In the hunt for top mobile and Web developers, it's no longer just hot technology start-ups competing with Facebook and Google. Retailers, auto manufacturers and media companies are trying to lure coders and designers as phrases like "user experience" and "reducing friction" enter mainstream business vocabulary.
Now, the hospitality industry is joining the fray. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, whose brands include St. Regis, W Hotels, Westin and Sheraton, is using a new lab in midtown Manhattan—40 miles south of the corporate headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut—as a digital hub. Clay Cowan, Starwood's vice president of digital, is rapidly packing the space with talented techies and expects to have 200 before long, even though the office just had its official opening in April.
Projects his team is pursuing include mobile check-in, so visitors can pass by the front desk and head straight to their room upon arrival; a Google glass app to help travelers get directions and explore their surroundings; and social-networking analytics that enable the company to use the many photos of luxury properties that visitors are posting to Instagram as real-time promotional material.
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Critical to Cowan is getting his developers to keep up with the speedy innovation at fast-growing consumer tech companies like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb rather than focusing on the often glacial pace of change at big hotel companies.