2013 Industry Outlook

By Abigail A. Lorden, Editor-in-Chief | February 13, 2013

In its annual Industry Outlook, HT shares the projections of its editorial advisory board on what’s hot and what’s not hot in hospitality technology. Hotel and restaurant executives talk candidly about the projects topping their 2013 to-do lists, the areas where IT innovation is sorely lacking, and the emerging technologies that their companies are considering. The board talks about the low-hanging fruit at their companies (that is, areas that are ripe for improvement without massive effort), and this year some even share their thoughts on a few up-and-coming IT suppliers with promising solutions.
Hospitality Technology offers a sincere thank you to the members of its board for their willingness to provide candid feedback for this year’s Industry Outlook. Here’s what they had to say.

Steven G. Barrow, VP of IS
Luby’s Fuddruckers Restaurants


What IT projects are on your company’s priority list in 2013?
Data integration and application consolidation remain at the top of the list. My company made two acquisitions recently and we are focused on rationalizing and standardizing our application inventory. The arduous nature of this process points to a lack of integration standards in our industry as well as the fact that legacy applications can be extremely difficult to remove once they become hardwired into an organization. Our strategy is to adopt light-weight cloud-based solutions that can be adapted through configuration to suit each concept’s unique requirements.

Where is technology innovation lacking in the foodservice industry?
I am waiting for a higher level of adoption of cloud computing, specifically for POS. Cloud computing could produce a POS that obtains its configuration from the cloud and syncs data in real time to an enterprise database. POS devices would need a local agent to sync data in the event the network connection was dropped, but this configuration is feasible and attainable and becoming a reality.

Steve Brooks, Dir. of IS/Business Analyst
Tumbleweed Restaurants 
           
                                                              
Where is the potential for low-hanging fruit in your company?
For Tumbleweed, it’s in the use of business intelligence for mining loyalty data and improved loss prevention alerts. We already have BI in place; this year we need to improve our loyalty data by adding customer data into our warehouse to better understand our guests and their buying habits, in turn helping us improve the offers we send. We also plan to invest in KVM equipment for our expo area to improve speed-of-service. This one area can be achieved for around $1,000 per store.

Have you seen any specific new IT solutions with real potential in restaurants?
I am starting to see more mobile devices on tables for menu ordering, promotions, nutritional information, games and payment. There a few varieties, but the one I see the most is Ziosk (www.ziosk.com). This device occupies the guest’s attention while they order and wait for food, and it looks like it can bring in income with games. The nutritional information and marketing promotions are much better than old-fashioned table tents and flyers. The payment feature, if it stays compatible with PCI, also looks like a technology that is here to stay.

Mike Uwe Dickersbach CHTP, VP of IT
Thayer Lodging Group 

Where is the potential for low-hanging fruit in your company?
2013 is going to be a year of looking deep at systems and services to really get a grasp of what we are paying, and for what.  We will be looking closely at all technology and telecom related bills and services, and digging in deep to make sure that what we are paying is actually correct.

Where is technology innovation lacking in your industry?
In my opinion, the VOD/TV solutions that are currently available just aren’t a great model.  We keep seeing more and more providers pop up looking to sell expensive systems to provide content to a TV that less and less guests are using. What really needs to be brought to light is a great in-room experience that allows the guest to do what he or she wants, in a way that he or she wants, without being “trapped” by the services offered at the hotel.

Can you share a lesson learned from a particular IT project?
Not so much a lesson learned, but sound advice:  challenge every number, every outcome, and when you think you have covered it all, do it again, and even then be prepared for the unexpected. There is no such thing as a perfect project. There are, however, such things as well-managed and thought out projects that end with great results. Don’t believe the vendor will do what they say, but do get everything in writing that you want, and then reference it when needed. Always think of how the project will impact everyone from line employees to executive management, and never underestimate the smallest detail.  

Brian Garavuso, EVP and CIO
Diamond Resorts International


Where is the potential for low-hanging fruit in your company?
The low hanging fruit for Diamond Resorts International is the continued opportunity for acquisition of failed timeshare companies. In the past 24 months, we have completed four major acquisitions with two of those in the last six months. We are in the process of converting the most recent acquisitions of 14 resorts to our standardized global technology platform. Our technology is all centrally located in our private cloud environment and services all of our globally managed properties with one above-property application. In 2013 we will modify our internal application to provide multilingual support to our team members; currently our customer-facing website supports 12 languages.

