Julia Aymonier, Chief Digital Officer, EHL Group, explores why students of their world-leading hospitality management school see a hybrid digital-human workforce as the future of the industry
At École Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), we make it our mission to ensure that our students have the opportunity to learn about and get experience of the most important new trends in hospitality. In recent years, technology – including emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and data analytics – has played an increasingly important role.
A few years ago, as many other organisations did, we were faced with stakeholders (in our case, our students) that were quite disparaging and uninspired about the technology around them. When I asked them what they thought of IT, our students would typically comment that the printers didn’t work. They were not seeing the immense opportunities for technology to transform the user experience that we knew were growing in the hospitality industry.
So, we had a two-fold challenge. Firstly, we needed to ensure that the school continued to deliver a superior experience to our 3,200 students that have enrolled from over 120 different countries. And secondly, we wanted the technology implementation to give our students experience of a sophisticated solution that would open their eyes to its potential and inspire them to consider how it can help create industry-leading hospitality experiences in the future.
We started by asking our students what they would choose if they could have anything they wanted from IT – and they almost all came back saying a Siri-like interface with EHL. And, as over the past few years, we’ve seen a massive boom in the use of digital assistants in customer services, we decided to explore the potential of AI technology to serve both our visiting students and our fantastic staff.
Exploring the potential for digital colleagues in hospitality
After investigating a number of different providers, including IBM Watson, we chose IPsoft – and its digital colleague Amelia, the most human-like avatar on the market – and began working with them to implement Amelia in 2017.
We started with a proof of concept that looked at the student onboarding process, which due to our international student base, can be particularly complicated and requires a number of different documents to assure the stay of our students in Switzerland. Amelia would enter the process as soon as a student has successfully completed the selection process, compiling and even pre-filling the required documents for each student individually and showing them where they should take the documents via Google Maps. The concept proved to be a success and will be put into production this year.
We also kicked off an IT solution to help our students and visitors connect to the WiFi. European regulations require us to capture the details of all users on our WiFi, but our previous method of issuing WiFi sign-ins via text wouldn’t always work due to some visitors’ mobile service providers not receiving SMS while abroad or because people wouldn’t add the right syntax for the number. It resulted in significant additional workload for our IT team, indeed at our career fairs, we used to have four people on site everyday just to help people access the WiFi. Now to connect, users just need to click on the EHL WiFi on their phone and Amelia pops up on the screen to help them create their account – and we’ve since reduced the on-site support for WiFi at career fairs to just one person.
Next generation’s leaders value a hybrid-workforce
But it’s not just about introducing these technologies to give our students the best in-school experience, we recognise the need to incorporate technology into education and empower students to harness AI in their future careers – rather than compete with it.
At EHL, the students play a big role in developing Amelia, as well as how we both train and test new implementations. They also continuously propose new and great ideas for how else we can use her – including linking Amelia to a Pepper robot, creating an interactive interface across the campus, as well as building in heatmap information so Amelia can tell things like when the lunch queue is smallest.
It’s fantastic to inspire such innovative thinking about how digital assistants can improve the services we offer, and we can’t go fast enough for them! Our students are truly understanding the potential of collaborating with digital colleagues to create more intuitive, intelligent and superior experiences.
At EHL, we’re going to keep innovating with Amelia to test the power of the hybrid-workforce in hospitality. And, as our students enter the world of work, we are excited to see how they apply their understanding of digital colleagues to find new solutions to old problems and to discover novel and exciting hospitality experiences.