In the world of hotel management the words property-management system (PMS) have taken on a whole new meaning in the last decade. There was a time when the functionality of the PMS was limited and its greatest value was in how it managed a property. Now, many times the greatest value in a PMS is how it does everything else. These systems have evolved to take on everything from reservations, accounting, guest loyalty, golf and spa, and the list goes on. Yet, with change comes discord. Since the dawn of these bionic PMS', an interesting debate between the best-of-breed and all inclusive systems has been raging. Hospitality Technology set out to talk to property managers on both sides of the issue. Daniel Harris, lodge operations manager for Skytop Lodge in Skytop, Pennsylvania, has been at the property for 14 years and believes in having an all inclusive PMS with modules added to handle back office, sales and catering and reservations. On the other hand, Troy Strand GM at The Talbott Hotel has been at the hotel for 16 years and runs a progressive property that is always on the leading edge of technology, but he strongly believes in best-of-breed' and invests heavily in finding the best systems.
All in one
Hospitality Technology: What ancillary functions of your PMS appealed to you?
Daniel Harris: We are a historic property and many of our systems were in need of replacement. Our goal was to combine as many management systems as possible. At that time almost all of our systems operated independently and we were trying to streamline all of our systems to improve efficiencies. With the Maestro Enterprise Property Management Suite (maestropms.com) we achieved this goal. We integrated the PMS, sales and catering, POS, call accounting and voice mail systems, which cut down on labor in these areas, and more importantly, put us in closer contact with our guests to improve relationships and guest services. Maestro also gives regular version upgrades that keep our technology current.
Ht: How did you choose a product among all the available systems?
Harris: We began the process by using a technology consultant to identify all of the challenges involved for an implementation, such as energy requirements, wiring, locations of servers, and communication within and outside our property. Then we contacted three PMS suppliers and began to research each product. At this point we visited other properties to evaluate each system. We found two systems that were a good match for our property's needs and began a bidding process, which took about 12 months from start to finish.
Ht: What benefits did you experience?
Harris: Our front desk agents have all the information they need to service any guest at check-in or check-out and to spend more time addressing guest needs. The sales department can create client RFP, correspondence, bookings, and folio management in real time for our front desk and accounting office. We've also cut back on the use of reservationists and corporate sales agents, which has allowed us to save revenue and accurately measure goals in these areas. Our correspondence has improved greatly through an upgraded confirmation letter and the ability to email this to our guests. This system is Windows-based, which improves user speed and training. The support on the system is excellent and the programmers get involved in problem solving for future version releases, which allowed us to reduce one full-time clerk at our front desk using this system.
Ht: How did employees and guests react to the system?
Harris: In the beginning the employees found it challenging, mainly because they were so reliant on our previous system. But the staff is currently doing well and seems to have very little problems operating the system. Our guests benefit from a faster check-in and check-out process, and the system presents a much more professional folio. Training on the system usually occurs over a 30 day period. We have recently added an executive conference center to our property and the sales and catering component has handled this area without a bump. In fact, our corporate business had increased by over 33 percent in 2005.
Ht: What decisions led you to choose your current PMS?
troy strand: In 1993 we started looking for a replacement for our current PMS. After completing the process, we realized the best solution for us was to follow the upgrade path to the Galaxy Hotel Systems (galaxyhotelsystems.com) Galaxy LightSpeed PMS. We are using the Linux version. It's backed up by some of the best R&D in the industry. We have, on occasion, looked at other PMS vendors but have not found another PMS that fit as well as Galaxy does. Originally, we operated three hotels on the same PMS and while each hotel was independent of the others, we were able to move reservations and checked in guests from one hotel to another if we desired to. The installation continued our long history with Galaxy and we were able to save substantially by operating all three hotels on one server.
Ht: What's the benefit in choosing a best-of-breed product?
strand: We chose the best-of-breed Galaxy solution simply because we can have the best of all products linked together. Galaxy LightSpeed is the industry leader in ease of use and full-featured functionality. Training time is literally hours now, as opposed to many PMS solutions that take days or weeks to master. We didn't have to compromise on features and functions to gain rapid training on LightSpeed. While LightSpeed is a newer product, it is built on the Galaxy UX base so the 30-plus years of experience that the company has designing and developing a PMS, is all built into LightSpeed. We didn't start over with a new product that needed years of evolvement. All of our existing interfaces work flawlessly and we interface LightSpeed with everything.
Ht: What systems are you integrating with?
strand: An example of our best of breed philosophy can be witnessed by our choice of Delphi sales and catering software from Newmarket International (www.newmarketinc.com). We recently upgraded our Delphi system and were given a choice to upgrade the interface between the two systems. Delphi and Galaxy worked closely in developing a new XML interface that offers near real time interchange of information. When you think of sales and catering software, first on your mind is Delphi, it's the market leader. Sales and catering software is vital to our business and I didn't think a module included as a value-add would meet our needs. A company focused completely on sales and catering is logically going to offer a better solution than a company that is building a module simply to offer a complete suite of products. I think the most successful companies are those that stick to their core competencies. Our PMS, POS, sales and catering, and revenue management solutions are all best of breed products. With them, we have no surprises and no compromises.
Ht: Are your employees comfortable with the technology?
strand: We are constantly in an upgrade cycle with our technology. We often beta test for our partner vendors and embrace the opportunity to help the products evolve. We sometimes joke our hotel name should be The Talbeta' hotel. I can tell you that the implementation to Galaxy LightSpeed was one of the best experiences we've had upgrading or adding new technology. Galaxy chose to stage the development of LightSpeed, which allows hotels to continue using Galaxy UX and LightSpeed simultaneously. The value to hotels in this method is that you don't simply cut off the legacy system. All of your current data and history is still in tact and accessible through LightSpeed. We've all been part of installations of new systems that leave no path back to the old system should the new system fail. Employees struggle with learning and embracing the new system and guests frequently experience delays as agents try to function with the new system. Galaxy's approach gave us that comfort level of instantly accessing the legacy system to complete tasks if needed. We have since stopped training agents on Galaxy UX and only train on LightSpeed, and our users love it. Our customers demand prompt service, so we will not jeopardize that relationship with systems that cause delays.
Ht: Are you getting all the functionality you need?
strand: Galaxy LightSpeed, offers functions such as reservations, check in/out, email of folios and confirmations, can interface into virtually any hotel system available, accounts receivable, housekeeping services, night audit, group management and guest history. We currently interface into PBX, call accounting, guest video services, POS, guest request dispatching/CRM, voicemail/fax server, energy management, guest room door locks, back office, central reservations, banking/credit cards, sales and catering and revenue management. Obviously the interfaces save time and money, but they also really limit the amount of human errors possible. Our PMS is also fully scalable should we wish to connect new hotels to the system. We have had three hotels running with absolutely no problems and I understand that Galaxy has many complexes running with five, eight or more hotels on one hardware system. Think of the savings!
What the future holds
Ht: What direction do you see this debate going in?
Harris: In the spirit of inclusiveness, I believe energy conservation and increased Internet connectivity will become components of PMS systems. strand: I think with the new approach to connecting systems using standards, we will see some PMS vendors stepping out of the full suite of products approach and build connectors or interfaces that bridge their product with companies that are spending a great deal of R&D dollars to create a great complementary product to the PMS. That will allow those PMS vendors to focus on their core product and offer their clients the option to choose a component that closely fits their needs as opposed to forcing the hotel to fit within the confines of an add on module. n