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The enterprise poster child for mobile success is Starbucks. The poster child for ecommerce success is Amazon. But remember — both these companies are less than 30 years old, at least if you’re counting from 1987 when Howard Schultz purchased Starbucks.

A commitment to mobile innovation in a company that is almost 100 years old is something else entirely. Hilton Worldwide was founded in 1919, and today has more than 4,200 hotels in 93 countries. Generally speaking, global companies of this size and age are known more for being held back in tech by sluggish bureaucracies, fragmented technology systems, and a lack of agility. Hilton appears to be bucking the trend.

This year, the company completed a global rollout of its mobile Digital Check-in and Choose Your Room mobile capabilities. Available only to members of the Hilton HHonors loyalty program, the apps let guests sign into their account, check-in, and choose their room via a floor plan or list, all via smartphone or tablet (or computer).

This summer, Hilton’s taking that a step further when it introduces its ambitious Digital Key option across four Hilton brands: Hilton, Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, and Canopy. The mobile technology will enable guests to bypass the front desk altogether by issuing a room key direct to their device – no plastic key card necessary. Again, this functionality will be available only to Hilton HHonors members, so the brand is clearly tying innovation to growth and increased loyalty bookings.

“The industry is moving fast and we’re trying to move fast with it,” says Joshua Sloser, VP of Digital Product and Innovation at Hilton. “We believe our guests want that sort of choice and control.”

When asked about how a large enterprise brand like Hilton is able to remain nimble and innovate in a space that is often a challenge for global companies, Sloser pointed to several areas.

Connecting to the corporate mission

Sloser talked first about connecting digital innovation to the brand’s corporate mission. In the case of Hilton, it’s all about “filling the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality” (yes, this goes back to the days of Conrad Hilton). “That’s an easy principal to apply to a guest that’s standing in front of you,” says Sloser. “It’s a harder principal to explain when you think about what that means for your mobile app.”

He attributes his success to being able to demonstrate this mobile-to-mission connection to others in his organization, including both senior-level execs and the 80,000 front-line workers who need to be able to interact with guests. By showing how digitizing the travel experience will serve and delight guests — and in turn, have them talk about their experience with others — he’s been able to get buy-in at all levels.

“It’s really important to have as much clarity as possible around what you’re trying to execute,” he continues, “and communicate really, really well and really, really frequently so that people understand and come along with you.”

Agile development

Sloser explains that he doesn’t look at mobile as a platform, as much as an approach. Using an agile approach to development has enabled his team, along with the IT and development teams at Hilton, to move quickly while remaining responsive to change. “Agile has enabled us to have a rapid pipeline and adjust to a very robust landscape that’s fluid and always changing,” he says.

He adds that Hilton updates apps and functionality every six to eight weeks. Aside from the big headline projects, this includes things that may be small in terms of size of rollout, but are intended to continually impact guests’ stays with the hotel. “It’s more than pushing out new software,” he says. “It’s simple things like making the app contextual to your stay.”

“So when you open the app, it knows if you have an upcoming stay, serves that up, along with the 5-day weather forecast so you can pack appropriately,” Sloser says. “We’re constantly working through a steady stream of items that we believe will help our guests throughout their stay.”

Common infrastructure

According to Sloser, most hotel companies have a disparate array of property management systems. A number of years ago Hilton invested in overhauling its systems to create a common infrastructure across all properties. “It was a very costly and time-consuming investment for us,” he says, “but now that we’re in this very fast moving digital age, it’s enabled us as a company to be able to rapidly build services like Digital Check-in, Choose Your Room, and Digital Key. All of that is much easier to integrate with a singular property management system.”

As to mobile’s impact on growth, Sloser says that the hospitality industry has a history of being hyper-focused on the booking portion of the customer journey. “There’s been tremendous focus on web and mobile as an ecommerce engine for the company — it drives over a quarter of our business,” he says.

“But I think some of the other directions we’re going in now show that mobile is more than just a place to come and book, but can actually be something that can serve the guest throughout their entire journey,” Sloser says, “which we believe will ultimately help bring them back to us in the future.”

Joshua Sloser, VP of Digital Product and Innovation at Hilton, will be joining other senior execs at Mobile Summit and moderating one of the boardroom sessions focusing on personalized marketing. More details on the sessions at Mobile Summit and be found on the event’s agenda page. Space is extremely limited — we’ve only got seats for a total of 180 executives — but it’s not too late to apply for one of the remaining seats.

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