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization? There are many emerging technologies around facial recognition, Bluetooth communication and predictive modeling. I would like to see a new innovative way for customer recognition. With almost 500,000 vacation club members in our system we are constantly striving to globally recognize them and greet them by name.  We are using low-tech methods to do this but I would like to find a solution that better integrates into our PMS/CRM.    
Also, I would like to find a mobile technology that can run on any operating platform. It is very costly to develop custom applications for all the variations of operating systems and devices. Mobile versions of websites are good but require constant connectivity to a server.

Nelson F. Garrido, CHTP
VP of IT
Noble-Interstate Management Group


What IT projects are on your company’s priority list in 2013?
We’re prioritizing virtualizing our server environments along with moving to a virtual desktop environment. The driving force is to reduce the footprint at each hotel and the corporate data center, allowing us to reduce local management and increase performance, reliability and redundancy. Virtualized desktops will allow Interstate to deploy new desktops to acquired hotels very quickly and reduce the time it takes to get new hotels deployed onto the Interstate technology platform.

Where is technology innovation lacking in your industry?
Innovation in the distributed antennae systems (DAS) field is lacking. There are robust solutions available that have been deployed in many large hotels and conference centers, but there aren’t cost-effective solutions available for smaller properties. Hotels that cannot afford to increase their cellular coverage and have very poor coverage face a constant negative guest experience that they are not able to fix due to the high cost of DAS.  

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
Wireless streaming of media can have a great impact on our guest room technology. Apple has Airplay (www.apple.com/airplay), and other manufacturers have their own technologies, that enable mobile devices to stream audio and video to TV and speaker systems. A standard that bridged all of these could allow guests to seamlessly connect their devices to use their own content. Guests now carry most of their entertainment and want to use the TV, speakers and other devices in our guest rooms to experience their content the same way they do at home. The more we can bring the at-home experience to the guest, the happier they will be.

Jeffrey Gengler
VP, Business Technology
Papa Murphy’s Intl.  
                   

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
Context-aware mobile applications using information about a guest, their favorite locations, past and present activities, social information, previous transactions and preferences will be very useful in enhancing the interactions and dialogue with that guest. Whether it be NFC, Bluetooth or geo-fencing, the technology exists supporting the ability to anticipate the guest’s needs within and outside of our locations, of course with their prior approval. One simple example of this could be notifying a participating guest of immediately available tables or relevant specials when they come within a set distance of a location during one of their preferred meal times, letting the guest easily reserve that table, special, or limited deal they’ve purchased in the past. Integration to existing platforms and social networks, intelligent and targeted offers and content, and ease-of-use will be key objectives as we start to leverage context-aware mobile applications.

Have you seen any specific new IT solutions with real potential in restaurants?
Business Intelligence and Data Mining technologies are not necessarily new, and most of us are using some form of analysis via either a partner’s tool or simply Excel. Predictive “next-generation analytics” could be particularly useful for the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries. The growing amount of structured data and unstructured complex information, such as posts, likes, tweets, blogs, and video, can be used in more of a real-time effort to support our organization’s operations, help collaboration to make better and more timely decisions, and potentially more importantly, simulate and predict future risks and opportunities much quicker than previously possible. Most of the big players like Microsoft, IBM, SAS, and Oracle, along with some smaller partners, have introduced tools to leverage this enterprise data in a predictive way.

Michael Hassel
Director of IT
Starr Restaurants
                         

Where is technology innovation lacking in your industry?
For operators that are heavily invested in hardware and software provided by the major POS vendors, it is a little frustrating that these same vendors are slow to develop compliant applications that run on iPad/iPhone devices. I understand the hesitancy due to PCI concerns but both owners and guests desire this technology.

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
The ability to mine social media information is significant. There’s a need to be able to react, at a moment’s notice, to issues that have the potential to turn into a viral disaster; that, and the ability to capitalize on a fast-moving trend. These are areas where we are looking to gain some knowledge this coming year.

David Lehn, VP of IT
Noodles & Company


Where is there potential for low-hanging fruit in the restaurant industry?
Cloud services, and specifically some of the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) options, are a relatively quick and inexpensive way for those companies not burdened by significant investments in capital, and perhaps staff, to provide the same level of availability to their users as the “big boys and girls.” I’m talking about an on-demand model for disaster recovery/business continuity purposes. I think the model also works well for small development shops to quickly spin-up a machine as needed and then dial up or down the horsepower as appropriate for functional and capacity testing in order to make a more informed investment in their own hardware.

