Choice Hotels International, Inc. | 1 Choice Hotels Circle, Suite 400 Rockville, MD 20850
Todd Reeser - Sr. Director, Business Solutions Planning
Tell us about yourself, what brought you here and why you chose to work for Choice.
I've been with Choice for 22 years. This is my 22nd year. I'm an Arizona native, and I was actually brought up with my family in the hotel business. We ran smaller hotels, like a Comfort Inn. I was kind of raised in the industry, if you will. I learned hotel operations, I did many of the jobs, including front desk clerk, housekeeping, maintenance, night audit, and I worked on the restaurant side a little bit too, so I kind of learned all of it. At the same time, I really had a passion for computers. I started learning computers on my own. I had an early Apple computer and was writing programs early on. What is really cool for me is that my experience working in hotels, and then my childhood technology habit, lead me to Choice right out of high school. With my hotel background and knowledge of the problems you can face in hospitality, it was just so neat to figure out how I could solve some of them with technology. This allowed me to start at our property support area with computer systems. I grew up from there. I was promoted up through the ranks, got to the software development team here at Choice, and started writing code, and I did that for probably 7-8 years. Then I got into a management track. That's the nice thing about Choice. As long as you have the drive and desire, there are just so many opportunities. It really is a people-driven organization, and I hear that from so many people that come to work for us.
What can you tell us about the work of Business Solutions Planning at Choice? How about your team?
This area is fairly new for Choice, it's been around for about a year now. Essentially, we facilitate with technology solutions what the business units need to achieve corporate goals. So we partner with different areas and we play two roles. First, as a consultant, we advise on what's feasible. A recent example of that is when the upscale brand wanted to know if we could use mobile phones to unlock the doors at our hotels. That's the sort of thing we consult with business units on. The second part of our role is to handle all IT requests concerning Business Solutions Planning- a business unit submits a high level idea to us and we offer a solution. They bring the 'what'. We figure out the 'how'. I think what's unique about our team is that we have people who can communicate with all levels of the organization. We've got people talking to a principal systems engineer or a senior vice president, and we're able to tailor our communications for each group. If you were going to come and work in our area, the ability to communicate like that would be the key ingredient that you'd need to have.
Any advice for those whose careers in IT are just getting started?
Figure out which discipline in IT you're most passionate about, and focus on it. Become a subject matter expert in that area and build your career around it, whether it's hardware database or programming security. Gravitate to what makes you happy and you'll love your career. There's breadth of knowledge and then depth of knowledge. I think if you're going to grow a life-long career you need to find some areas where you can really go after that depth. If you do that, you'll be well positioned.
What are you looking for in team members and employees? Any advice to prospective hires?
We have a unique skill set we're looking for and it's hard to find. To do our job you have to have a breadth of knowledge of everything, from mobile to desktop to websites and databases. We have many people that come to interview with us and they think oh, that's easy, hotels, it's a room a reservation, big deal. Then they work with us for about six months and they go, wow, this is really complicated.
There are so many fun things we do here; it's what keeps me motivated. That's what I always ask prospective hires. What motivates you? What makes you want to get up and come into work? Why work for Choice? It's about constantly being challenged. There are always new things to learn, and you have support from your leaders to grow in your career.
What solutions have you worked on or overseen that you are most proud of? Any in the works you can share?
We have so many that we've worked on and are working on... we've done four release planning events so far, and we've had anywhere from 26 to 32 projects within each of those. So there's a lot! One project that is in the works that is very interesting is related to our mobile applications for on-property services such as using your phone to unlock the door to your room and getting real time loyalty bonuses while you are on property that can be used at the hotel or potential neighboring businesses (i.e., check in and get a free Starbucks drink). Additionally we are looking at things such as messaging the guest when their room is clean and allowing them to request late check-out with the app. In my current role I am most proud of the progress we have made over the past year in building the IT Planning department at Choice. We have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. Our group looks at anywhere from 30 to 50 IT requests per release cycle and prepares approved requests for our IT Build teams. Seeing our IT group grow so rapidly and get so much done is very rewarding.