The saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This seems particularly true when it comes to property management systems, as today’s incarnations carry much of the burden in determining the success of seamlessly-run operations. With guests’ sky-high expectations for technology in hospitality, owners often struggle to keep pace trying to find one system to do it all.
As technological capabilities expand, however, so too do the wish lists of hotel operators who see a future where the next generation of PMS will provide customized service to guests and deeper levels of business intelligence to owners. This is leading to big changes in property management, and the impending metamorphosis is evident in the increasing capabilities that property owners are seeking — and expecting — in next generation systems. “It’s a different world,” notes Barb Bowden, general manager of The Peabody Orlando (www.peabodyorlando.com) which converted to the Infor/Softbrands (www.infor.com) HMS in July. “Expectations and technology change. Today the critical point we are focusing on with our PMS is overall improvements to the guest experience. The whole concept of understanding your guest and understanding their preferences and behaviors to enhance the experience goes along with a hotel’s ability to market to the guest in a better way.”
This guest-centric focus has more and more hoteliers seeking advanced ways to engage their clients at every touchpoint. David Chin is chief operating officer at Personality Hotels (www.personalityhotels.com), a boutique hotel chain that includes Hotel Diva (www.hoteldiva.com) in San Francisco, which has implemented ATRIO from PAR Springer-Miller (www.springermiller.com). “Going interactive with the guest experience is going to have an impact in the sense that every guest can be a user on your PMS,” Chin states. “This will include functionalities such as: updating profiles, tracking rewards, making requests from the room, and interacting with other guests. Mobility will open doors to a lot of opportunities that we didn’t even think about ten years ago.”
1. MOBILE MANIFESTO
If hotels haven’t already rolled out mobile capabilities, for most it is a top priority for 2013 planning. Rosen Hotels & Resorts (www.rosenhotels.com), a privately held hotel company in Central Florida with seven properties, is currently working with Agilysys (www.agilysys.com) to develop a mobility initiative for its properties. “When we refer to mobility it’s about taking customer transaction and activity away from a counter or a tethered device,” explains James Bina, director of information technology at Rosen Hotels. Mobile technology’s ability to enable line-busting in the lobby is a significant change for the industry. Front desk attendants can check out a guest and e-mail them their folio as opposed to having to print it out. Guests will settle banquet checks through a mobile device and then upload them to DataMagine, the document management inventory system from Agilysys, which makes them available on the group master server in the PMS.
“Mobility is not going to go away,” Bina admits. “We can’t ignore it and have to do something about it.” Bina does still voice concerns about what the next step of mobile will entail including the ability for guests to bypass the front desk. “I am hearing a lot from OpenWays (www.openways.com) about being able to open doors with cell phones and I know that a lot of newer properties are using RFID for door locks as opposed to magstripe,” he says.
Bina can see the benefits of using RFID cards that act as a whole resort ID, which Rosen Hotels currently does with magstripe keys. “I think a lot of security issues need to be resolved and looked at in regards to allowing a guest to check in on the Internet and proceed directly to the room,” Bina warns. “I think we physically need to see our guests. We need to know who is in our building.”
2. SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS
As the prevalence of social media has expanded, the hospitality industry has recognized the need for systems to integrate with social sites’ information and capabilities. The PMS increasingly will be expected to enable hotels to stay on top of ratings and respond to guest comments on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Yelp and more. Guests often expect immediate interaction and reaction on social sites. Online/social branding and interaction will be a requirement to compete, and not just from one social expert on property, but rather a variety of designated employees will be expected to have the tools to manage, monitor and analyze social media happenings.
Chin agrees that there needs to be a way that social media profiling can be engaged with the PMS. “The next best technology out there for any PMS company would be for social media outlets to interact with the PMS, extrapolating information about guests,” he muses.
3. INTEGRATED DATA
As the line between data entry from the PMS and data entry from guests on the web narrows, PMS systems will have to adapt to allow the guest to specify their preferences and requirements while the PMS tracks spending patterns to match guests’ preferences and choices. The ability for a PMS to recognize guest preferences and tailor a rate, a package or any service offering will be critical to how property management systems succeed in the future.
Northwind-Maestro (www.maestropms.com) sees this attention to data as the future of PMS and will focus on this in future incarnations of its systems. Benchmark Hospitality International (www.benchmarkhospitality.com) has properties nationwide plus international conference centers and has implemented the MastroPMS from Northwind at about 20 of its properties. “Our partners, Maestro and Springer-Miller, are very aware of guest-centric technology,” Darrin Pinkham, vice president, information technology for Benchmark Hospitality, notes. “At the end of the day we need data after the guest leaves and timely information while they’re on property to ensure that they had a positive experience and will come back.”
