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citizenM - Hoteliers' Voice S4E5 with Bojan Pavicic: Deploying new tech for innovation

How citizenM is Revolutionising the Hospitality Experience with New Technologies

In our latest exploration of the hospitality industry's technological landscape, we are joined by Bojan Pavicic, the Director of Technology and Digital at citizenM. Bojan shared insights into how citizenM, with its 34 properties worldwide, is leveraging cutting-edge technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), to revolutionize the guest experience.

One of the most intriguing revelations was the introduction of virtual employees within citizenM's finance department. These AI-driven team members are not merely futuristic concepts but are actively streamlining processes, managing invoices, and optimizing the purchase-to-pay process. This move exemplifies citizenM's proactive approach towards embracing automation for enhanced efficiency in their operations.

Beyond the buzzwords, our conversation delved into the practical applications of AI across various aspects of hotel management. Bojan highlighted how AI is utilized for knowledge and incident management, as well as in financial development. What's striking is citizenM's approach, which focuses not just on the technical aspects of these innovations but on how they can ultimately lead to a more seamless and enjoyable stay for their guests.

Bojan emphasized citizenM's commitment to scalability through cloud-based principles. This approach ensures that regardless of the number of properties under their management, citizenM remains agile and responsive to guests' evolving needs. Additionally, the discussion touched upon the delicate balance between human interaction, modern art, and technology. It's this harmony that creates a distinctive and superior guest experience, setting citizenM apart as an innovative hospitality brand.

Looking ahead, Bojan shared his vision for achieving seamless connectivity and enhancing in-room technology. He envisions a future where hotel rooms can seamlessly orchestrate multiple devices wirelessly, operate with heightened efficiency, and offer a personalized experience tailored to each guest's preferences. As we concluded our conversation, it became evident that citizenM's pioneering spirit is not just shaping the future of their own brand, but influencing the broader trajectory of innovation within the hospitality industry.

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Programme Notes

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors

Ryan Haynes (00:00:21) - Hello and welcome to Hoteliers' Voice season four. And in today's episode, we're going to be looking at deploying new technologies with Bojan Pavicic, the Director of Technology and Digital at CitizenM. He has 20 years in IT development across multiple sectors. And with CitizenM, he's been deploying technology within 34 properties worldwide. In our conversation, we'll be covering AI and automation deployment. How CitizenM approaches new technology to be an innovative hospitality brand, the future of in-room technology and ensuring efficient hotel operations, the hotel tech stack and the role of headless systems and bringing experience to the hospitality industry from other sectors. This conversation comes to us from the International Hotel Technology Forum, where Bojan gave a presentation on charting new territories and a fresh look at future hotel innovations and advancements.

Ryan Haynes (00:01:25) - So joining me now is Bojan. Thanks ever so much for joining us today Bojan. So tell us please to start off with where are you currently deploying AI within CitizenM.

Bojan Pavicic (00:01:36) - Hello, Ryan. Nice to be here. And, Yeah. quite an interesting chat. Looking ahead of us. where are we deploying? I have a feeling we are deploying everywhere. basically. But, let me list a couple of the things that we are doing. So, we have our first, virtual employee, in finance, and he's dealing with, a lot of invoices. So he's helping us in that area of matching and the purchase-to-pay process. we are experimenting a lot with, intranet, and basically, non-structured and different types of, sources of information. so we are playing with one of the tools that we are deploying that should substitute the internet with an AI. We also, for now, two and a half years, have an AI inside of our network, even before the AI was the thing. So we have a network, supplier that, is actually, deploying a full machine learning inside of the network so you can work with, that endpoint as one of the engineers that are sitting inside of your hotel.

