Each year, Hospitality Technology calls on the collective wisdom of its advisory board to provide insight into the top technologies and trends shaping hospitality in the year ahead. In addition to offering a look at the projects on their to-do lists, the advisory board talks candidly about areas where technology innovation is ready to make a big impact in hotels and restaurants, and where it’s falling flat. Our board agrees that mobile POS and payment solutions will be a game-changer; but there’s both enthusiasm for their potential positive impact, and frustration at the lack of a standard solution. Many board members reveal plans to migrate systems into the cloud, and several offer tips for areas of “low-hanging fruit,” that is, areas for improvement that require only modest effort. One thing is very clear: the change coming to hospitality IT is more than new tech. It also calls for new skills, and will require an evolution on the part of its people from tech-guru to business leader.
What technology projects are on your company’s priority list for 2014?
JOHN BOLLEN: Chief Digital Officer, MGM Resorts International.
MGM Resorts (www.mgmresorts.com) has moved away from individual IT projects and toward a program we’ve identified as the Guest Experience Platform. This platform includes touch points, features, underlying technology functions, and organizational management for execution.
The largest technology project in the company is a digital marketing platform powered by Adobe’s Experience Manager, Analytics, and Target solutions (www.adobe.com), that a consultant is implementing. The digital marketing platform is the underlying technology that will deliver content to our touch points, the first of which will be web, mobile web, and mobile app.
STEVE BROOKS: Director of Information Services/ Business Analyst, Tubleweed Southwest Grill.
Tumbleweed (www.tumbleweedrestaurants.com) is working on several projects, and among them are streamlining loss prevention and changing loyalty to “surprise and delight.” Our objective with loss prevention is to not only see manager and server activity that is out of the ordinary, but see explanations and trends by user. Today in MIRUS (www.mirus.com) all exception data is there, but investigations would be streamlined if the patterns were organized by user, by manager authorizing, and if explanations were side-by-side with the exceptions. As for our loyalty program, what we’ve traditionally offered was a percentage-of-sale that could be redeemed when the reward reached $5 or more. We are personalizing this to a surprise and delight program to improve guest frequency.
MIKE UWE DICKERSBACH: VP of Information Technology, Thayer Lodging Group.
Thayer Lodging (www.thayerlodging.com) has a variety of IT projects under way across its portfolio of properties. Several of the highlights include major infrastructure upgrades in our Los Cabos Hilton location. We’re also performing a major renovation at our newest Ritz Carlton property, and with that will be upgrading the HSIA, room locks, HDTV, and adding a large video wall in the ballroom.
BRIAN GARAVUSO: EVP & CIO, Diamond Resorts International.
A few of Diamond Resorts’ (www.diamondresorts.com) projects for 2014 will focus on mobility, business intelligence, website functionality and sales systems. With regard to mobility, we will design responsive systems that conform to various form factors and be platform agnostic. Projects are focused around our internal as well as customer-facing applications. Our business intelligence system will be more graphically designed and enabled for mobile device access as well.
As we continue to refine receiving real-time comments and suggestions about the functionality of our website from owners, members and guests, we have established processes to quickly prioritize and develop the requested enhancements.
Another focus for 2014 is enabling our sales force with tools to put more information about our customers at their fingertips, with improved security and data projection. We will also provide them with mobile applications to enhance the sales process and related analytical data.
NELSON GARRIDO: VP of Information Technology, Noble Interstate Management Group.
Interstate Hotels & Resorts (www.interstatehotels.com) has several efforts underway around workforce: we’re upgrading our human resources information system (HRIS) to a cloud-hosted product called Workday (www.workday.com), with integrated workflow for our 25,000 employees worldwide. We’ll be moving our current in-house payroll system over to ADP Enterprise (www.adp.com), and are migrating our in-house time-keeping platform to their Timesaver hosted platform. We’ll also be implementing a multi-discipline SharePoint (www.office.microsoft.com/sharepoint) site globally, which will become the hub of our internal communications and collaboration.
