So Much Confusion
Compelling Reasons for a Single Wireless Communication Platform
|By Mike Benjamin, September 2006
With all the advancements in communications, it really amazes me how often we see hotel engineers walking around with three or more devices strapped to their belts. It’s not uncommon to see engineers with a handheld device, an old-fashioned two-way radio, a cell phone and sometimes a pager. No wonder they look worn out. They’re probably physically tired from the load, and also stressed out.
Why do some hotel owners and managers still struggle with the concept of communications convergence? It seems too often devices are purchased for one use without concern for the overall communications needs or strategy of the hotel. I believe the typical reason is that it’s a little cheaper (in the short term) to add one more system. Is there one device that does it all over one network? If so, what is it?
I don’t profess to be an expert in the technical details of communication infrastructure, nor do I want to speculate or promote which specific technologies are right for the hotel industry. I do, however, have a unique perspective in that our company has helped hundreds of hotels integrate two-way messaging with our Rapid Response work flow software. Although we have relationships with many of the communication vendors, we don’t have any financial interest in promoting their products. Our goal is to help our hotel customers make the right decisions so our system works well.
Our customers often expect us to simply tell them what the best solution is for their paging needs. We explain that solutions are available but there is no single silver bullet for everyone. What works best or makes financial sense for one hotel may not work well for another. What we do know is that one device is better than three or four. There are many solutions that support the single device including both outside carriers and premise-based solutions where the hotel uses its own network.
All-in-One Devices Take Hold
In general, most cell phone carriers support some form of text messaging and “direct connect” to replace the radio. Nextel/Sprint was the first with “push to talk” and support for Java business applications. This all-in-one functionality has given them good market penetration in the lodging industry. However, premise-based systems such as SpectraLink and Vocera that utilize the hotel’s Wi-Fi network are catching on as well. The other option is the Wi-Fi mobile Pocket PC. I apologize if I have missed a few but my intention is not to suggest what specific system to use but to emphasize the importance of strategic planning and the value of convergence.
We still see new hotel openings where two-way radios have been purchased prior to evaluating paging systems for work flow. Once the radios are purchased, the decision to switch to single device solutions becomes much more difficult. Hoteliers are stuck with application-specific, multiple devices without a strategic plan. Ultimately, this approach prevents the hotel from being competitive because they are slower to implement technologies that give them the edge in terms of service delivery and productivity. This doesn’t mean you should go throw out your two-way radios. (I’ll get to that later.)
As more and more back-office mobile applications like GuestWare are adopted (like POS, PMS, maintenance, housekeeping, concierge, gaming, banquets), the more important it is to have a standard platform. Applications are also becoming more sophisticated than simple text messaging, making a strategy for using smart devices like Mobile PCs or ones that are Java enabled even more critical. Communications systems must be flexible to support new functionality.
Each hotel, as well as its associates, has different needs. We have seen significant growth in the adoption of work flow tools beyond housekeeping and engineering dispatching into areas such as room service, bell, valet and convention services. Associates don’t necessarily need all of their processes mobilized but with the increase in mobile applications the value for convergence is rapidly increasing.
Not surprisingly, the type of network selected is typically based on cost. Unfortunately, outside carriers often have poor coverage penetration in certain pockets of the building. This can create more headaches than benefits for the associates and sometimes frustration for the guests. The remedy is to invest in costly “enhancements” such as bi-directional amplifiers or repeaters.
Time for an All-Building, Wi-Fi Solution?
Oftentimes the outside carrier enhancement decision is based on guests’ needs. However, this can require a more costly multi-carrier solution. Sometimes a deal can be struck with the carrier to share out the roof or sign a big enough phone deal. The big question here is whether it is better to invest in Wi-Fi, which can serve many purposes, throughout the building. If cellular carriers would start supporting dual-mode (the technology already exists to automatically switch between Wi-Fi and cellular), this could allow hotels to focus on one Wi-Fi network.
I don’t mean to say that everyone should go out and replace their two-way radios today. The traditional two-way radio can still make a lot of sense. If you can’t afford to do it right, you are better off waiting until you can. Implementing a sophisticated wireless work flow system can be a real distraction if coverage is inadequate. We have seen projects fail and restarted with radios because hotel operators tried to implement paging work flow without adequate coverage.
A common misconception about Rapid Response work flow tools is that they require two-way text messaging. Although there are great benefits to automated messaging, I believe more than 70 percent of the value of implementing rapid response is in how associates and management use the data collected. Managing response times, ensuring requests don’t slip through the cracks, defect and request reduction, resource planning and linking issues to guest profiles are all benefits obtained regardless of the dispatch method. After all, it still takes 15 minutes to deliver a towel—even with a pager.
These are all big financial decisions that can impact the long-term competitiveness of the hotel. The decision for existing hotels can be more complex although they also have the luxury of waiting until they are ready. New-build hotels have it a little easier, but it appears there is still no silver bullet. The cost to have great multi-carrier cell coverage and Wi-Fi throughout is very expensive, especially in large resorts.
With the technology that is available today, there is no reason engineers or managers should have to carry around multiple communication devices. One device can easily handle the workload of several. Carefully evaluate the different devices before settling on the one that works best for your hotel. Just as important, invest wisely in your communication infrastructure—with an eye toward the future, not the past. Your staff and your guests will thank you.
Mike Benjamin is vice president of Diversified Computer Corp., maker of GuestWare, the lodging industry’s leading customer relationship management software. GuestWare, which has more than 700 hotel customers and more than 15 PMS interfaces, was designed specifically for the lodging industry. For more information about GuestWare, go to www.guestware.com, contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (888) 504-8378.
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