Bojan Pavicic (00:02:49) - what we are heavily experimenting with, actually, let's say ChatGPT and the different, types of ChatGPT or flavours of ChatGPT is in the area of knowledge management. a knowledge management area is very, very interesting, for us because as you can imagine, we get a lot of standardized, questions that are slightly different. So, we believe I will have a lot of success in knowledge management and, the ability of our first liners to answer with the directly correct, document or whatever. Of course, there are other, areas that we are just, kind of starting, which as incident management, a similar idea that we try to cover, something for the first-line support and second-line support. We are deep, deep in the QA, and different types of, generating the use case tests and BDD-driven test cases, with an AI. we are doing also a couple of other things, like in development, we want to go deeper financially, but yeah, a lot of AI deployments in our, company.

Bojan Pavicic (00:04:10) - And I must emphasize it all started with a governance document. So we first deploy the governance document, in which we have a small, let's say, the body that will be guarding the gates of, our company in data.

Ryan Haynes (00:04:26) - Excellent.

Ryan Haynes (00:04:26) - I mean, that's fascinating. You've just basically opened the can of eyeworms there because that just demonstrates how I can be used in so many different ways within the hotel environment. And as you mentioned, you're just sort of deploying one virtual team member to begin with, and then you're looking at other areas in which I can be used. So if you look at AI as as a new technology, what approach did you take then? In order to sort of adopt this new technology and identify ways that you can use it practically without holding the company back.

Bojan Pavicic (00:05:01) - Interesting question. Thanks. Thanks, Ryan. well, for a number of years, automation has been a very big topic, in technology and, in our department. And, we were already doing a kind of machine learning and different other ways of automating huge amounts of data and consolidating and aggregating, etc.

Bojan Pavicic (00:05:25) - So for us, the fact that LMS and conversational piece kind of walked into a stage on all of us became kind of a really good thing for us because we suddenly are getting the, the ear on some of the more, let's say, cumbersome technical, initiatives that we have. We have a near also on the, on the business side, on the commerce side. And there is definitely a demand coming from the guest in general. not that somebody is asking us, oh, do you use AI? However, the expectations are very high with the modern digital consumer. So, we know that if we see that the AI is in the myriad of tools around us, there is like very short period in which our guests will be expecting to have that around. So the approach we took is basically we're going to go for automation and AI in all forms and shapes and as much as we can. We really believe in that. And that's why we started with governance as I mentioned because we believe that some of the things have to be part of the framework.

Bojan Pavicic (00:06:35) - one of the, the, the, let's say the sentences or the, the main drivers of our department is freedom inside of the framework. So we would like to enable the whole company to have that kind of approach. And as we know, currently freedom is in the fact that nobody knows a lot about AI. So. So they are popping up left and right in the Chrome extensions, in tools etc. If we don't watch, we can start dissipating and shifting our data left and right very easily. Right. So that's approximately our approach. We're trying to build the framework first and trying to guard our data and trying to heavily, go for proof of concepts for, some low-hanging fruit where we see media needs some, some things are just directly much beneficial immediately.

Ryan Haynes (00:07:31) - The portfolio has 34 properties. It's not too massive, too big, or too difficult to be able to change and adopt new technologies. But you're also not too small either that it's going to be too costly or too resource-heavy at the same time.

Ryan Haynes (00:07:48) - do you think you could handle many more properties as growth in order to be able to adopt new technologies as quickly as CitizenM is currently being able to do, do you think there's a particular sort of, size of of business that has the ability to innovate faster than others?

Bojan Pavicic (00:08:05) - Thank you for this one. I do. I believe we can because how we operate these 34, is very not traditional, so. So the amount of properties doesn't mean a lot to us anymore. And we are literally daily building the elements and bits that even, like, 300 or 400 properties would be approximately the same. So we are guided basically with, with very, very much cloud principles. So, we are trying to scale up and we're trying to reach, let's say, the best balance between how many resources we utilize for digital computing and, storage of all of our digital assets, versus, the amount of properties that we have. So, our logic and all of our architectures are built in a very decoupled separation of concerns, so they can operate independently and in a scalable mode.

