Behind the Gateway of Your Getaway

Kris Singleton is redefining how luxury hospitality does tech at Omni Hotels while driving change in the IT industry

Author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell once said, “Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not.”

Case in point: Omni Hotels & Resorts chief information officer Kris Singleton, who boasts twenty-seven successful years in IT. Before coming to Omni, Singleton served in leading roles as the VP of business solutions at MGM Mirage, CIO at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, and CIO for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. As she has accepted more challenges for her own personal expansion and value, technology itself continues to stretch, taking on new forms and playing new roles. Over many years and office titles, these two correlative partners have catalyzed one another, pushing comfort zones and creating new boundaries.

While Singleton was making the switch from a fourteen-year run with Hallmark Cards to hospitality in the early 2000s, the industry was beginning to embrace technology. Hotels started outfitting themselves with state-of-the-art electronics, going so far as to equip rooms with PCs and tablet devices. “In the early days, guests saw their stays in hotels as unique opportunities to experience devices and amenities not readily available at home,” she says. With tech life cycles running only about three months, however, hotels ran the risk of looking outdated, leaving a bad impression on guests, unless they continuously updated their offerings.

“Now, everyone expects to be able to connect to their own content. That’s a big transition and big change that has impacted the strategy and the business implementation of technology throughout the hotel, not just in the room.”

Singleton faced the opposite problem after joining The Cosmopolitan just six months after its opening. “We overcomplicated the in-room technology experience for technology’s sake versus what the guest really wanted,” she says. “We looked for ways to provide an intuitive and seamless experience to the guest’s in-room utilization of the neat factors in the room.” Visitors complained of being three days into a stay before they could figure out how to work the lights. Singleton, who oversaw the technology strategy for the hotel and other property-associated amenities, returned to the basics: ensuring TVs turned on and lights operated as expected.

Even while Singleton was at Kimpton, she continued to be inspired by The Cosmopolitan’s culture initiative and reinvention of the Vegas experience. More than that, the change offered interaction with Deutsche Bank. She wanted that personal development that came from working with Wall Street executives, presenting to a sophisticated board, and understanding the different nuances of a bank-owned public company. Additionally, she liked the idea of learning how to turn a struggling business into a money-making one while keeping brand strategy in mind.

“Kimpton and The Cosmopolitan both grew me from a technologist to a collaborator and business executive,” Singleton says. “That was able to then catapult me into the position now here at Omni, which has given me the exposure of both being a technical, tactical executor, but also the well-rounded executive with strong communication and interpersonal skills.”

In 2014, she joined Omni, following the company’s acquisition of several resort properties and a value increase nearing $2 billion. The hotel chain was behind as it related to technology versions. But with Omni’s focus on the guest experience, and a business environment driven by IT, the leadership recognized that it needed innovation. “Now, everyone expects to be able to connect to their own content,” Singleton says. “That’s a big transition and big change that has impacted the strategy and the business implementation of technology throughout the hotel, not just in the room.”

Women for Technology

According to the 2015 “State of the CIO,” a study conducted by CIO magazine that surveyed 558 IT chiefs, women comprise just 25 percent of the tech workforce, with only 20 percent being CIOs.

As a woman who’s not only held numerous high-level positions, but whose participation has impacted the direction of the industry, Kris Singleton actively works to change this in two ways. First, she’s a host of Technology Ball, a series of networking events centered on uniting and promoting technology. “I love the opportunity to showcase women in technology because we are a small percentage,” Singleton says. “[I want to] help encourage young gals, starting at even grade school, thinking about technology as a career, and [let them know] they can be whoever they want to be, if that’s a technologist, engineer, or astronaut, or whatever it might be, and that it’s a very possible opportunity for them to grow into.” She believes this is important, as women offer a number of strengths their male counterparts often lack, including planning, organization, and creating a caring environment that enables teamwork and collaboration.

Second, because of her work with Technology Ball, this has given Singleton access to MentorNet, where she’s starting to mentor girls with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, who’ve already selected their degrees. “Seeing more women in technology is really important,” she says, “because we’re really good at what we do.”

Being at Omni allows Singleton the unprecedented ability to work with the executive team to define brand strategies, goals, and initiatives—and how tech can enable that. “It’s been just a fantastic opportunity for me with Omni to keep my hand in the technology, but still also work with the executive team on more strategic-enabling opportunities,” she says.

After a sixty-day assessment, Singleton found the hotel chain lacking a a few core foundational elements, including an enterprise data warehouse, which affords the brand a core information-management foundation, and the tools for accessing and creating business intelligence and dashboards. Also, the company needed to create a customer data model and implement some business-intelligence tools. “Now we’re starting to roll that up and down through the business, and we’re seeing great traction in people having access to information that before might have taken them months to get to the point of making a decision. Now they can decide in hours, days at the most,” she says.

Singleton is also proactively updating core systems: financial systems, forecasting and budgeting tools, and property management, point-of-sale, and sales and catering systems. While she has her eye on next-gen technology, especially cloud and mobile, she’s more focused on creating a sound foundation.

While Singleton’s previous experiences had equipped her with the requisite skills to usher Omni into an advanced technological era, her new employment presented a different kind of challenge. During an assessment with human resources after six months in the position, Singleton discovered her coworkers thought highly of her innovation, business acumen, and communications. Where she fell short: culture. From the outset, Singleton expected this. But, recognizing the amalgamation of technology and business, she immediately jumped at the chance to develop a new side of herself. As a result, Singleton went to work building rapport with her peers and has taken on the mantra, “People, process, technology.”

“My focus,” she says, “is how I continue to add value and enable business opportunities through technology innovation.”

Photo by Mike Morgan Photography