October 27 2014

A Game of Inches: New Technology in Hotels and the NFL

Microsoft paid $400 Million to have its Surface tablets on the sidelines, in players hands, and on the commentator’s desks at every NFL game. Branding has been as issue, though, as both commentators and players refer to the Surfaces as iPads.

American Football is a game of inches, but it’s also a game of seconds: “We’re going to make players a bit more efficient, a bit more productive,” Microsoft Public Relations Manager Ryan Luckin told IGN. “Typically you’re looking at something that would take 20-30 seconds to get those paper printouts into the hands of players, into the hands of coaches. We’ve got that down to four or five seconds.”

Imagine an assistant quarterback’s coach actually running from the skybox to the sideline with physical, 8×10, low-resolution printouts of a defensive line. That assistant hands them to the QB coach who may or may not confer with the Offensive coordinator before getting those pictures in the hands of the most important person on the field: the Quarterback. It’s hard to believe, that the well-oiled machine that is an NFL franchise, has been relying on an analog procedure like this up until 2014.

So what does this have to do with information technology in hotels? Despite branding issues and the inherent difficulty in enunciating the plural tense of ‘Surface,’ NFL teams are enhancing their operations through accessible, secure, real time data. Like yesterday NFL teams, today’s hotels operate on analog processes that their hotel PMS software cannot perform effectively. It’s not hard to imagine an assistant housekeeping supervisor running from an inspected guest room to the front the desk to communicate that room’s availability!

Let’s consider the affect of today’s hotel property management and the integrations of housekeeping and front office operations. Typically, the day starts with a list of departures, arrivals and stayovers exported from the hotel PMS software, assigned to room attendants manually, then printed in black and white and handed out. Then housekeepers are sent out with their assignments to knock on doors.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an integrated PBX, then your housekeepers can update room status through the phone. The 2011 HTNG Guest & Room Status Messaging 2011B Specification lists 8 code status updates that are acceptable. An off-the-shelf Hotel PBX system supports 9, triggered by a 3-digit code. So the room attendants—in addition to actually cleaning the rooms—must know and remember 27 digit number sequences? Further, housekeepers often see the dreaded ‘Maid in room’ status as tracking their activity, rather than expediting room turns.

Additionally, if in the meantime a guest calls to the front desk to extend a stay, or request a late check out, the maids already have their hard copies of cleaning assignments. As you read above, the most recent HTNG PBX to hotel PMS software spec was released 3 years ago! Not to mention, it is still essentially one way: while a hotel front desk software understands room status, the PBX system only understands input codes. Should a reservation be updated in the hotel property management system, there’s no alert or notification or the maids already dispatched to clean those rooms. Enter the two-way radio.

While PBX systems have only been in hotels since the mid 1950s or so, the mobile two-way radio has been around since the 1920s. So as it turns out, the most modern technology with which a housekeeper is armed is probably a Sharpie: originally released in 1974.

So why do hoteliers deal with the inefficiencies of a PBX integrated to the property management system? Cost is often cited as a factor as to why hotels haven’t updated their aging infrastructure. It’s not like Microsoft is handing out hundreds of millions to the world’s hotel owners. PBX systems cost tens of thousands to configure, install, integrate, and manage. But a refurbished iPod Touch, a Kindle Fire, or an Asus Tablet cost a whole lot less than a business band Motorola two-way.

With the advent of hotel mobile apps, a true two-way interaction between the front office and the housekeeping departments is possible. One of the best uses of new technology in the hotel industry is real-time data between departments, shaving seconds off the service interaction.According to Forbes, an NFL franchise is worth an average of $1.4 Billion. Hotels are usually multi-million dollar if not multi-billion dollar assets themselves. And the management of both is that games of inches. Pacino’s Any Given Sunday speech could easily apply to a hotel’s pre-shift meeting. Whether we’re talking about football or great service, “in either game, the margin for error is so small….one half step too late or too early, you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast, and you don’t quite catch it.”

Great service is so fleeting, the hotel apps you use must facilitate service every step of the way; so your team can catch every opportunity in order to win.

By Bryn Williams, Director Strategic Accounts at StayNTouch, Inc.