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
We will place a tablet computer [Google’s Nexus 7, www.google.com/nexus/7] in all of our nearly 300 company restaurants this winter as a clock-in/out device to access our SaaS-based labor scheduling solution. By providing a separate device we will free up either the POS terminals or, more importantly, the single manager workstation computer (which also hosts our POS), from the clock-in/out process. The next likely use for those tablets will be to provide staff with access to our growing inventory of training and new employee orientation videos anywhere throughout the restaurant. We are excited that our folks could view a training video directly at the station where they will be working. The robust browser on the tablet will also allow us to access our other applications exactly where we want to, such as in the BOH to record inventory and conduct the product receiving process. We also envision using the tablet in combination with our e-ordering platform for both line-busting and for sharing detailed dish descriptions with guests, including key ingredients (like common allergens) and nutritional information.

James d. Lux
VP of IT, Boloco


What IT project(s) are on your company’s priority list in 2013?
We’re in development on a single connection point for our guests that allows for the use of kiosks, mobile and online ordering, as well as the setup of allergy, preference and “favorites” information. The objective is to make interaction with Boloco consistent, simple and fast.

Where is technology innovation lacking in your industry?
There’s a need for comprehensive mobile, online and in-store guest self-service platforms. [Current platforms] force guests to be anonymous by not allowing for self-identification when ordering. Guests are saddled with slow, inefficient ordering processes. Think of one-click ordering with Amazon. This makes the ordering process simple and fast. Why not allow guests to set up and account, select preferred menu items and save payment information? Then when ordering, all that is required is to self-identify, select a favorite and pay on account.

Can you share a lesson learned from a particular IT project?
Own your mobile app. There are countless mobile development houses that will build an app for you. Make sure that you setup an Apple development account under the company name and manage the submission of the app to Apple internally. This removes the handcuffs that the mobile development house could have on you or worse, the headache of them ceasing business.

James Pa, VP of Operations
Which Wich Superior Sandwiches


What IT projects are on your company’s priority list in 2013?
We have several: implementing a cloud-based file server solution that will allow access to our data anytime, anywhere; implementation of Active Directory for more efficiency and to centrally manage users on each computer; a mobile app for online ordering; a PCI best practices assessment; and complete restructuring of the POS whereby reducing our current database will make it easier to manage and update.

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
Cloud–based POS applications will be particularly useful to our company and franchisees. With data in the cloud and utilizing an iPad, if the terminal is not functioning properly, the store could simply sync a backup tablet within minutes without any real disruption to their time or sales. Additionally, the POS could be managed from anywhere in the world, upgrades would be instant, and startup and monthly costs would be significantly lower. The last piece is integration. With our current provider, their applications and Windows do not seamlessly integrate causing many problems across the different platforms. Cloud-based POS solutions do not have a dependency on Windows and integrate much more efficiently.

Brian Pearson, CIO
Stacked
                                    

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
Wireless LED Lights that also participate in a mesh network. These will not only give us great control over lighting, but the mesh network they create will reduce networking costs and enhance our overall connectivity within the four walls.

Can you share a lesson learned from a particular IT project?
Restaurant-level automation; the greatest challenge is training your staff and yourself to think extensively. It’s easy to put together automation scripts to perform various functions throughout the enterprise, but the real challenge comes from thinking each and every one through to be able to adapt as your intelligence evolves. Another big learning came from real-time reporting delivery. Initially it’s easy to sell that you should focus (as a company) on the few most important pieces of information. The real danger is in expanding the view beyond the original agreement. Keep dashboard sprawl to a minimum to ensure focus and most likely success. Focus on the things that move the needle, and remind everyone that even if you can see everything, the more you look at, the less you’ll focus on metrics driving the business.

Have you seen any specific new IT solutions with real potential in restaurants?
I’m really holding out for the new RT Surface by Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/surface).  This could not only reduce the cost of tablet computers, but the integration with POS is looking to be pretty powerful.

Darrin R. Pinkham, CHTP VP of IT
Benchmark Hospitality International
                            

What significant challenge is your segment of the hospitality industry facing?
As we continue to address industry standards within HTNG, HFTP, AH&LA, NEDNA, OTA, PCI, etc., I’m always amazed that we still have so many serial interfaces that exist, instead of newer XML HTNG versions of the same. During several of our due diligence trips to properties this year, we discovered a wide array of disparate technologies that weren’t integrated very well.
Additionally, and my thoughts are very simple on these items, if you don’t satisfy your guest with really great Internet service that works all the time, and without any challenges as they roam around your property, it will impact all other areas of their experience. The steak at dinner just isn’t cooked to their liking, their drink in the bar just doesn’t taste as good as they expected, and their room just isn’t as nice as a previous visit to a competitor’s property. And if you charge for Internet, they do remember and not in good way.

