Ingvar Herland’s title is actually the General Research Manager of the Electronic Services Department. Not very sexy, Ingvar. But we’re just going to call him Peninsula’s Head Geek. We had a chance to chat with him while he was in Las Vegas attending the Consumer Electronics Show, of all things, and this is what he does…
The Background Dossier
Since its founding, Peninsula has seen itself as a hotel industry pioneer of in-room technology. Peninsula COO Peter Borer describes the hotel family’s character as “a blend of the modern and the old world. Peninsula has a foundation of classic hospitality, loaded with gadgets that make your stay easier and more elegant.”
That’s why, way back in 1985, Peninsula Hotels established their Electronic Services Department, and is still the only hotel company in the world with its own research and development facilities that design, build and customize all in-room technology.
Some of Peninsula’s signature innovations included the installation of satellite TV in the flagship Hong Kong property in 1985, as well as the first bathtub telephone at the same hotel in 1994, and bedside panels that control all the light switches and levels in the room.
Today, there are in-situ ESD departments at every Peninsula Hotel, though everything comes from the ESD lab in Aberdeen, outside Hong Kong, and in a big brother kind of twist, Ingvar’s team can control electronics in every single guest room around the world using an elaborate control panel at the Aberdeen laboratory. Mwahahaha!
The Job as Ingvar Sees It
Ingvar joined Peninsula back in 2005. “My work is for the entire group of hotels,” explains Ingvar. “With my team, I develop new technology to go into the latest property—right now we’re working on the upcoming Paris hotel—as well as continuous renovation of the existing properties, either for total renovations or technology upgrades that are done at the same time as architectural and decorative upgrades.”
So where does he do all this?
The actual ESD laboratory and administrative facility is a building complex in Aberdeen. It's so secret, we can't even publish photos of it! Ingvar tells us that it is two stories, though most of the work happens on a single engineering floor that is divided up into different sections for building and testing systems (sort of like the flamethrower scene in James Bond we know you’re picturing right now).
“Most of the things we are doing,” explains Ingvar, “we are developing a completely new product from scratch, doing the circuitry ourselves and testing it in our laboratory. Different laboratory areas test the different components of each new piece of technology, and then we start combining them and testing them out together.”
A typical technology platform or product takes about two years to go from the drawing board to the actual hotel room in a new build, though renovations and upgrades can happen in about six months.
It’s not like the ESD is building televisions and air conditioners, though. Rather, “we create everything that goes into controlling the technology of the room so that guests have control over every aspect of their experience—this includes everything from the light circuits (on average about 24 in a room), to special versions of televisions that Samsung is working on with us, to telephones that the hotel can program so that it tells you the local time and the time back home.”
Some of the more intriguing new gadgets Ingvar told us about include:
-A VOIP Skype gateway in the Shanghai and Tokyo hotel phones that means guests can call anywhere in the world for free.
-Adjustable humidifiers in all the new rooms.
-Nail dryers for guests who like to give themselves manicures on the road
-Radios that will play your favorite local stations.
-Weather monitors in the Shanghai guest rooms that give not only local temperature readings, but also humidity, wind speed and U/V measurements.
-A bathroom Spa Button that you can hit from the bathtub so that several things happen at once: the lights dim to a candle-like level, spa music comes on over the room speakers, and the room’s Do Not Disturb sign is automatically illuminated on the door. This is already available at the Tokyo and Shanghai properties.
You Will Now Be Taken To An Undisclosed Location
The other intriguing aspect of the Peninsula technology R&D process is the fact that the hotel group has model rooms for upcoming properties—right now we hear that they are Shanghai and Paris rooms—set up in an undisclosed location somewhere in Hong Kong where it tests out its new gadgets and gear on Peninsula executives and journalists (how do we sign up for that!?). “It’s just like a normal hotel room,” says Ingvar. “Where you can stay the night, order room service, everything. But it’s not at one of the hotels.”
Oh, and did we mention, that when the ESD contracts out technology manufacturing to various factories around the world, it makes sure that no one factory has more than a single component of the final product, and that each manufacturer signs an ironclad non-disclosure agreement, so that there is no chance of any of the new products leaking out before Peninsula unveils them?
A Typical Day at Work
Ingvar splits his time between two offices: one at Peninsula headquarters in Hong Kong, and one at the R&D lab facility in Aberdeen. He starts his days at headquarters in a series of meetings with other groups in the hotel such as the interior design, electrical and mechanical departments.
After lunch, he heads out to the laboratory to spend the afternoon there getting updates on the latest progress, discussing any problems or obstacles that have come up, and laying out plans both for new properties and existing ones, as well as following any general international technology developments (like CES in Vegas).
Ingvar with says with a chuckle, “With 26 engineers working for you, every day is different and not always predictable, but at least there is usually a pattern.”
So what’s it all for? Ingvar summed up the philosophy at the heart of all his work, saying “The best thing I can do is to help create a hotel experience so that when guests leave the hotel and go to another one, they miss the Peninsula and its amenities—things they might not even have thought about at the time because they are seamlessly making their lives easier—and want to come back.”
And he leaves us with this final nugget to get us salivating. “What we are doing from opening the Shanghai property to opening the new Paris property—this is a completely new technology level. No one has ever seen anything like this, and at this point, very few people have even seen the demo. It’s going to be a big step for us.”
Too bad we have to wait until 2013 to find out just how big!