JEFF GENGLER: VP, Business Technology, Papa Murphy's International.
Our top IT initiatives at Papa Murphy’s (www.papamurphys.com) continue to be POS and Back Office implementations, including integrated online ordering and improved customer data. Our objectives are to effectively support field and corporate operations as they help our franchisees grow sales and improve profitability, and also use online/mobile ordering to grow check averages, bring in new guests, increase guest satisfaction, and add to our customer database for future targeted marketing efforts, engagement, and advocacy programs and applications. In order for Papa Murphy’s to deliver an exceptional customer experience, we need to provide customer specific and relevant information to any touch-point at any time about any customer. These top initiatives will provide us that ability to improve our customer’s experience.
DAVID LEHN: VP of Information Technology, Noodles & Company.
We’ve done substantial work at Noodles & Company (www.noodles.com) around human capital management (HCM). We will complete our initial implementation of the Workday solution (www.workday.com) in Q2 of this coming year. We will have invested more than a year into what will be our largest ever technology-based solution: evaluating and defining our HCM strategy; developing an RFI; reviewing multiple solutions; and then setting up and rolling out our new system. This system will provide new, easy-to-access insights into our work force as well as streamline core business processes that are needed to help support future growth plans. Key people metrics such as tenure, turnover and transfers will be accessible by leaders throughout the organization to enable more informed and rapid decision making. Increased use of self-service features along with robust workflows should help support our goal to be an employer-of-choice and premier brand.
ROCKY LUCIA: Director, Information Technology, B.R. Guest Restaurants.
B.R. Guest (www.brguesthospitality.com) is kicking off 2014 with two major projects. First we are moving our email to a hosted exchange provider. This will allow us to retire a server, and the disaster recovery element is built in. We can still access and manage users’ mailboxes like we always have, but the headache of managing hardware, updates and backups are gone. Plus, we can retire our SPAM filter as well because that’s built in the hosted product. We are also embarking on a major POS upgrade. Depending on the location and age of the system, this upgrade can be anything, ranging from a simple software version upgrade all the way up to replacing the entire system, including the server, in some locations. We are also making sure all locations have IP printers. This upgrade, first and foremost, will ensure we remain PCI compliant and will drastically cut down on service calls we currently receive.
JAMES LUX: VP of Information Technology, Boloco.
Boloco (www.boloco.com) will focus on rolling out a single sign-on solution for guests across Wi-Fi, in-store kiosk ordering, online ordering, mobile ordering and loyalty. This will significantly simplify the ordering, loyalty and account management process for guests while providing a more holistic view of the customer. We’re also working to improve our platform integration so that the POS drives kiosks, menu boards, mobile ordering and online ordering. This will dramatically simplify menu and systems management.
BRIAN PEARSON: CIO, Stacked Restaurants.
At Stacked (www.stacked.com), we have a heavy focus on customer-facing technology, primarily in the areas of loyalty and engagement. A key driver for us is offering guests the ability to interact more effectively with one another and with us. We are also doing everything we can to reduce the technology footprint on infrastructure. We went big initially, not knowing what would be required for redundancy and up-time with 80-100 devices continually sending information throughout the enterprise. We’ve definitely evolved our philosophy on what’s required to keep it all running smoothly.
DARRIN PINKHAM: CTO, Highgate Hotels.
Highgate Hotels (www.highgatecareers.com) has several projects. We’re upgrading HSIA Wi-Fi across all properties and in the guestroom are focusing on “best in class” HDTVs and HD content, including offering guests the ability to wirelessly display their own content on the TVs. We’re also upgrading our enterprise back office solutions with rich data warehouse reporting capabilities across various types of data, including financial GL/AP/IJ, PMS, POS, payroll, and others. We’ll layer this data into user-specific executive dashboards, all in real time. We’re also moving to encrypted, cloud-based solutions for hosting email and other communication tools, and are enhancing our internal Help Desk system to offer associates visibility into the status of their ticket. We’ll also ensure we are getting the root cause of issues so they don’t reoccur.
