A Field of Dreams

By Reid A. Paul, Editor-in-Chief | March 01, 2005

If you build it, will they come? For years, when it came to building custom applications, the answer was an unqualified yes. Large hotel and restaurant companies have relied on the IT department to design, build and implement new systems. The role of IT was relatively straightforward— the go-to-guy (or gal) that gets the job done, but if the application did not succeed, it was your head.

Increasingly hospitality companies are finding that homegrown applications are a two-edged sword. "Every time we turn around, we find we get bit in some way by one of our homegrown applications. With Sarbanes- Oxley, we found that a custom application doesn't meet our security requirements," Corey Wendland, CFO at Friendly's recently told me for this issue's cover story.

"Sarbanes should bring out a lot of eye opening situations for organizations that have homegrown applications," adds Friendly's Director of IT, Peter Palumbo. "If you don't have the proper documentation, you are in a lot of trouble."

Compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley is only the beginning. Credit-card companies are revamping security compliance standards industry wide—for more on these standards, see "Credit Report" on page 32. Too many hospitality operators are blissfully ignorant of the credit-card security risks they now face. Just importantly, these companies are unaware of the severe penalties they may face from Visa, MasterCard.

And the pain factor does not end there. Custom applications require custom interfaces and adherence to emerging standards. Industry initiatives, like HTNG, are an embodiment of the growing concern with custom software as well as a sign of hope for off-the-shelf products.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the sentiment. Last October in "Reconsidering the Conventional," Chris Crabtree argued that the costs of development are actually decreasing and that the benefits of custom software applications in rising. And over the past few years Hilton has made a major commitment to its custom OnQ suite of applications and there are plenty of other examples from around the industry.

Still, I tend to agree more with Luke Mellor's column "What Should IT Manage?" (see page 50) which argues that IT departments need to move to a place where it is less focused on the technology itself than the business problems at hand. With a focus on building proprietary systems, IT departments risk being exiled from the board room and moved to the periphery of management.

That's certainly not the case at every hospitality company, but it is a very real risk for many. The question remains: If you've built it, will they come?

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