Hoiana, tucked between Hoi An and Da Nang on Vietnam’s scenic central coast, is an impressively sized full-service beach resort, on a scale of nearly 1,000 hectares with a total investment of 4 billion USD.
Having completed phase one of their development, the luxury five-star integrated resort, a joint venture between Suncity Group, VMS, and VinaCapital, combines renowned hotels, a world-class golf course, original dining concepts, and entertainment outlets.
The operational preview opening in June 2020 heralded the first phase of Hoiana’s operations, providing guests with cutting-edge entertainment and gaming facilities by Hoiana Suncity, Hoiana Shores Golf Club, which is Vietnam’s first golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., and the first luxurious hotel managed by Rosewood Hotel Group – the Hoiana Hotel & Suites.
The resort has complex IT requirements to meet their operational requirements. This is even more true during the COVID pandemic when security and health standards are at an all-time high.
Hoiana’s IT Director, Virgil Michael, certainly has the CV to oversee a project of this scale. The South African native has 20 years’ experience working in the Casino, Entertainment and Hospitality industry. A Certified Information Systems Security Professional, his role is to help Hoiana align with best practices and mitigate cybersecurity risks.
We chatted with Virgil over video to understand what goes into managing the IT infrastructure and strategy of an operation of this size and how they’ve had to adapt to the current pandemic-related changes in the industry.
The Hoiana resort contains a number of prestigious brands.
Insights: Just to help us understand the scale of Hoiana, can you give us some facts about the resort and your team?
Virgil Michael: We started off in 2019 with just over 30 staff in our corporate IT division but that number has diminished down to 12 staff as of July 2021 due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
To give you an idea of scale, we installed a mix of copper and fiber cables to connect all the systems together, with an estimated 300 kilometers of fiber cabling and 4,000 kilometers of copper cabling, and over 40,000 data ports.
300km of fiber cables
To facilitate fastest data infrastructure in the region, Hoiana pulled over 300 kilometers of fiber optic cables.
4000km of copper cables
In addition to fiber cables, 4,000 kilometers of copper cables were installed throughout the resort.
40,000 data ports
Plug and play hasn’t been more available than here.
How has Hoiana managed the opening?
Our operators and IT teams have worked meticulously on the pre-opening activities, to achieve the key milestones, to prepare our enterprise infrastructure readiness, ERP systems, gaming systems, property management systems, point of sales, IPTV, workforce management applications, supply chain management software, all of which was crucial for our pre-opening.
We first opened in June 28 of last year for an exclusive preview. This included the casino mass gaming and VIP gaming areas, 141 hotel rooms and an 18-hole golf course. Our food and beverage operations started with 13 outlets that included self-ordering kiosks, e-menu iPads, payment gateway’s for multiple merchant services for QR code, WeChat, Vimo, Visa etc.
We did experience an outage caused by some IT dependencies failing during the torrential season, a natural disaster causing a major power outage. The impact was low, and fortunately, we recovered in good time with the aid of our helpful FM team.
We recently added 476 rooms into our inventory in June of this year for inbound flights to Vietnam.
What has been your strategy for COVID?
The hospitality and tourism industry around the world has been hard hit. In terms of our strategy when dealing with COVID-19, it is all about a fast response and remediation to the crisis. We’ve been in this mode since 2019. We had to act quickly. You cannot afford to waste time because every second wasted is a potential cost to be saved or a lost opportunity.
My philosophy is to ensure a high ROI on all IT investments, with no wastage or duplication of IT resources.– Virgil Michael
Some key activities included forecasting quickly, aligning on short-term and long-term plans with our supply chains, contractors, vendors on discounts, payment plans, cost deferrals, and in some cases cost avoidance to ensure that our cash flows would sustain us through the challenging times.
We first needed to get aligned on the maturity model of our business, understanding that what was initially forecasted would no longer apply. We couldn’t continue with the same momentum because it wouldn’t be fully utilized, so we had to scale down where needed on some technologies to prevent wastage of resources, internet, licensing, some enhancements et cetera
We had to align staffing levels with our business levels. To lower the risk of COVID-19 threats, work from home and social distancing protocols were activated with strict IT security safeguards to protect our company assets. We evaluated the core technologies required to keep our operations going and optimized those resources.