Bojan Pavicic (00:09:10) - I see, our hotels as a hub and spoke architecture from the cloud. Because we are centrally managing all of our properties, we are able to see for all of our properties at one point, different aspects of performance, of the operation of the like, you name it like that. That's our logic from the get-go. That's where we would like to, and that's where we think we have a bit of the, starting benefit, what we are doing now and what is the, let's say, the challenge now in next, I would say one to, to five years is actually make sure that each component of the framework or of, of, our landscapes, is actually scalable and that we can do what I'm telling you because our, our wishes and hunger is much more than 34. So, we want to go into definitely 100 and above. And, we believe that we can do it even now, like I would, I would say when I would, when I tested.

Bojan Pavicic (00:10:20) - And that's maybe interesting to hear, but, we did during use Covid for interesting experiments. So, we managed to load test the whole hotel. Unfortunately, because it was empty. Right? So, we had an occupancy of 10 to 20% or maybe even 5% in some of the properties. And we said, okay, now it's the best time to load test what we have because we have a lot of room to actually make reservations. So we created our automated load test on whole two floors of our hotel. And we did check everything. So we did the whole flow of checking, checkout, and digital flow. we did mimic at that point 13,000 rooms. At that point, we had around 4500 rooms. We are now already on 8000 rooms. So the finding was that even with 13,000 rooms. So that was like two and a half, three times more than what we had. We are really good. already. Then of course it's a certain point like four times the amount of rooms we start slowing down.

Bojan Pavicic (00:11:32) - And that's where we are putting now a lot of effort moving ahead, fixing those snags. So. So tomorrow we can add hotels as much as, as fast as we can build them.

Ryan Haynes (00:11:43) - I mean, CitizenM has been renowned as quite an innovative hospitality brand. and to be a hospitality and innovative hospitality brand, is it the technologies? Are they the answer, would you say?

Bojan Pavicic (00:11:59) - Brilliant question. I think it's part of the answer. I think we all see a lot of different approaches to technology in a hotel as we travel. So from nobody, nowhere, kind of do-it-yourself hotel or, like, digital type of hotel to different, outcomes in different applications and ideas. I believe technology should be in the background. I believe technology should, and that's what we believe strongly as a brand. Technology is a means to achieve an experience. Nothing else. And everything that we do, we try to actually hit the experience, not the technical goal. So our KPIs.

Bojan Pavicic (00:12:47) - And one of the two most important KPIs of a company is the NPS actually. So so we go we start from the, from the guest. What is the experience that he wants or the guest wants? And what is the experience that we would like to provide? So for us, for CitizenM, and I'm super convinced into, in that, kind of thinking, is the mix of the human touch. Modern art and technology. That's where we are trying to swim. Like we want to really make you feel different in our hotel or make you feel excellent in our hotel.

Ryan Haynes (00:13:31) - That's fascinating. I mean, I was only having a conversation with Mustafa Gokcen, the Head of Information Technology at the Cheval Collection, which is also part of this Hoteliers' Voice season four and is at the IHF at the same time. And talking about this role of technology and this experience that you're actually looking to deliver. so, you know, it's it's great to, to sort of see, you know, where your perceptions come from.

Ryan Haynes (00:13:55) - Now when it comes to looking at future hotel tech stack. and in particular, what do you see as the role of headless systems, within the environments?

Bojan Pavicic (00:14:09) - well, here's I believe. I believe that the future is headless in a lot of industries. Let's start from that. but the hospital, the headless systems in hospitality are becoming, I would say, critical at one point. the hospitality universe is still rather young. or the whole industry is rather young in certain digital ways and aspects and in that sense, there are a lot of solutions for the same thing. I'm not saying there is, that's not the case in other industries. We have that across the board. But in a lot of industries, the leaders in the technical approach or in certain services and consumption of the services is very clear or close to clear, or at least it has 2 or 3 good efforts. What I see across the hospitality is a myriad of solutions that are equally exciting, ideas that are in different stages of development and, fidelity and quality.

