By Lauren Graves
Business partners for over six years now, Ted Schweitzer and Vivek Shaiva, the SVP of Marketing and eCommerce and Chief Information Officer respectively at La Quinta Inns and Suites, are a true testament to the importance of building a collaborative cross-functional relationship in IT and Marketing. The two executives have experienced paramount success as a result of consistently working together to adjust to the rapid technological changes that have become so intrinsic to the effective transformation of marketing and IT together over the years.
At Argyle Executive Forum’s CMO/CIO Partnership Event in Dallas, the two executives sat together on a panel and share their perspectives on this budding “strategic partnership”. They were complimented by many in the room for painting a very realistic and achievable picture of success. Ted and Vivek share some valuable insight on the greatest successes and biggest challenges they have faced in their journey to building a strong, unified team behind the La Quinta Brand.
[Lauren Graves] La Quinta has been recognized several times for being ahead of the mark when it comes to technology and brand innovation. How important is the IT/Marketing partnership to the core of these successes?
[Ted Schweitzer] We’ve found that it is critical to work side by side from the inception/ideation and certainly throughout the creation of innovative ideas. With our partnership at La Quinta, we’ve found that the earlier in the process we involve the teams, the better the success of just about any idea.
[Vivek Shaiva] The IT/marketing relationship is very important. With the rapid increase in the impact of technologies in the social, mobile, cloud and big data space driving consumer behavior it has become more important than ever before that marketing and technology departments to collaborate together to define completely new models of customer engagement that enable us to stay unique and improve market share.
“We’ve found that it is critical to work side by side from the inception/ideation and certainly throughout the creation of innovative ideas.”
Looking back, what is the project that really defined your partnership at La Quinta?
[Schweitzer] While we’ve gone through several large scale projects over many years, our innovation in mobile was the most fun in terms of defining not only our abilities to research, ideate and develop something never seen before in our space; but to also really solidify the partnership between marketing and IT. Though I have to caveat, that type of relationship work is not unique to marketing and IT alone. I’ve watched and participated with the same success with our operations teams and others at La Quinta where IT simply helps build the technology footprint necessary to bring success to any project.
[Shaiva] I believe it has been our ongoing engagement on the evolution of our branded web site (lq.com) to the new mobile platform, and newer digital marketing enabled platforms that have been the core driver of the overall partnership that extends into loyalty, data analytics and other areas of marketing and customer engagement.
What major barrier did each of you (and your respective teams) have to overcome in order to establish a truly collaborative working relationship?
[Schweitzer] All of our actual development work is outsourced. So our IT partners are many and varied with a strong architecture, vendor management and QA team in house. With multiple shops running development, seamless orchestration of those efforts is a lot to manage for both the business and IT as well. Constant communication and openness have proven to be the key for this successful model at La Quinta. Having a shared voice is the single biggest benefit to those outsourced shops as they are clearly hearing the same direction from IT management and the business.
[Shaiva] In the early days, we came to the recognition that the best recipe for success was to not consider ourselves as two separate departments with independent goals but one team with a shared common goal. The teams needed to feel that the success of Marketing was success for IT and vice versa. Shared common goals is a theme that cuts across all departments and driven by the executive leadership of the company.
What continues to be the most difficult aspect of working so closely on new digital marketing and eCommerce initiatives?
[Schweitzer] We always want more as a business and determining the most sustainable and truly impactful initiatives is always the hardest part. Our job in marketing and ecommerce is to drive ideas, weigh concepts and hopefully find innovations that facilitate the customers interaction with our brand. From searching and finding our hotels to booking and the stay, each step of the customer journey with us is important and technology continues to be at the core of that process.
[Shaiva] Time to market. Changing markets and consumer expectations and the need to constantly evolve and keep our digital platforms “fresh” outstrip the pace at which technology can be deployed. A new platform is under development to address this.
What is the secret to the sauce of the IT/Marketing partnership at La Quinta? What advice can you impart to those who are just starting out on this journey to digital brand stardom?
[Schweitzer] A mutual appreciation of the experience, skills and experience is a must. The respect for differences in ideas and execution helps foster the best outcome for the business and ultimately for the end user – our customers. You can’t forget that ideas and nuance come from everywhere and the ability to continually improve is key. And lastly, if you don’t measure, you can’t make it better.
[Shaiva] Recognize that the pace of change of technology continues to accelerate and one team cannot be successful in isolation to be relevant and fresh in consumer engagement. You need the marketing brains, you need the technology insights and you need to figure out how to engage cross departments to be able to innovate and bring unique offerings to your customers. You are ONE team. This cannot just be lip service to an age old business tenet – it is a must in today’s complex environment. My message to teams: Check your ego at the door and figure out how you can collaborate effectively, else you are bound to fail.
Ted Schweitzer, SVP Marketing & eCommerce, La Quinta
Ted began his career as a bellman in a fast-paced convention center hotel in Oklahoma City. After spending a little over a decade in operations, he moved into progressive corporate positions with Choice Hotels International in Phoenix. In 2002, Ted joined La Quinta to help usher in a new era of growth through online channels. As senior vice president, marketing and ecommerce, Ted oversees all media, distribution partnerships and both e and m commerce platforms. Through innovation, acquisition and franchising, La Quinta has continued to set records not only through multiple online and mobile initiatives but for the brand as well. Ted is married, lives and works in Dallas and enjoys exploring the world, through travel of course.
Vivek Shaiva, Executive Vice President & Chief Information Officer, La Quinta
Vivek Shaiva joined La Quinta Inns and Suites in 2007 as their Chief Information Officer. He provides leadership over all their information systems and property technologies including telecom, HSIA and video systems. Prior to joining the company, he was Senior Vice President, Enterprise Architecture and IT Advisor for the management company that handles mergers and acquisition for the Blackstone Group’s real estate hospitality portfolio. Before he started his engagements with the Blackstone Group, Shaiva served as Director Software Architecture at NBC Universal-GE in New York providing leadership to many enterprise wide information systems projects. Throughout his career, Shaiva has demonstrated a strong passion to leverage advances in information technology in order to maximize business benefits. He has successfully introduced new technologies for many business critical functions across several organizations using an approach that encourages aggressive exploration of new technologies coupled with a closely managed, structured deployment process that is able to maximize benefits from technology enabled business transformations while minimizing risk. Shaiva lives in Bedminster, NJ with his wife Deepa and children Nikita (16) and Rohan (13).