The Key Challenges To Operational Innovation

We hear from Kevin Palazzolo at Starwood Hotels and Resorts


Kevin has worked at Starwood Hotels and Resorts since 2010. In May 2014, he became the company's Director of Operational Innovation for Central for London Hotels, playing an essential role in driving operation innovation.

Ahead of the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London, we sat down with him.

What do you see as the Key Challenge that you are addressing?

Companies who have committed to moving forward with Innovation start with generating great ideas is the easiest step, harder, is finding those concepts that are truly innovative; The real ‘Game Changers’ but when you eventually achieve that and you have found that that Silver Bullet, this is where the real challenges begin.

A great innovative idea will remain just that unless it can be fully embedded into the core of your business operation.

To do this it takes passion, dedication, determination and the conviction that the innovation will be a success but does everyone feel the same way as you?

The key challenge we will be addressing is Speed to Market – what it takes to build the right structure and atmosphere to get your innovative idea to the customer as soon as possible. We will discuss how we get key stakeholder buy-in so they put their money and reputation on the line for innovation.

Would you describe your organisation as having an ‘innovative culture’? If so, why?

Starwood is a visionary leader in global hospitality with a strong commitment to pacesetting innovation, lifestyle focused design, signature services and strong traveller loyalty.

Starwood takes a holistic approach to innovation ensuring creativity and inventive ideas run through the business at every level. It this this exciting combination of the ‘Bottom Up’ being our 1200 properties worldwide and our ‘Top Down’ with our Global Innovation team based at Starwood’s own Innovation Studio - StarLab. All this has enabled us to drive a culture of Innovation for the last 20 years making it truly part of our DNA and simply how we do Business.

Some examples of Starwood’s innovation include:

1.3 new Brands: It launch W Hotels in 1998 in NYC an innovative luxury lifestyle brand, then, in 2005, it conceived Aloft Hotels a forward design and tech savvy, and finally, in 2008, Element Hotels (smart and eco-friendly, sustainable design).

2.First global company to launch keyless check in using smartphones or the Apple Watch.

3.Botlr: the first ever butler robot which is currently being tested in Aloft Cupertino.

The potential pitfalls for an innovation executive:

As an advocate of change, your role is to keep challenging a company’s status quo; however you must be careful not to fall into those ‘traps’ that can catch an Innovation Executive.

The biggest risks to watch out for are:

1. Poor speed to market due to continuously searching for perfection. It’s this balance between large corporate vs Start up project rollout.

2. Becoming demotivated when the innovation concept gets stuck in Red Tape.

3. Find yourself chasing rainbows by not clearly scoping your Innovation opportunity.


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