Bojan Pavicic (00:15:18) - Right, to be able to deal with all this. You need to exclude certain parts, and then you come to what is the most important, what is the most important? Nowadays every solution is basically data. How do you manage, cover, operate and transform data that differentiate one solution from another? And for me to consume data, I don't need an interface and human-readable interface. Let's say I need an interface to the data in the traditional sense of software development. How do I interface with that data and what do I do with that? In that sense, we see the evolution. Well, my theory is, that we saw the evolution, for example, in the CMS space we are living now in fully, fully headless, content, systems that are actually everybody saying, oh, thank God we have this now. But we went from monoliths into microservice CMS, into application development platforms, CMS type of things in which you had to develop the whole castle of the CMS and then do your website.

Bojan Pavicic (00:16:33) - Now to some future that is fully headless. so I believe I'm seeing the same happening in the PMS, area. And that's, that's for me where the headless because as, as we know, for the majority of us hoteliers, the PMS is the heart of the system. So if that system is becoming. It is largely API first and we see glimpses of API only. Even we are. We are almost already there. We are just waiting for the future to catch up with us.

Ryan Haynes (00:17:05) - The industry is renowned for needing to have multiple different applications to really work today, and some are modular and fully integrated, others that you can connect through these APIs. And that's particularly the approach that you've taken with CitizenM. and there's been a lot of talk about APIs and seamless connectivity within the industry. Do you feel that we're there yet? or is that still a frustration for you? for, for being able to have access to the right systems and data?

Bojan Pavicic (00:17:36) - great one, well, I think we are coming to.

Bojan Pavicic (00:17:41) - To the same maturity, problem as other industries. If you look into other industries because of the nature of certain things, they had to achieve certain performances right on time or at the beginning of the maturity of the digital as we were all growing, in digital. But, if you are, let's take something totally different if you are in a telco industry, there was an essential need to provide very fast, communication between certain aspects, because suddenly in a telco industry, the situation was changed from voice only and very analogue systems into a fully digital and triple play, activity and things like that. I think, what I see in hospitality, I see all of the flavours. So, you have all of the kind of maturity you have far-end systems that are super advanced thinking, and you have a bunch of startups that are, that are brilliant for their own, innovation, ideas and energy. But we have a lot of these traditions. classical ways of doing business, internet business, in hospitality that are a bit dragging the feet across the board.

Bojan Pavicic (00:19:04) - So, this middle layer, which is probably the largest amount of the applications, is still keen on pedalling through the old ways, I believe with, with the, with the current evolution of, of the things and I believe that we are currently in an accelerated actually evolution of digital thanks to the, to the ChatGPT entering the scene. But I think in the next few years we're going to see what is what is happening. But I can say that I have. Companies that are providing brilliant, literally bleeding edge type of services to us and like zero frustration with them. 98% availability and things like that. Up to the guys that cannot debug a problem on the API for like a week or two. I'm past the point, or we as a system are past the point of debugging the week or two. That's for us already. Super burning problem. But not everybody is so. So I would say we of hospitality is getting there, but it's on some part and it's a bit slower than the, let's say, industries that were very keen on going fast, like telco and others.

Ryan Haynes (00:20:26) - Excellent. Thank you. Now talk to me about the future of in-room technology. Where is it going and how are you envisioning the future of the room experience for guests? And I guess, you know, perhaps how that ensures the efficient hotel operations.

Bojan Pavicic (00:20:42) - Thanks. Thanks. Thanks for that one. That is for us. These topics that we have worked on continuously already for, for a while. and we work for a new, let's say, generation or a future room. How we see. So I can't I would I'm itching to tell you some details, but I can.

Ryan Haynes (00:21:02) - You're holding back on me.

Bojan Pavicic (00:21:04) - Oh, no.

