By Aaron Shepherd
We are well accustomed to hearing the term ‘free agent’ thrown around in the world of professional sports, used to describe a player who is able to act freely without being controlled by someone else. But what if I told you that this concept stretched beyond the field of any professional sports arena, and has made its way into the realm of technology?
Over the last decade, technologists have watched the steady rise of agnostic technology. This shift has been long overdue in industries like hospitality and not without resistance and obstacles. After all, hospitality is an industry built on tradition, while guest expectations are informed by a world built on innovation. Historically, the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset has had a somewhat insidious impact on the maintenance and evolution of core hospitality processes and platforms, leaving hotels in the technological dark ages, while the travelers they hope to attract live in the future. But, as the saying goes, “adapt or die” – and in the realm of hospitality, this can be better understood as “innovate, or be left behind.” Now, as hoteliers move to embrace this ideology and position their properties for digital reform, agnostic technology has found itself in the driver’s seat.
In simple terms, agnostic technology refers to platforms that are interoperable among various systems. An agnostic system can function in a variety of environments and is often preferred by those who are unbiased towards the use of different technology tools to address the unique needs of a business. Rather than adhering to the one-size-fits-all framework of legacy platforms, which were often immobile and difficult to scale or connect with other platforms, a technology-agnostic approach favors the use of open APIs and microservices infrastructure.
The Microservices Difference
In hospitality, we talk a lot about industry buzzwords; guest experience, personalization, the new normal – the list is virtually endless. But from the perspective of a technologist, there is one buzzword we should remain hyper-focused on in 2022: microservices.
For those unfamiliar, a microservice architecture consists of loosely-coupled services and applications, which can work independently of other applications. These distributed services are hosted on an open API, which allows for easy communication and integration across applications while ensuring each business requirement is handled by its own microservice. Think of this like a ‘divide and conquer’ approach, existing in direct contrast to the all-in-one framework of legacy, monolithic platforms. This can also be better understood when we consider the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ adage; do you want the platform that promises to do everything at the cost of specificity and performance, or do you want to rely on a collection of specialized applications that definitely master and optimize their respective requirements?
To be clear, this is different from “silo” applications, where the various applications have to have “interfaces” to transfer data between them. Microservices are meant to be interoperable, allowing for relatively frictionless sharing of information via “composite” services or “mashups”.
Across industries, business leaders are increasingly keen on the use of microservices, often crediting their enhanced scalability, efficiency, security, and customization potential as the primary selling point. In fact, 88% of the 1,056 IT executives, developers executives, and middle-level executives surveyed by IBM in 2021 either “agree” or “agree completely” that microservices offer many benefits. Moreover, in 2021, Statista revealed that 85% of respondents from large organizations with 5,000 or more employees are currently using microservices.
From a scalability perspective, the benefit of a microservice architecture is undeniable. Where legacy platforms were largely resistant to scale and evolution (or subject to hefty upgrade/integration fees), microservice platforms are built horizontally and run independently. They can therefore be adjusted without impacting the whole system. This means hoteliers can add, remove, update or otherwise change each microservice platform with ease and, in turn, scale at whatever pace their property requires to remain competitive. This infrastructure also mitigates service delays, as operational problems (although rare) will be contained within the affected microservice and will not negatively impact other platforms.
Learning from Legacy Mistakes
It’s important to glean lessons from those who came before us and paved the way to our current landscape. There is, perhaps, no better example of the shift from legacy technology to a microservice, agnostic approach than Netflix. The popular streaming platform, founded in 1997, has seen many evolutions over the two decades. In 2008, Netflix began an infrastructure transformation after a significant service disruption.
Unfortunately, at that time, Netflix was still relying on a monolith platform which, as we know, is challenging to scale and evolve in response to increased platform demand. The result? Netflix experienced a 3-day service failure which, as you can surely imagine, left their customers quite disappointed. From this point on, Netflix set its sights on a more agile, fault-tolerant solution: a cloud-based infrastructure utilizing microservices.
To accomplish this, Netflix partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon, providing on-demand cloud computing platforms and APIs to individuals, companies, and governments on a metered pay-as-you-go basis. Netflix was able to leverage AWS’s highly reliable databases and cloud infrastructure to enhance scalability and service availability. This, in turn, improves service quality for users and gives Netflix the ability to easily change, adapt, or improve any services, while tracking individual service performance and isolating any issues that arise.
Technology Should be Limitless
In the past, hoteliers may have been deterred by the idea of disparate systems, mainly because this required multiple vendors and complicated integration protocols. Today, however, with cloud-based infrastructure and vendors that specialize in microservice architecture, hoteliers get the best of both worlds: one vendor partnership and a comprehensive, easily integrated stack of programs and applications suited specifically to the needs of their property.
Technology is meant to empower and scale, not restrict or constrain. In this sense, technology should – quite literally – be limitless. While it’s easy to understand the former appeal of monolithic solutions, it’s also easy to understand why this framework can no longer support business growth in an increasingly agile and digitized world. The brands that survive and thrive are those that readily embrace and utilize the interoperable tools required to remain one step ahead of consumer demands.
It is precisely this ideology – the embrace of the free agent – that informed the creation of APS. We knew that hospitality leaders would finally unlock access to future-proof technology if we created an ecosystem that was virtually limitless in its scalability, interoperability and without any contractual barriers to the adoption of new technology and platforms.
There is simply no denying it; this is the hospitality industry’s free agent, and it will change the way hoteliers play the game moving forward.