R.P. RAMA: VP & CTO, JHM Hotels.
We’re implementing SharePoint across the JHM Hotels (www.jhmhotels.com) corporate environment. The objective is to create a one-stop shop for all information that staff members would need to perform their work and to increase productivity, while also improving processes and sharing best practices. It will also house the important document archival system for any and all documents with all parties — for example allowing access to contracts for hotel managers so they can review and be alerted to future renewals and notices. It will be a common method for teamwork and related projects.
MATTHEW SEIM: SVP of Information Technology, Sage Hospitality.
Beyond upgrades of infrastructure, there are a number of projects Sage Hospitality (www.sagehospitality.com) is focusing on in 2014. In particular we will be moving forward with a corporate initiative to bring BI/data analytics to all levels of the organization. This project will involve not only the management of data and analytical tools, but also the organizational change management required to ensure buy-in. We’re also expanding the corporate Intranet to function as a communication tool for properties, departments, regions, and corporate to reach the employees. Finally, we’re continuing to push forward with deploying tiered bandwidth, with a charge model for guest HSIA.
JOE TENCZAR: VP, Information and Technology / CIO, Sonny's BBQ.
As I am new to Sonny’s BBQ (www.sonnysbbq.com), it is premature to comment on specific technology projects, but I do know that we will be focusing on enhancing information-based decisions. Most companies collect an incredible amount of data, but few maximize the value from it. In many companies, the addition of much-hyped “Big Data” makes the marketing department happy, but just adds complexity and increases storage needs if you don’t have a plan. You must carefully weigh what data is necessary before bringing in every terabyte available. If you want to look for correlations and do some predictive analysis, bring small subsets of data back to find what may be important to influence your business. Then you can bring in and store what will provide the most value for the effort and cost.
SCOTT WISE: CEO, Scottys Brew House.
In 2014, Scotty’s Brewhouse (www.scottysbrewhouse.com) is looking at POS upgrades to not only hardware, but a major overhaul of our menu database programming. This will allow better reporting for sales, inventory, and financials, as well as decrease the amount of training time necessary for new staff members to learn the POS, which should help to decrease our overall training costs. Updating our hardware as part of our normal refresh cycle should also trend down the amount of support time currently being used for hardware-related issues in our restaurants.
We will also be implementing a mobile payment system that integrates with social media, allowing our guests to order items at the table, pay their tab, and leave a review on social media all from the same platform on their smartphone or tablet. This will allow faster table-turns, higher tip averages, and allow us to gain greater insight into our guests’ feelings regarding their visit. The back-end of the social integration will help in our marketing efforts as well.
What emerging technology has you excited for its potential to positively impact the hospitality industry?
DICKERSBACH: I believe the lodging industry is ever evolving, and if we take away the things we focus on a lot, such as hardware and infrastructure, and look at what’s going on around us, we see guests are arriving into our hotels in new and evolving ways. Take, for example, TripBam (www.tripbam.com). The website [which dubs itself “the ultimate hotel shopping service”] has a unique interface that lets consumers monitor a group of hotels of their choosing based on arrival date and room preferences, then provides updates on rates on a daily basis, ultimately saving you money. Another unique travel site, Hipmunk (www.hipmunk.com), lets users easily plug in travel dates for hotel or airfare and quickly see all available options in an easy to use calendar-style matrix. Guests are smarter, and the tools they use are becoming more and more robust.
GARAVUSO: We continue to be interested in emerging technologies around facial recognition as well as non-traditional PBX installations. I would like to see innovative ways 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 and provide them additional services.
