|By Terence Ronson - August 2002
This year, HITEC celebrated its 30th anniversary, and what amazed me most about that fact (and Mike Wrigley of BOSS IT Ltd.) is that the industry is still trying to fix many of the original problems that saw it formed in the first place. Although we’ve seen the advent of the computer and most especially the sophistication of the PMS (Property Management System), we still talk about how to recognize the guest, and make sure they get bananas or apples in their room as well as a fluffy bathrobe and, maybe a specific color on their walls.
Recognizing some of those technological advances, awards were given to Dietmar Mueller originator of Fidelio and Robert (Bob) Sanford the man behind Hotel Information Systems. Bob in fact wrote a great article about his 30-years in the biz, and it can be downloaded from www.pertlink.net
It’s a well known fact that as chains gobble up other chains, standardization of systems is almost impossible and Kirsten Limbacher Director of Hotel Telecommunications – Six Continents hotels sees this as an impossible dream to make come true. She says that “Trial and error wastes (valuable drinking) time – and customers prefer to sit in the bar than in their rooms messing about trying to make things work. They will use the easiest method possible to get work done. She adds that the customers IT staff need their beauty sleep – and anyone who has to support traveling staff will opt for goof-proof technology to use for the world warrior. Remember, beauty is in the beholder – it does not matter why the guest cannot make it work. It will still reflect badly onto the hotel and its reputation.
On the other hand, the London based Savoy Group who’s IT Department is headed up by Clive Taylor does not have this problem since his handful of deluxe properties are already on a single platform and seamlessly whiz data around the enterprise. Nick Price of Mandarin Oriental would love this to happen, but he says forget it. More important to him than having a standardized PMS is the way the data is captured and used to recognize the guest. He says “let the PMS do what it’s supposed to do; check-in/out, billing, open doors and the phones” – beyond that, is another story.
As the industry designs, builds and operates hotels, there have been numerous failures according to John Dvorak author, columnist and editor, whose been providing unique, insightful commentary about the rapidly changing computer technology industry for over 20 years. He claims that we try and create positive memory touch-points, and we blow it, instead giving negative memories. He claims that some of the most famous failures are in room point of sales communications center – such as the placing of a combined fax machine and printer in every room which has been very expensive and more of a success to the smart salesman than a real service benefit to the guest. John goes on to say, “that keeping up with technology is a fool’s game”. He says “that most important is to have strategic insight – we are too myopic – we need to take a step back and look at the big picture – see what others are doing and see if there is a strategy successfully being used by others that can in turn be used in your business”.
He is also very opposed to high in-room PABX charges, and in his words “hotels are gauging customers”. He is more focused on having hotels give him what he wants, and in order to do that, operators need to step back and take a look at the big picture
Having said that, change may be around the corner since nine prominent hotel industry technology leaders from around the world met over a two-day period prior to HITEC, and formed an initiative to break through the current impasse on systems integration and productivity. The initiative, known as Hotel Technology - Next Generation (HTNG), aims to define a new approach to providing systems and technology services at the property, brand management company and ownership levels. The group concluded that the hotel industry is fundamentally dissatisfied with the effectiveness of current technology options and their preparedness to address future business needs. The primary causes of this dissatisfaction were: lack of effective inter-vendor cooperation and systems integration; drawbacks in the current technology financing process; and poor adoption of modern technologies.
The HTNG initiative aims to define a new approach that will facilitate the development of next-generation, customer-centric systems that will better meet the needs of the global hotel community. Commencing with the development of specific architectural and business guidelines, HTNG will work to promote closer vendor working relationships, system interoperability, and the development of new service-delivery models. HTNG has produced a white paper, "A Path to Achieving Next-Generation Technology for the Hotel Industry," that details the group's analysis and recommendations, including a set of proposed guidelines. It has also launched a campaign that will, starting at HITEC, seek to determine the level of support among industry participants, and to obtain feedback on its initial findings. "The objective of Hotel Technology - Next Generation initiative is to respond to the technology needs of the hotel industry," says Jim Yoakum, a member of the HFTP Technology Hall of Fame and former Chief Information Officer of Marriott International and later, Choice Hotels International. "Hopefully, it will lead toward establishing inter-vendor cooperation and systems integration, creating a much-needed customer-centric platform within our industry."
