by Sameer Umar
Business Intelligence (BI) has become a necessity in the hospitality industry. Those of us who have figured out how to leverage BI have increased both revenues and guest satisfaction. Unfortunately, I have also spoken to many hoteliers who mistake it to be nothing more than reporting. Thus, they keep comparing it with excel spreadsheets where data is manipulated after the fact and there is no tying back to the sources. They naively think that they can compete on historic data that their controller has massaged and boxed in spreadsheets for them.
BI is far more strategic. It is an organization’s ability to track data flow and in the process identify opportunities, minimize risk, and optimize the way it does business. Rather than historic only, BI also engages current data (directly from the source systems) so you can closely monitor the pulse of your business. Instead of static spreadsheets, BI surfaces data via interactive visualizations so you can slice and dice information for faster discovery and timely decision making.
A successful BI program recognizes the value of data, nurtures it throughout its life, and empowers the business to easily utilize it. As a hotel manager, you have to be cognizant of how you handle data quality. After all, data is the fuel that powers BI.
Just as you have service standards to ensure an acceptable level of guest satisfaction, you need data standards to ensure a reasonable level of business insight. Think of data as a liquid that flows into a mold and solidifies into that shape. The outlines for these molds exist within your operational systems (PMS, CRS, POS etc.) but it is the business standards that solidify the mold.
For example, in your reservation system(s) you set up rate codes, market segments, and maybe some seasonal boundaries. If you have a clearly defined purpose and convention for these you can easily extract a lot of insights about your guests, booking trends, and pricing amongst other things.
Of course you may have collected data before defining your standards or may decide to refine your standards further for better data quality. Make sure you choose a BI partner who understands your business and they’ll work with you to extract the most out of your existing data. Plus, they will also be able to help you identify gaps in your data and improve data processes.
Possibly hundreds of people check in and out of your hotel every day. But you ensure every new arrival walks into a clean room. That’s because you have a clearly defined process. Check-in and check-out times are set so that housekeeping has time to clean and set up rooms for new arrivals.
You need to implement a similar process for data stewardship. For example, regularly review new bookings to see if you can identify any repeat business and update the guest profiles. Guest recognition is a virtuous cycle that leads to more repeat business!
You don’t need a separate team for data stewardship (although you may choose to do so). Your reservation, front office, and night audit teams can all be incentivized on data quality scores. You can determine and track data quality scores by measuring data against standards, completeness, and reduction in duplicate data. That way they will be more careful during data entry as well as double check their work when there is down time.
You don’t have rotary phones and VHS systems in your rooms anymore. With time you keep upgrading the technology at your hotel. You have probably undergone renovations to maintain your hotel’s fresh contemporary feel. Why would you then rely on incomplete, stale, and outdated data to run it?
The biggest mistake I have seen hoteliers make with data is confusing quantity with quality. Mountains of inaccurate and outdated data are as good as having no data at all. That’s because the world we live in is not constant. Market conditions evolve as do guest preferences. Thus, data that has not been updated loses its value over time.
You should rely on current data (no older than 24 months) to support your day to day decisions. Talk to your IT department or technology partner to archive data up to 5 years old should you need to look at it on occasion. Anything older than that – purge! If a guest hasn’t stayed with you in over 5 years, you can be assured their preferences have changed.
I know many people will find this hard to accept and will try their best to come up with situations where they may need to rely on 7 or 10 year old data. For the sake of argument, let’s assume such a situation existed, the time, effort, and cost associated with carrying all this dead weight and trying to make sense of it a decade later will not justify the ROI. So be as cold as the numbers and let go once they’ve outlived their useful life.
Get the Right Tool(s)
If you have good quality data flowing across your operation don’t sell yourself short by simply taking a weekly or monthly snapshot of it in excel for your department meetings. You should get a BI app that will enable you to interact with the data in a more dynamic manner. It should enable you to stay on top of your key stats on a daily basis and answer the next question as it occurs to you versus waiting on your analyst to get back to you in a couple of days.
A popular myth about BI solutions is that they are expensive. While there are robust enterprise BI solutions in the market that can be cost prohibitive, you can also find leaner cloud solutions that only charge a monthly subscription fee. Based on your specific needs you can pick the right BI solution for you but you can no longer afford to be without one. Chances are that the hotel across the street is already on it and is trying to steal your lunch from right under your nose.
Your BI solutions partner can provide you the technical infrastructure, tools to help organize your data, and, if they are hospitality experts, even insightful analysis right out of the box. However, if you follow the above steps and streamline your data flows the resulting BI utility will be much higher.