GARRIDO: It would have to be Samsung Link (AllShare Play; link.samsung.com) technology, which allows guests to stream their own content from their devices to televisions in the guest room. Further adoption of this technology will allow more consumers to use their own content on the television we have in our guest rooms and reduce our costs for providing more premium content.
LEHN: Payments and loyalty; call it the Starbucks model to drive frequency and reduce cost. Granted it helps (a lot) to have a product that is extremely desirable/addictive and routinely consumed on a daily basis, but what Starbucks has been doing with their My Starbucks Rewards app is brilliant in both its simplicity and effectiveness. Other than Amazon, I don’t think there is another restaurant/retail establishment that makes it so easy to spend their money with them again and again. I’m both envious and inspired to bring the key attributes of this program to bear within our organization to help grow our top-line sales with the support of additional, loyal guests.
LUCIA: The emergence of POS mobility has me very excited. We have been waiting for POS mobility to evolve for a long time now. We use Micros 3700 POS (www.micros.com) and Micros now has some great mobility solutions that have not only come down in price — some cost no more than a wired terminal — but also now render our custom POS screens properly. We have several large locations and outdoor cafes, and mobile POS workstations will enhance the level of service we provide.
PEARSON: Augmented Reality (AR) is the next big thing for all of retail. While smartphones and tablets were the catalysts for getting the consumer to think of the Internet as something that’s always with them, AR tools like Glass and iOptik and even Yahoo Monocle are going to deliver on what tablets and smartphones only aspire to. I also see them becoming the BYOD of choice for the smart retailer, providing heads-up information when necessary, and driving a whole new level of efficiency in operations.
PINKHAM: There are several exciting developments for hotels, all tied to our guests’ mobile devices. Remote check-in can let guests choose their room type and, for a fee, upgrade if available, all prior to arrival. That mobile device can then be a guest’s room key, bypassing the whole front desk experience if desired. This self-service model is what some of our younger-generation guests are expecting, and we must get there quickly to meet their growing occupancy demands. Inside the guest room, exciting new innovations include touchscreen HDTVs that incorporate phone-type functionality (such as access to 911 and other guest request features), and can be controlled via the guest’s mobile device. Next, powering that or any mobile device will be done wirelessly, by just placing it on the bedside table to charge. Eventually, we’ll be able to eliminate all standalone devices in guest rooms: clocks, phones, jack packs, remote controls, etc.
SEIM: While not necessarily new, we are taking a serious look at Single Sign On (SSO) technologies. As more of our applications are moving to web-based apps that have separate log-ons, users are finding it difficult to remember all of the various credentials. In addition, IT is finding it difficult to manage the access controls as employees transition into and out of the organization.
TENCZAR: I continue to be encouraged and excited about the next generation of payment methods. Digital wallets hold a lot of promise, but the specific wallet types need to be evaluated based upon individual business needs. Many companies are taking the “wait and see” stance, but there are business types and situations that make eWallets viable options today. Also, PCI 3.0 is out and with it comes the expected, expanded scope. Costs are continually rising for QSAs and systems to secure in-scope systems. It is past due that full-service restaurants look at point-to-point encryption solutions to reduce their PCI burden. If they aren’t already, the major POS vendors should be working with payment processors to make fully-integrated P2P encrypted solutions for this restaurant segment as painless as possible.
WISE: From Google Wallet (www.google.com/wallet) to other propriety digital payment options, digital payment seems to be the one technology that is poised to change our business. The challenge is there are too many solutions. With so many options comes a lack of understanding and comfort level. As a dominate player in this area emerges, these methods of payment should become the norm in our industry.
Where has technology innovation been lacking, or underserved, in the hospitality industry?
BOLLEN: To over-simplify this, I believe CRM is lacking in our industry because hospitality solutions are so disparate. So much information is stored in separate systems and our vendors do not integrate. In addition, new solutions or innovative platforms create new guest experiences, but also create another data silo that has an operational impact on the property and can lead to a poor guest experience.
