CIO Spotlight

Hospitality headhunt

Prasanna Rupasinghe, Director of IT and AV, Kempinski MoEBorn and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Rupasinghe’s initial interest in IT was spawned through the use of “magical” 16 MHz PCs at his school’s computer lab. He undertook a degree in Computer Science at Informatics University in his hometown in 1990, and bagged an internship at software development firm Computer Information Systems (CIS) during the course of his studies.

“My passion for the hospitality industry began there,” Rupasinghe says. “Technology, applications and software were limited back then, but it was an exciting time. We started developing software for hotels in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and that really stoked my interest.”

He completed his studies at Informatics, and joined CIS full-time in 1992. Whilst there, he gained a strong grounding in the use of MICROS software – which encompassed point of sale and front entry technologies – and would lay the foundations for a number of projects in his career.
His role at CIS provided the opportunity for some first-class training, as he took courses in Singapore, Hong Kong and underwent a two-month stint in Berlin. “It was all fantastic experience,” Rupasinghe says. “At that point technology and systems were developing, but I learned a vast amount about Unix and Linux.” The extra work clearly paid off, as he was promoted several times in his time at the company, “I think the hand I played in delivering mature projects was my greatest strength,” he says.

In 1995, Rupasinghe was headhunted by Dubai firm Key Information Technology (KIT), where he worked in Customer Support. “KIT gave me my first taste of the Middle East,” he says. “I did a few installations across Dubai, Bahrain and Oman, which gave me some fantastic exposure to international experience.” He enjoyed a year-long stint at the firm, and returned to Sri Lanka in 1996 to join Taj Hotels as Group Systems Administrator. “I was offered the job by accident,” Rupasinghe says. “I ran into a customer from a previous project who offered me a job, and it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”

His position at Taj provided a varied and challenging experience. “In ’96 a lot of changes were needed to the company’s IT,” Rupasinghe says. “There weren’t proper networks in place; we were only just moving to fibre-based networks and only 10 or 15 people in the company had email, and we were still using dial-up modems.” Rupasinghe’s expertise was also needed in his role as Project Manager in establishing the IT for the ‘Taj Exotica’ hotel, opened in Sri Lankan city Bentota. He also recalls with a degree of puzzlement the hysteria that surrounded the run-up to Y2K at the turn of the millenium. “In the end, all the fuss was for nothing,” he recalls. “We had to investigate all of our equipment, all of our hardware and infrastructure; all eyes were on us. Of course we were relieved when all was fine but looking back the whole thing was blown out of proportion.”

Once again Rupasinghe’s track record of strong networking and robust project implementation put him in good stead, as he was handpicked to join Kuwaiti firm Enhanced Engineering and Multi-Technologies Co. (EEMC), following a meeting with an old customer from his time at KIT. “I was mainly supporting the company’s PMS (Property Management System) and working with Clipper.”

With investment lacking in the Sri Lankan hospitality industry amid political unrest, Rupasinghe was unable to work in his homeland. However, he was not short of options in Kuwait City, as Kempinski Hotels came knocking for his services in 2003. He was once again charged largely with MICROS installation, as well as providing a range of technology services and management. Whilst there, he forged a strong relationship with the hotel’s General Manager, yet another connection who could provide a timely professional springboard for Rupasinghe. In 2005 the GM opened Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, and didn’t hesitate in asking him to become the hotel’s IT Manager.

The move has proven to be an excellent decision for a fulfilled Rupasinghe, “Working for Kempinski in Dubai has an amazing professional experience,” he says. “Dubai is always looking to update its technology and challenge itself to stay ahead, which means I have a range of great opportunities.” In the midst of his Kempinski MoE tenure, Rupasinghe has found time to complete a three-year Master’s course in Management of Information Technology at the University of Melbourne in Dubai. “I’ve learned a lot from getting the degree,” Rupasinghe says. “It’s given me an improved perspective of the management aspects of IT, in terms of aligning with business objectives and the reengagement of processes.”
In 2007, Rupasinghe was promoted to Director of IT for the hotel, a move which he has relished with increased responsibility, “It’s a more senior role, I became closer to the executive committee,” he says. “It’s given me greater leverage in dealing with the owners and senior management.”

Rupasinghe is especially proud of two projects that he has overseen whilst at Kempinski MoE. The first of which is a Fixed Network Infrastructure offering, whereby his team transformed the existing LAN network via end-to-end virtualised capabilities, delivering Network-as-a-Service at the edge. “All of our IT is dependent on our infrastructure; it is our backbone,” he says. “We need the ability to provide an exemplary quality of applications and services, and along with it an ability to scale-up. We have to be able to support applications such as full HD & Ultra HD video, making the network 10GE, 40GE ready.”

He has also recently embarked on an IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) project, which will allow a range of BYOD services for guests throughout the hotel, including TV, games and e-commerce options. Fixed in-room iPads are standard, and Rupasinghe has also used the technology to push marketing campaigns that have been agreed with Mall of the Emirates. As would be expected, the veteran of the hospitality industry knows exactly what his guests expect, and what it takes to keep them satisfied. “They don’t have time to learn how to use a service,” he says. “It has to be simple, comprehensive and always available. Their experience in terms of IT always has to be engaging and reliable. It was easy to gain the buy-in from senior management on this; and I also prefer to invest in areas that are visible to guests.”

Rupasinghe names Steve Jobs as his role model, “His desire to make every detail absolutely perfect, to never give up, and have such passion for what he did is inspirational,” he says. His proudest moment? “I take pride in everything I do,” he says.

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