The Shangri-La Hotel and Resorts group announced that it has spent more than US$3 million on a reservation/CRM (customer relationship management) system to handle its 42 hotels in Asia. Anand Rao, the hotel chain's chief information officer, said it took a while to get everything done the way the group wanted, but he said he was happy with the result, even though his team had to battle through the Sars outbreak and solve glitches in the Chinese-language software. 'We have never failed in an IT project,' he said. 'This project was delayed because of Sars last year and some of the Chinese-language issues, but we went live on March 21 this year and the whole thing was within budget. 'Selling this project to management was easy. Getting the software to work was difficult,' he said. Perhaps economic considerations were the main reason behind the difficulty to get senior management to accept the project. 'The motivation to create this system was not to save money but to serve our customers,' he said. The Shangri-La has a number of special issues, and covering them was challenging. Not only must the hotels handle different versions of Chinese (simplified and traditional Chinese characters), they also have a high level of service to live up to. Mr Rao said European hotels tend to have 50 rooms and exquisite service, while American hotels have hundreds of rooms and 'reasonable' service. Shangri-La hotels have many rooms while providing great service - and that requires a lot of work, he said. 'We have 15 to 20 room types, for example. In the US, they usually have only a couple of room types. Our typical reservation is touched four or fives times before you check in. In the US, a reservation is usually seen by only one person. Our people also have to know a lot about the region,' he said. The software firm Mr Rao deals with is owned by a US company. The product is MICROS-Fidelio's OPERA Central Reservations and Customer Information Systems. It took a year for the Shangri-La team and the Fidelio team to work out all the issues, one of which was how to handle Chinese characters. 'Nobody knows what it means to handle Chinese. They say they are Unicode compatible or something, but [unless they have experience using Chinese] they really do not understand the issues. How do I do a search for a Chinese name, for example? How do I handle names in traditional and simplified characters? These American software companies really do not understand the issues,' he said. But despite the shortcomings, Fidelio and the Shangri-La, which is owned by the Kerry Group, the biggest shareholder in the SCMP Group, publishers of the South China Morning Post, worked quite well together. Because the emphasis at Shangri-La is on serving customers, Mr Rao said there would not be many high-technology gadgets in the hotel rooms. 'Our attitude to technology is different from others. We have a complex wake-up call service, for example. You could program it yourself, but it is a lot easier just to ring the front desk and have them do it for you,' he said. 'We have no intention of letting a Shangri-La hotel room look like the cockpit of a 747.' In a job that normally lasts an average 18 months, Mr Rao seems to be on his way to setting a record. Not only has he been in the job for 15 years, many of his technology team (numbering about 25) have stuck with him too. He credits this to an excellent relationship with management. 'If I tell them a project will take a certain length of time, they believe me,' he said, adding that the management trusted him to make the right decision.