The data points that hotels are expected to gather have become much more specific and the PMS of the future will have to accommodate even more customized tidbits. “The big thing will be collecting the appropriate data to make guests feel comfortable and secure that we are able to meet all of their requirements,” Bina explains. “This could range from special preferences for sheets and pillows to food requirements and allergies.” Bina admits that much of this variety of information would be tedious to collect during standard reservation processes, so he believes that there has to be something that would allow the guest to enter this data in advance of a stay.
Collecting data from various sources is only the first function that is of concern when considering next-gen PMS. The issue of distribution is a top consideration for providers in designing new versions. “There will continue to be improvements in distribution with improved functionality to the various channels,” Peabody’s Bowden notes. “I think one function of the future will be pulling all data sources into a single view. No more will we have five different dashboards. The integration of all those data points into a single view will be a huge improvement. We’ve started to see this a bit, but it’s still not uncommon for an executive today to have numerous dashboards.”
Bowden contends that there needs to be more advances in how to get the most important data points to the correct people in the organization on a quick and efficient basis to allow them to make decisions and execute plans every day.
Bina believes that the next generation of PMS revolves more around letting guests be able to do things themselves and offering mobile functionality for hotel associates to receive data. “Giving staff the ability to have data at their fingertips will provide them with the ability to assist the guest with any request they make anywhere they make it.”
4. GOING GLOBAL
PMS providers are focusing more on creating products that can transcend to the global marketplace. Agilysys is investing in a global product that can be delivered to any and all hardware platforms, where the untethered guest meets the untethered clerk. Infor/Softbrands is also investing research and development in PMS globalization, noting that as the industry sees chains move into expanded international markets, the regional standards for language, localization, and government reporting are critical steps that will allow hotels to implement a common enterprise solution (both operational and financial) no matter where in the world their business takes them. Mapping tools that display locations of goods, inventories, assets, and supply chain networks will be a new addition to the PMS as well as currency and time conversion for companies operating in today’s global business environment.
5. CONTINUING TO THE CLOUD
Across the board, PMS providers recognize the importance of expanding and improving their cloud-based technology. The next generation of products from Agilysys will focus on cloud delivery and interoperability with all hotel departments. Micros (www.micros.com) is also focusing on cloud capabilities of its OPERA PMS, focusing on increased security and reduction of costs of system adoption.
“I think cloud is going to be the most important thing because it is ultimately an easier adoption not having all that premise-based technology,” Pinkham asserts. Northwind, which is the system employed at many of Benchmark’s properties, has offered hosted solutions for more than a decade and intends to focus on expanding functionality, feature sophistication and reduced hosting costs. “Perhaps eventually operators will be able to subscribe to something over time,” Pinkham muses.
ATRIO from Par Springer-Miller is built for the cloud and moving forward, most new implementations will be cloud-based instead of on-premise. Chin agrees that he thinks cloud is the way of the future, but he does believe that it depends on the size of the property. “Access is very important, whether you’re a small property or a global company,” he declares. “Information in the cloud is more accessible and can get to all regions as opposed to relying on a couple servers regionally.”
As more hotel companies move to cloud-based systems there is a call for more predictable pricing so hoteliers can better understand the components and how much each one costs. Pinkham sees that there could be an evolution to where owning pieces of technology on property are a thing of the past. “We do it with cell phones and the Internet, everybody is used to subscriber models and I think we’re going to request that PMS vendors get a handle of knowing how to leverage the cloud and PCI component and provide a solution that can be run on the least common denominator of technology,” Pinkham explains.
6. PERSONALIZING THE PMS
With all of the functions that modern property management systems are expected to perform, further customization is always a desire for hotels. Chin attests that one of the greatest challenges for smaller boutique hotel companies is that they have to wait for certain customizable aspects of PMS to be changed by software developers versus being able to customize while on property. “That should be the next step for tech vendors — to allow guests to customize the system at the hotel level so we don’t have to wait for PMS developers to get to it,” Chin notes.
“There isn’t one size fits all,” Pinkham concurs. “I can’t think of a PMS that will work the same for a conference center with a huge group component, as it will for a small high-end boutique venue. The needs are different from an interface perspective. At the end of day though both need security and both need high-level sophisticated guest-centric customer relations management plus good tie-in to the web.”
Holding Back the Cloud
Hotels may recognize that cloud-based PMS systems can reduce costs and ease upgrades, but hoteliers have a host of “not until” stipulations before they make the switch:
1. Not until pricing becomes more predictable
2. Not until 4G networks become the norm
3. Not until PMS (and other systems) contain feature sets to compete with legacy applications
4. Not until concerns over security diminish