What emerging technology has the potential to be useful to your organization?
We will be installing Samsung’s (www.samsung.com) new LED TVs featuring the Smart Apps/H-Browser functionality at several of our resorts in 2013, which will increase the BYOC (Bring Your Own Content) guest experiences. Guests will be able to watch their own content on Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, and the like, and listen to their music on Pandora, Slacker, Google Music, and other radio services. We have also increased our Internet bandwidth to 100Megs at many of these properties to accommodate this increased video streaming opportunity from their guest room TVs.

Raman (R. P.) Rama
B. Com, CHA, CHAE, CHTP Vice President & CTO/CIO
JHM Hotels
                              

Where is there potential for low-hanging fruit in the lodging industry?
Investing in human resources training and motivation is going to be crucial as demand for good workers will increase and retaining them will become a challenge; a challenge that can easily be overcome with motivation, empowerment and acknowledgement for their accomplishments. This is an area of low hanging fruit and can be easily managed.  

What significant challenge is your segment of the hospitality industry facing?
Rate erosion continues to be a big issue, as does the overall cost of room bookings through non-branded channels. Hotels are reluctant to increase rates for fear of losing customers. For this reason, yield management will become more important to hotels in order to maximize on rates.

Where is technology innovation lacking in your industry?
Technology innovation in the area of payment security, and specifically getting PCI data out of hotel properties, is still lacking and under-served. Companies have yet to establish a uniform, industry standard for accomplishing this task and proprietary systems are not in a position or ready to implement the new technologies that are emerging. As a result, hotel companies are constantly evaluating data security and making sure their staff is well trained on how to handle and protect sensitive information.

Joe Tenczar, CIO
Hard Rock International  
           

What IT projects are on your company’s priority list in 2013?
2013 is the “year of process” for us.  After five years of large-scale, major rollouts and product development, we are looking carefully at the way we are supporting Hard Rock by reassessing our IT processes. Of course we cannot stop producing while this happens and our project portfolio is actually higher than previous years, so we have added four new members to the team. Some of the major projects on our list are a production co-location move, data warehouse refinements, SharePoint upgrade, mobile ordering and payment, and multiple projects that will support our marketing department.

Where is technology innovation lacking in your industry?
Hotels do a nice job of accepting and adopting innovative technologies that touch guests. Hotels understand that to compete they need to have technology in the building that is at least as good as the technology in the guest’s home. To be a leader, innovative technology can be an effective differentiator: touch–panel wayfinding, mobility, and guest-room digital entertainment and automation, for example. All of these things affect the “experience” that the guest has. On the other hand, full-service restaurants tend to prioritize “experience” differently, where technology may be lower on their list. What may be missing is the fact that technology can augment the guest experience and not distract from the items that are important to guests, like efficient ordering and payment.

Have you seen any specific new IT solutions with real potential in restaurants?
Mobility continues to be important in the hospitality industry, but it is not always hospitality-friendly. The guys at Hubworks Interactive (www.hubworks.com) have developed an iPad case that works with their digital ordering and payment solution. This case has an extended battery and locked mag stripe reader. This was the only product of its kind where we would feel comfortable putting an iPad on a table in our restaurants. Hard Rock actually ended up using them in its loyalty kiosks around the world as well. We have been working with Hubworks to refine the design and they are incredibly responsive. While this isn’t their core business, it shows us their innovative thinking as a provider to our industry. A product didn’t exist that would help get their solution on more tables and Hubworks solved the issue by creating it themselves.

Scott Wise, CEO
Scotty’s Brewhouse


What IT projects are on your company’s priority list in 2013?
This year we plan to upgrade our POS system and management software to allow for new features, functionality, and streamlined database programming. This upgrade will lead to the implementation of restaurant management software that will integrate our POS, inventory, accounting, payroll and scheduling. We are proud to have partnered with Compeat (www.compeat.com) for this implementation. We are hoping to see significant savings in payroll processing and scheduling as well as overall streamlined daily operations/management.

Have you seen any specific new IT solutions with real potential in restaurants?
One technology I’ve seen that is quite impressive is from New Brand Analytics (www.newbrandanalytics.com). With the social side of our industry being so important it is becoming increasingly urgent to be able to monitor any mention of your company’s name or comments about your brand. Their solution scours all the social sites for these mentions and compiles them in an easy-to-use dashboard. You are able to see all chatter about your brand in one place and then interact with each instance in the best way possible. All the while each interaction is tracked and stored for reporting and auditing.




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