I am the pipes,” she said. “It’s lovely working with the calibre of people like them. Applications get pushed over the network infrastructure over the pipes that we have connected together.”
With buildings up to 95 years old in the Accor stable, Kyle often has to find unusual solutions.
“In some older places I have found speaker wires – and they want me to install IT over it,” she said. “I’m not a fan of recabling so you have got to be a bit more patient and sometimes wait for the technology to adapt to the situation at hand.
“We have now found devices that will allow us to put high- speed internet over two pair, coax – it would be nice to simply have cat six and fibre everywhere, but you have to have those things to start with. There is no one size fits all, especially not in Accor.”
Kyle loves hospitality and its people. She says she isn’t in it for the money but the perks are good.
“It was never about the money. I wouldn’t be in hospitality for the money or the hours, but I do love hospitality people. They are an extraordinarily generous group and it is nice to be somebody who can do something for them,” she said. “I actually don’t travel that much because my world is virtual, but there are some things that you actually cannot do and have to go and see.
“However, I tend to think that whatever money I am using to get there could be used to get the project done. I think that’s just the country girl in me. If it’s the difference between enabling a receptionist to check you in 10 minutes faster or me having a junket, it’s the 10 minutes faster that takes priority.
“However, when I do travel or am on holidays, I will always go and look at the infrastructure.”
Her cross-divisional responsibilities involve IT&T, construction and procurement, specialising in design and construct of internal cable networks Class D, E and fibre, installing TDM PABX and IP PABX systems, MATV, DVOD, HSIA, CCTV, access control, digital signage, system peripherals and interfaced equipment such as voicemail, call accounting, IVR, auto attendant, all facets of mobility, contract negotiations, carrier and vendor management, innovation and solution architecture.
“I do believe I am one of the only dedicated telecommunications experts in a hotel group in this area but with Accor being the size it is, it makes sense,” she said. “Any of our franchisees can get me on the phone and get things done.”
And the best thing about her job: “One of the things I love is the trust and respect I have and being known as someone who can be relied upon in any instance who will come back with an honest answer or a resolution.
“And I still can’t believe I get paid for seeing my country of birth and a fair bit of the world. I started speaking at conferences after a gentleman asked me to join a panel. I could hear my knees knocking I was so scared, but you find your voice in front of your peers although it was quite daunting.
“That has snowballed and I started to speak a lot. I have never been paid for speaking as I get flown there and accommodated but I get plenty of out it personally.”
Born into telecommunications
Kyle Stubbs often has to pinch herself to believe her dream job is real.
“I don’t know how I managed to get myself into a position where somebody pays me to see the world and pretty much do what I like,” she said but telecommunications was always in her blood.
“Dad was the Bombala (in southeast NSW) town water supply operator and a plumber, gasfitter and turner by trade so I spent my life lagging pipes and digging trenches. I could wield an oxyacetylene torch at nine – I was his son, which was fantastic because he taught me everything I know.
“I wouldn’t have such incredible sense of dogged determination and curiosity if I hadn’t been raised in the middle of nowhere with nothing but my imagination.”
Her grandfather spent 33 years in the former PMG in charge of cable in NSW and she had three great uncles who were PMG engineers.
“My dad got me into wiring stereo components when I was young so I have never been afraid of cables or soldering irons or any of that sort of stuff.
Telecommunication came quite naturally because I like to communicate and I like all the technology behind it so it was like a marriage of the forces. If I had that technology available when I was young I might not have gone into telecommunications. I think it is what you don’t have that creates that wanderlust.
“Even today I still pull phones apart and see how they work and I still have my grandfather’s original Bakelite telephone.”
After becoming the first female commissionaire at Sydney Town Hall, Kyle was head-hunted by then Hilton boss Ian Hurst because he said ‘I knew the city better than anybody else’.”
After deciding she did not like dealing with people who snapped their fingers at her, Kyle got herself on to the night switch.
“It wasn’t quite a Sylvester switchboard but it was a fairly old Alcatel starswitch running trunk numbers,” she said. “There were only a couple of hundred calls a night, mostly from the boys from Alaska Telecom checking their lines. They would ring the Sydney Hilton to do their tests because they knew a lovely female voice would always answer them.
“However, I would get quite bored and brought in my soldering iron to fix broken phones. The Hilton also had an old tab system and nobody could tell guests how much their international calls would cost.
So I got on to the internet and figured out where they kept all the geographical numbering details, then I figured out the zone tiering and costs per country and made up an Excel schematic to calculate what the average cost for a guest would be for incremental call.
“Then I fixed the pagers and eventually I kept being given projects and eventually I did telecommunications upgrade at the Hilton when Linda Deep left.
“I was head-hunted from Hilton in 2003 and have since done some fairly industry-defining deals globally with Accor.”