DICKERSBACH: We are finally starting to see some new property management systems (PMS) come to market, and yes they are underdogs, but some show potential. I like to compare the hospitality PMS arena to that of Microsoft and Google from years ago. Microsoft was mostly a physical, software-based company and Google a web-based software company. The PMS area is the same; and let me clarify that I do not consider a PMS web-based if it is still running traditional software, requires some sort of local installation and/or is simply accessed through remote technologies such as Citrix or RDP. The industry is wide open for innovation, and building a robust, true web-based PMS that scales is certainly an entertaining idea and also still a challenge.
LUCIA: I think pay at the table technology and restaurant reservation systems are both lacking and under-served. With pay at the table, while this is a great idea, the lack of a standard is frustrating. Everyone seems to tout a mobile device or an app but there is not one or even a few that this industry has fully embraced and I feel that until this happens, this technology will lag. With regard to reservation systems, consumers use Open Table, but our industry needs more than just a reservation system. We need a great CRM tool that easily integrates POS data and guest information to enable us to better “wow” the guest.
WISE: One major area that is lacking in restaurants is the ability for all of our guest platforms to be integrated. We are heavy users of social media, guest loyalty, and basic point-of-sale platforms. There is currently no good way to integrate these platforms and create a unique guest experience. The ability to reward a guest for a social media post with loyalty perks, or to recognize via our POS those guests that are influential on social, could revolutionize the way we interact with the guest and they with us.
Where do you see opportunities for “low-hanging fruit” for improvement?
BOLLEN: Website Analytics are low-hanging fruit in our industry. For years we have used free tools from Google and other providers that do not provide insight into our booking channels. As Online Travel Agents (OTAs) are driving investment in their websites, the hospitality company becomes less competitive. Investing in solutions like Adobe’s Analytics Software-as-a-Service provides comprehensive tools and insight into the behaviors that are preventing website conversions.
BROOKS: I see low-hanging fruit in the use of the cloud for Outlook 360, versus buying an Exchange server. Rather than buying a new server with software, we plan to buy licenses for Outlook 360. It would take five and a half years for the monthly cost to accumulate to the cost of the server, routine maintenance and software. This would be a cost effective way to upgrade mail servers for many small- to medium-sized companies. The only investment is $4 per-user per-month; about 8% less if we purchase a year at a time. It requires very little effort and less maintenance going forward.
GARRIDO: An internal and cost enhancement area for “low hanging fruit” is the telecom department in hotels. This is often a neglected area that has a big potential for savings and enhancements to the hotel P&L. We could be offering simpler products to hotels that cut the high cost of operating their telephone systems.
PEARSON: Leveraging big data to give unit operators more insight and better direction; we’ve gotten much better as an industry at having the data.
However, we haven’t necessarily gotten better at recognizing that humans can only assimilate so much. I’ve seen so many “dashboard” solutions that look like airplane cockpits, which are next to useless. I only want to see five indicators or less, and only information that drives behavior in the direction I want. Anything else should be relegated to weekly or monthly reporting decks.
PINKHAM: Implement consolidated social media reporting and monitoring solutions so you can see what your guest’s and others are saying about your property. This allows you to be a part of this interactive dialogue, directly with your guests, and hopefully avoid any negative reviews that will impact future reservation stay opportunities.
SEIM: We continue to find significant cost savings through renegotiation of our phone, data, and support contracts. In particular we have found that we can increase data speeds coming into our properties while maintaining or reducing our monthly spend. In some cases, we are using the savings to fund other technology initiatives for the properties.
What skills are important for technology leaders to possess, moving forward?
DICKERSBACH: If you read any CIO trade magazine you will inevitably come across an article about the CIO having a seat at the executive round table, and the struggles to lose the stigma that technology is just an endless hole without an ROI. While poorly managed and communicated projects can be exactly that, a well-managed project can both deliver on new services and come in on budget. One of the many important skills starts with knowing how and who to hire. Focusing more on his or her personality — and a little less on making sure their certifications are up to date — could leave you with a great new team member. Putting the right people into the right positions enables the CIO to focus on innovation, planning, and how to move the business — from a technology perspective — from point A to point B. This requires business acumen, and more importantly, the ability to speak in plain English to the executive team.
