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AT&T and Hilton Worldwide share insights for moving fast amid complexity

Expert panel featured at Setili & Associates Strategic Agility® Think Tank breakfast

ATLANTA, Georgia (November 29, 2012) 

On November 7, 2012, Atlanta strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates hosted its fourth Strategic Agility® Think Tank breakfast. Executives from some of America’s premier brands, including Arby’s, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Costco, Cox Enterprises, Georgia-Pacific, IBM, and UPS were in attendance.

The think tank featured an expert panel with two executives who have deep experience with complex technology implementations: Hilton Worldwide’s Josh Weiss, vice president, brand and guest technology; and AT&T’s Linda Rogers, vice president of sales.

Setili & Associates managing partner, Amanda Setili, commented, “The topic we chose for the event, ‘Moving Fast Amid Complexity,’ is critical to the success of our client organizations.

Hilton and AT&T met this challenge as they rolled out AT&T Wi-Fi in more than 450,000 hotel rooms across North America, spanning 10 brands, from Waldorf-Astoria to Hampton Inn & Suites.”

AT&T and Hilton Worldwide faced a common problem: How to keep up with the exploding demand for internet connectivity on mobile devices. While both companies were thrilled about the partnership—Hilton wanted a better guest experience, with a single Wi-Fi provider across all locations, and AT&T sought to expand Wi-Fi coverage in public spaces—the transition was complex.

Differences in building layouts and construction standards across the country required the system to be customized for each location. As a result, installing the AT&T system required close collaboration across multiple decision makers and implementers across AT&T, Hilton Worldwide, and the franchisees.

“We want property owners to open their next hotel with us,” Weiss said. Therefore, Hilton Worldwide needs to be easy to work with, to improve the guest experience, to create more efficient hotel operations, and to drive hotel stays.

The  collaboration with AT&T helped Hilton Worldwide to achieve all these goals. First, the collaboration  addresses the hospitality industry’s number one driver of guest satisfaction, internet service. “The ‘hospitality mindset’ is hardwired in our company’s culture,” Weiss said, “Therefore, property owners are very passionate about the guest experience.”

Second, the collaboration with AT&T  makes the cost of keeping up with ever-escalating bandwidth needs more predictable for the property owner, and removes the headaches of maintaining the system. Finally, because AT&T promotes the Hilton collaboration  to its subscribers, and highlights Hilton Wi-Fi hotspots on its website, the collaboration  helps to drive hotel stays.

Rogers added, “Guests often travel with three or more different mobile devices. This creates great demand for connectivity, but it also enables Hilton to provide a much more personalized service experience.”

The  collaboration also offers benefits to AT&T, adding approximately 3000 Wi-Fi hotspots to the company’s base of 30,000 hotspots at popular locations including Barnes & Noble, FedEx Kinko’s, McDonalds, Sam’s Club, Starbucks, and other establishments. Automatic authentication enables AT&T customers with select smartphones and devices to begin using Wi-Fi the moment they walk onsite, eliminating the need to login, or to use data plan minutes.

Weiss and Rogers stressed that effective communication was crucial to the success of the project, which spanned a two year period. “AT&T worked with four to five different Hilton stakeholder groups, over a period of two years, to complete the project,” Rogers said, “these included corporate decision makers, general managers who run the hotels, franchise owners, and leaders of each of the Hilton Worldwide brands, such as Hampton, Doubletree and Embassy Suites.”

Hilton Worldwide reached out to these groups with multiple forms of communication, including information posted on the company intranet, road shows with property owners and general managers, WebEx events, and conference calls. Most effective, Weiss said, was “getting in rooms with property owners and managers, to listen to and respond to their concerns.”

AT&T and Hilton stakeholders met mid-way through the project for a two-day summit, to assess what was working, and what wasn’t, regarding the technology implementation. “As a result,” Rogers said, “we restructured our sales and implementation teams to better match Hilton’s needs..”

Both Rogers and Weiss agreed that communicating extensively, making mid-stream course-corrections when necessary, and staffing teams with people who genuinely believe in the value of the AT&T/Hilton Worldwide partnership was critical to the fast execution of this complex project.

