Q&A: Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group’s IT Manager

Rick Coenen talks about the IT challenges that come with working in the hospitality sector

Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group’s (ALH) IT manager, Rick Coenen, talks about the IT challenges that come with working in the hospitality sector.

Tell me about ALH and what does your IT team looks like?

I started at ALH about eight years ago when it was just separating out of Foster’s Group so we were about 135 venues at the time and a public company for just under one year. A joint venture ended up buying us, which is 75 per cent owned by Woolworths and 25 per cent by Bruce Matheson.

At the time we were purchased, there were a number of new companies folded into ALH, so we spent a lot of time integrating systems together and we’ve grown by acquisition quite substantially over that time and we’re just about to hit 300 pubs now — we’re literally twice as big as we once were.

We have just under 20 in our IT team, we do outsource a lot and don’t do any in-house development at all. We use companies such as Oakton to build things like data warehouses and anything else we need developed. We also outsource a fair part of our support as well, so our help desk, some of our field services, our DBA functions and so forth.

What kind of challenges do you face working in the hospitality sector?

Overall, pubs are very interesting. A lot of people assume that a pub is the same as a retail store, but a pub is a whole number of businesses that sit under one roof and it is very complex. In a pub, we can have a large bistro, a gaming room, a function room and a TAB, a sports bar, a night club and we can also have accommodation; there are associated systems that can go with all of those things.

We have specialist systems for all of these areas, and one of the real challenges is to be able to pull all of that together to make decisions for the larger organisation.

Who are some of the vendors that you partner with?

We partner with H&L Australia, and they’re an Adelaide based company that provide us with our point of sale and stock systems. We also partner with Eclipse computing for our Microsoft Great Plains support, and Red Rock Consulting for our DBA functions.

Apart from your recent data warehousing project, what other projects are you working on?

We’re working on a complete networking project at the moment, so across all of our sites. We have a fairly basic network at the moment, so we’re moving to a far more sophisticated network. Our internal network hasn’t been smart enough in the past to manage the large amount of traffic that we have, so we’re putting in a new Cisco network and we’re right in the design phase and about to kick off and it should be implemented in the next 12 months.

We’ve also got a large review of our gaming systems that is going to start in July of next year, and that’s going to be a substantial process for us as well. The other substantial thing that we’ve just come off the back of is a complete replacement of our payroll, schedule and time and attendance systems as well. We’ve have about 14,000 employees and we went from having completely manual scheduling to fully automated systems and a new payroll system as well — that was a challenging project.

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