The multi-national, multi-disciplinary group consists of:
There were a lot of good panel discussions at HITEC, and they talked about recognition programs, direct email campaigns, and CRM. One of those which I most liked, was a group of honest to goodness road-warriors and they had the following comments to make:
I want DSL internet access in my room and I although don’t mind to pay for it – I prefer it to be a bundled amenity. Many of the hotels we stay in, even those we repeatedly return to, suffer from inconsistent services. One of the panelists has a standard procedure when checking into a room with an alarm clock – she unplugs it. She claims they are difficult to programme, and quite often go off in the middle of the night.
Kiosk check-in facilities should be available, so I can use it if I choose. A Ladies floor would be good, one with different amenities and better security. Finger print access to rooms would enhance security and I don’t need a room key. Linking of flight arrival information to the PMS would keep the hotel updated on my arrival time. Fitted bed sheets would help me so that when I toss and turn the bed sheets don’t go with me. The availability of an in-room concierge, so that I can find out local information instead of asking the concierge, who may not speak my language. The availability of a printer is helpful. A faster shower – just like a fire hose.
Well, overall HITEC looked like another success even if perhaps the vendors outnumbered the buyers. There seemed to be more networking in the aisles and restaurants than there was on some of the stands of the network companies. I only noticed a couple of very busy stands like SPRINT and Micros-Fidelio, although MAI did have a handy giveaway – a retractable modem cable – which incidentally last year was on offer at Springer-Miller.
The techies were most definitely there, but do they really make the decisions? Maybe owners should attend….and we could have more time for workshops and educating owners as to the benefits of such items helping ease the decision making process. For me though, the show seemed to be too short. If you wanted to attend the great breakout sessions and panels, do some networking and visit the exhibitors, there just was not enough time. Maybe this view was not shared by the exhibitors, who by the morning of the last day were raring to pack up n go home even though they may not have got their US$15k+ worth for the stands.
Anyway, our thanks must go to Frank Wolfe and the rest of the HITEC team for their wonderful effort in making all this possible. As always there were many surprises especially in the wrap-up CIO session, and hopefully though next year (in New Orleans) as we enter the 3rd decade of HITEC, those surprises will be in the form of problems fixed once and for all, and we can move on to talking about new things.
Now, I want to finish up with two stories about Chicago.
Number one: When I checked into my hotel – Embassy Suites Downtown, and accessed the STSN internet access system in my room – I found I could not send email. Making enquiries to the front desk, they said they would send an engineer – an engineer I said? Yes, they are the people to fix the internet system. Well, when the engineer came, who incidentally was the same guy who came to look at my Aircon 30 minutes earlier and bleed the air pipes, he had a wrench in his hand – I think they got their pipes crossed.
Anyway, after some more discussions I was given the 1-800 number, and why it wasn’t printed on the extensive telephone guide eludes me. Well Suzi in UTAH very helpful, and sorted me in out in under 10 minutes.
Number two: On the night of the HITEC cocktail party I took a taxi over to the Navy Pier. After exiting the cab, I realized that I had left my cell phone in the cab. In total panic, I stopped another cab and asked him for suggestions as to what I should do. He gave me the number of the dispatcher, and I called. After being on hold for 5 minutes, the dispatcher suggested I call the cell phone which I promptly did. Lo and behold the cab driver answered, and admitted to being in possession of the phone. He agreed to deliver it later to my hotel, and collect a reward. What a great guy he was. Pity I did not get his name! He to me, is the star of the show and hit a home run for the Chicago Bears.
August 2002 – This article first appeared HOTEL Asia Pacific magazine
|Also See||HI - TECH in the USA / Spanning Two and a Half Days and Two Halls at Orlando’s Vast Convention Centre, HITEC 2001 Was Not Disappointing / Terence Ronson / July 2001|
|He’s (Not) A Smooth Operator - Terence Ronson's Inside Look at a London Hotel / Terence Ronson / July 2002|
|Small Can Be Beautiful - Terence Ronson's Inside Look at the Hudson Hotel, New York City / Terence Ronson / July 2002|
|Seemed Like a Tall Order: How to “Hot Wire” the World’s Tallest Hotel and Make It One of the Most Technologically Advanced On the Planet / Terence Ronson / Jan 2001|
|Pertlink Launches HOTELINMYHAND; A Unique Handheld PC Application Designed Specifically to Improve Service Delivery in the Hospitality Industry / Jan 2001|