Bojan Pavicic (00:21:08) - I would love to. And we'll do it over a coffee. but, publicly. What is okay to share and what we are working on? And I think it's a totally valid thinking. Well, the whole notion in the experience of digital solutions, I don't want to say user experience as the traditional, but in the experience with digital solutions for a while is personalization.

Bojan Pavicic (00:21:37) - and personalization travel through a different notion across the industries from, oh my God, they will know everything about me. it's scary to well, it's not so scary if I'm getting a better service to oh, I'm used to it. And I'm expecting that you follow my thinking and have a mind-reading bot in what I want. So, that's kind of the evolution of personalization thinking among the user, among the guest at the end. so the personalization is definitely there to stay. It's definitely adopted or accepted by the guests as something normal. Nobody's freaking out anymore. And people now, understand better how what is actually really private and what is not not everybody. But we are getting there, right? Like, it's, it's better in that sense. When you look at the room. Room is the extension of your personality for a limited period of time, you will be doing there things that are mostly private for you. You will be, entertaining yourself, resting or working in the setup, an environment that you would like to be most compatible with, with your with yourself like and and and what you do at that point, you're feeling the best or the most, comfortable, in that situation.

Bojan Pavicic (00:23:01) - In that sense, the room of the future has to first of all operate and function fantastically. So no downtime of any kind. It needs to orchestrate multiple devices on its own, plus devices that come from the guest. So the infrastructure of the future probably is wireless because you simply the complexity of the amount of devices. Because imagine a room that has access access control. It has some kind of entertainment system, it has an HVAC, it has Wi-Fi and a point. It has definitely lights. And if I only stop there, not to mention that room probably has a room of the future, which will have sensors for water, sensors for movement, and sensors for each small device along the way simply pointing you to some kind of wireless future. So I think we will have to come up with very innovative approaches in the wireless space, in which we will utilize the modern protocols that are thinking about that kind of usage of wireless. What we have had for a long time is implementing traditional network protocols on the wireless situation, but we do have people that are advancing in wireless also, and we are coming to almost.

Bojan Pavicic (00:24:34) - A home automation situation on a large scale. So because home automation when you talk about home automation assumption is very simple. It's one home. But multiple devices of different kinds. Not only one. Like that's the home automation. Now multiply that with any amount of rooms you have per building. That's your problem as a hotelier. Then like so that cannot be solved in traditional networking whatsoever. So the room at the end has to be perfect for orchestrating perfect in communicating wirelessly with multiple devices of different types. it needs to provide you with a level of personalization that makes you have a good experience. So I will just mention the, let's say, the good ones that you expect. How beautiful it is that you continue what you are doing digitally just by walking into a room. Right. That's that's kind of okay because you're on your phone. But what if you can continue on the TV? What if you can continue with the whatever? What if we are offering you certain types of streaming services and things that you're used to that are part of your digital self, right?

Bojan Pavicic (00:25:56) - That's where we are going with the room 2.0. And basically, we see it as, integration or better, Communication between personalization and a digital persona of yourself. That's where we would like to be, and that's the general idea of what we are experimenting and doing because it takes a lot of things. When you walk into the new territory, you simply there is nothing like that out there. So, that's I believe that will be the future of 2.0.

Ryan Haynes (00:26:30) - So yeah. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been fascinating to get that insight from you and for you to share some of what you're allowed to share from CitizenM. and I really look forward to, you know, following up on these conversations further.

Bojan Pavicic (00:26:46) - Thank you. Thank you, Ryan, for having you. Really. a pleasure to talk to you. And, yeah, hopefully, we're going to have a lot more and a lot more revealing chats, maybe in the future.

Ryan Haynes (00:26:57) - So that was Bojan Pavicic, the director of technology and digital at CitizenM.

Ryan Haynes (00:27:03) - He's part of the Hoteliers' Voice season four, where you can find out more of the conversations that I've had on our podcast, including those that have been part of our media partnership with the International Hotel Technology Forum. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Thanks for listening and ciao for now.

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