GENGLER: Today’s technology leaders need to have the skills to play many different roles: service manager, technology wiz, transformational change agent, and strategic partner. Creating value for our partners and the business in each of these roles is the key to our continued success. We all have to find more efficient and economical ways for our teams to “keep the lights on;” to maintain flexibility for introducing technological advancements; and to quickly adapt to new business needs. Continually seek to improve operations throughout the organization, break down walls and silos, and leverage relationships and cross-functional teams. These things make it possible for us to evolve into highly effective change agents, and eventually strategic partners of the business.
Skills needed to succeed in this evolution are having and communicating a clear vision; the ability to build and maintain strong teams and business relationships; being patient and able to seek to understand; and having a clear and deep understanding of the business, its analytics, and the related environment.
LEHN: Change management. There continues to be pressure across our industry and businesses in general for rapid, game-changing
innovation. Whether it’s upgrading an existing system to leverage new functionality or maintain support; integrating a brand new technology into a complex system infrastructure; or completely turning a business process on its head, a successful IT leader needs to be able to manage this change with extreme grace. S/he can really stand out from the crowd and earn or solidify the proverbial seat-at-the-table if able to intelligently lay out a plan for change that can be successfully absorbed by the company. And it needn’t be limited to technology-based changes, as time and again even a “simple” routine change (think of your last LTO) can really detract from the business at hand if folks aren’t given the appropriate advance notice and made to see how vital their role is in the success of a new initiative. I think that the critical thinking and deliberate methodologies that have been a hallmark of IT can really have a positive influence and demonstrate a much needed skillset across our organizations, as change is coming at us more rapidly than ever.
LUX: I’d name two things: first, understanding data and the interaction of systems. We as IT executives need to clearly understand analytics so that we position our systems to provide information in a holistic form. And second, cloud technologies; the days of being experts in networking, servers and virtualization are winding down. We need to shift to the new paradigm, much like we did when client-server became the norm.
RAMA: Technology leaders will need to manage IT projects with less resources, be it capital or human. Skill levels are evolving and the most engaged leaders will be successful if they share their knowledge and skills amongst each other, as each person has something to contribute. Open and candid discussions have to take place and platforms have to be created for this to happen at conferences, user-groups or summits.
SEIM: Effective vendor management is one skill that has continued to increase in importance within the IT space, especially hospitality. As an organization we outsource tier-1 support of our 60+ hotels and restaurants and use third parties for commodity-based services such as log monitoring. This skill set covers everything from contracts, SLA, and pricing negotiations at the outset of an agreement, to an ability to identify and track KPIs that can measure the health of a relationship, and handle conflict resolution when disagreements inevitably do occur.
TENCZAR: Number one by far is an awareness of marketing. This answer has a couple of facets: first, the obvious reference to the vast array of marketing and technology overlapping solutions. Consumer use of social and other preference-based technologies has driven a multitude of requirements for direct-to-consumer marketing. Expectations are rising to provide personalized and highly-targeted messaging. Fifteen years ago, IT and finance teams were closely tied due to the large number of corporate systems applied to run the business. Today, the financial systems make up only a small fraction of the technology running the business. Now, the top relationship tends to be between IT and marketing.
The second facet of marketing is the promotion of IT and how it should be in the forefront of the company’s strategy and decisions. There are still many companies that believe IT is an enabling function or in an order-taker role. This is absolutely not the case any longer, and if a company feels that way then it may be because the head of IT has not spent enough time showing the company the value of IT within the business. No longer can a CIO be just the head geek, they must have the experience and knowledge to discuss solutions in business terms and market IT as a true business partner.