What needed to be scaled down? How did you make those tough decisions?
We needed to re-align on licenses, reduce where possible, consider our infrastructure resources such as our corporate and guest internet Wi-Fi and continuously measure the utilization, and scale accordingly – basically right-sizing the requirement to the current demand. We further consolidated some of our edge networking switches without compromising on IT security, to scale down on purchasing additional network equipment. This was a cost avoidance created through value engineering.
What were some challenges you encountered other than COVID? Was there anything that turned out differently than expected and required a pivot?
One of the challenges experienced was getting all stakeholders aligned. We had to keep the initial deployment to core essentials and look at enhancements as the business grows. Ultimately we pulled together as a team to look at the bigger picture and used the K.I.S.S (keep it simple) approach, preventing the underutilization of technologies during this initial phase.
What is your philosophy behind your IT strategy?
My philosophy is to ensure a high ROI on all IT investments, with no wastage or duplication of IT resources, thereby supporting business outcomes, enable business change, manage risks in line with the business needs, optimize the customer experience and continually improve. People, processes, and technology must be optimized to create value.
The COVID-19 situation has made us understand that standards may be affected in a global pandemic situation. This doesn’t mean we dropped our standards completely, but we try to find creative ways to cover some gaps.
Beyond that, it goes without saying that performance management from teams is essential to meet the organization’s strategic objectives. When it comes to performance management, I take a page from Daniel Pink – Drive, Mastery, purpose and autonomy. I’m passionate on performance management and a firm believer that our ethos, as a collective, should be aligned with high performance, execution of best practices and international computing standards.
The resort’s location tells the story of the market they’re after. Asia’s tech-savvy public will test the IT infrastructure.
What does it take to plan out the IT framework for such a large resort?
Because of the scale of the resort during this first phase, and our operations strategy we had to factor in digital transformation, trust models, digital ethics, and privacy since we share some platforms between multiple operators to achieve economies of scale.
Our investment in enterprise solutions ensures that we have modular technologies that’s scalable for growth and performance. Consolidation was key because it helped us avoid duplication of workloads and unnecessary expenses. We really focus on those types of aspects, making sure that we protect the best interest of our shareholders, investors, and customers.
Using the shared infrastructure such as voice, Wi-Fi, IPTV, POS, ERP etc. we have reduced the overall investment and get the best usage of the technology. We try to understand where the value exists with either on-premise solutions or cloud solutions. Understanding the value of elasticity with cloud apps vs on premises deployments. We must remain compliant with the government laws, decrees etc when making those choices.
Cybersecurity investment is critical in ensuring a good IT security posture for the resort. The investment is well balanced to protect information assets and help ensure compliance.
What was the process in finding IT vendors? Were there geographic or governmental hurdles?
We used a supply chain procurement sourcing process with a fair tender process based on a technical specification built from our business requirements. We then shortlisted companies and considered all future considerations beyond commercial aspects. Systems sections involved all stakeholders.
What kind of IT projects have you been working on as of late? What are your future IT plans for Hoiana?
One of Hoiana’s goals was to source an enterprise grade POS solution that is feasible, customer centric, scalable, and flexible enough to adapt with the evolving business needs. We ended up working with Shiji as all our requirements were met, technical reviews were strong, and costs were in line with other leading market related enterprise solutions.
Hoiana has over 16 POS integrations to improve efficiencies, reduce risks, and save costs. The overall system adoption rate is high and user satisfaction is good.
Future POS enhancements are in the cards at Hoiana as we anticipate a return to normality post COVID-19 epidemic, offering our guests a world of indulgence as Vietnam’s premier lifestyle destination.
Once things get back to normal, it will be all about how we can use technology to influence business outcomes. Business tools, marketing analytics, geofencing, push messaging, infrastructure, productivity tools, can be further optimized to help staff to be more efficient, giving them more time to focus on customer service, business drivers than nitty gritty day to day stuff.
We will also look into recommendations on improving a centric loyalty rewards program. Tech should work for the people, which requires systems to be fine-tuned and tweaked accordingly.
We must plan and prioritize because, as we’ve all learned, things can change so quickly. So, we must adapt to what will be used as business drivers and value adds, ensuring that we get the right ROI.