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Serving up productivity with robots

Robots at Park Avenue Rochester Hotel & Suites have been a game-changing productivity initiative.

Park Avenue Rochester uses an automated manpower deployment system that prioritises housekeeping room assignments and communicates them to the room attendant via Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

WHILE there has been much talk of robotics technology being used by businesses to improve efficiency and reduce their reliance on manpower, Park Avenue Rochester Hotel & Suites has actually taken the leap to become the first hotel in Singapore to introduce robots in its operations.

Surrounded by lush greenery, Park Avenue Rochester is a business hotel in one-north, Singapore with 351 hotel rooms and 41 serviced offices. It currently uses two robots for its housekeeping and F&B operations. The system took over a year to develop, from conceptualisation to implementation.

"With the growing manpower crunch and intensifying competition in recent times, it is imperative to embrace work productivity enhancements not just for survival, but also to develop a sharper edge in business. These conditions have motivated us further to think out of the box in leveraging productivity-boosting initiatives," says Ryan Sun, general manager, hospitality division at Park Avenue Rochester.

The robots have brought significant benefits to the hotel. "Robie", the robot assisting in housekeeping operations, helps save around 19.3 man-hours daily, roughly equivalent to 3.5 full-time employees. Some work hazards and incidents of staff reporting sick have also dropped, resulting in a higher staff retention rate and morale. Meanwhile, "Cobie", the robot serving as food butler, is able to deliver room service to up to three rooms per trip, thereby freeing up staff to focus on higher-value work.

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While the presence of the robots was unsettling for some employees initially, these fears have since receded once their benefits became obvious, explains Mr Sun.

"Culturally, the introduction of robots, particularly in the initial integration period, will bring an emotional impact. There may be some degree of resistance, as jobs have to be redesigned, and there will also be sharp learning curves involving intensive training to integrate workflows with robots. Of course, some staff may also have concerns of obsolescence but more often than not, they will realise they are unfounded as robots allowed their jobs to be upgraded," Mr Sun says.

In another effort to boost productivity, Park Avenue Rochester has also deployed two IT systems to optimise its back-of-house operations. The first is a cloud-based facility management solution that manages and tracks guest requests as well as work orders. This has reduced check-in waiting time and as a result enhanced guest satisfaction. The second is an automated manpower deployment system that prioritises housekeeping room assignments and communicates them to the appropriate room attendant via Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

By integrating both systems, the housekeeping and maintenance work orders can be easily created, prioritised, tracked, escalated if delayed and eventually closed in a timely fashion. The combined systems are also able to analyse data, as well as measure and evaluate productivity. Furthermore, staff can remotely connect and manage such operations using hand-held devices.

Another initiative that helps lighten and ease staff workload is the fully automated online room booking system that does away with reservationists' intervention. This allows the reservationists to focus on improving customer experience and also eliminates errors caused by manual processing. More measures to improve efficiency are in the pipeline, reveals Mr Sun. The hotel is planning to implement an e-signature system to enable faster check-ins and convenience for hotel guests.

Says Mr Sun: "With that, we are also in the process of designing a self check-in kiosk so that hotel guests can DIY their admission in the event that our counter staff are engaged. In fact, thinking a bit further, we are also participating in a pilot project that allows hotel guests to check-in to the hotel upon arrival at Changi Airport."