AT&T Mobility and Delta Air Lines Share Insights on Being Agile in New Markets

Two Atlanta giants head expert panel at Setili & Associates’ Strategic Agility® Think Tank breakfast.

ATLANTA, Georgia (April 10, 2012) − On March 16, 2012, Atlanta strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates hosted its third Strategic Agility® Think Tank breakfast − the theme of which was how organizations can expand into new product and service markets, new geographic markets and new customer segments.

Executives from some of America’s largest brands − including Best Buy, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Equifax, Georgia-Pacific, Hilton, UPS and other leading companies − attended.

The think tank featured an expert panel with two executives who have considerable experience in emerging market segments: AT&T’s Glenn Lurie, President, Emerging Enterprises and Partnerships, and Delta Air Lines’ Jeff Arinder, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Business Development.

Setili & Associates managing partner Amanda Setili commented, “The topic we chose for the event, ‘Winning in Emerging Markets: Innovation, Partnerships and Speed,’ is critical to the survival and success of our client organizations. Three takeaways from our expert panel were: focus on building trust with partners; stay flexible, because the world is no longer predictable; and be willing to change everything.”

Glenn Lurie negotiated AT&T’s exclusive iPhone and iPad deals with Apple. His experience illustrates these principles. From the very first meeting with Apple, Lurie’s team was on point to make the Apple-AT&T deal happen. Lurie recounted that for the iPhone to be successful, AT&T had to “change business as usual.”  For AT&T, this meant giving the device manufacturer control over the user interface, establishing a brand-new activation process, and more.

“The one thing we learned is that changing BAU, or ‘business as usual,’ is really hard. My team had to drive a message throughout the organization that ‘we are going to change everything to make this a success,’” Lurie said.

“You’ve got to remain flexible, because neither partner knows what will happen down the road,” Lurie said. “When we first began talking, we had to work to establish a trusted relationship. Ultimately, AT&T and Apple achieved a partnership in which we could disagree, work through the problems, and walk out all smiles. In the end, I believe we changed the industry.”

Industry experts estimate that by 2020, 50 billion non-phone devices will be connected wirelessly. As this market grows, AT&T’s reputation as a flexible partner who can bring new devices online quickly wins the company exclusive deals with device makers. Lurie said, “In a recent deal, only seven months passed from the time we first met with the device manufacturer to the time the product hit the stores.”

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) three years ago, most device manufacturers were not even thinking about why they would want to connect wirelessly. This year, Lurie said, they were eager to talk with AT&T. Dozens of CE companies held meetings with AT&T at the 2012 show.

Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg once said Lurie had “one of the most interesting jobs in the mobile industry,” perhaps due to Lurie’s position at the center of this explosion of new technologies.

Jeff Arinder, of Delta Air Lines, agreed that flexibility is key to building trusted partnerships, and added that having the right employees is critical. Arinder hired a mix of marketing, finance and operations experts for his team, seeking “people who think differently from each other,” he said. “We look for people who are ready for anything, who don’t get flustered, and who can adapt to changing needs.”

These traits were important as Delta negotiated equity investments in Brazil’s GOL airlines and in Aeromexico. These two investments dramatically improve Delta’s competitive position in the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, Latin America.

Arinder pointed out that Brazil has only 400 aircraft in its commercial air fleet, to serve a population of 190 million people. This, along with the country’s rapidly expanding middle class, means air traffic there is poised for tremendous growth.

GOL airlines, Arinder said, was a low-cost, “point-to-point” carrier with a robust 50 percent market share in Brazil. The airline primarily serves the domestic market and sought a long-haul partner to better serve international markets. Delta and GOL made a perfect partnership.

In Mexico, flagship carrier Aeromexico’s strong position in the profitable business travel market made the carrier a highly attractive partner for Delta. Arinder cited mutual respect between the Aeromexico and Delta management teams as a key reason that Aeromexico ultimately chose to partner with Delta.

Arinder also spoke about Delta’s recent investments in technology and seat comfort, saying that the company’s smartphone app and enhancements to enabled the company to upsell more customers to business and first-class seats. As a result, Delta is now “beating the industry on unit revenue,” or revenue per passenger mile, Arinder said.