Current use rates for cloud technology in the hotel space are still fairly low. According to HT’s 2015 Lodging Technology Study, email is the most common cloud-based system with installation rates of 17% industry wide. While there may be a shortage of actual roll-outs, there’s no shortage in interest: one in five hotel technology executives in the HT study said that cloud-based solutions would be a priority this year, and most activity is centered around property management systems (PMS). Current install rates for cloud-based PMS hover at around 9%, and an additional 15% of hotels are planning a migration in the year ahead. If you’re among the one-in-five with interest, or the 15% with roll-out plans, here are four factors to consider before making a purchase.
1. Consider build vs. buy options.
For operators with the resources, building a private cloud can provide the functional benefits, without having to migrate to a new solution. James E. Bina, corporate controller at Rosen Hotels & Resorts (www.rosenhotels.com) installed Visual One by Agilysys, Inc. (www.agilysys.com) on a central server and accesses the database through his own metropolitan area network. “I am essentially my own cloud provider,” says Bina. “I can manage any of my seven properties from my phone or any location, just like if I was using a cloud-based PMS system.” He encourages operators who are using a PMS system that does not offer a cloud-based version to consider this option in order to take advantage of the cloud-functionality.
Similarly, the Nitevision PMS from MSI (www.msisolutions.com) running at La Quinta (www.lq.com) properties was not designed to be cloud-based, but the company deployed it on a set of blade servers in its data center. “We created our own private cloud network so that we could expose the application to the properties via terminal services over the Internet,” says Vivek Shaiva, EVP/CIO, LaQuinta “Now all that’s needed is a dumb terminal connected to our private cloud at the property to run the PMS.”
For independent properties with limited IT resources, off-the-shelf cloud solutions are appealing. But be wary: some platforms advertised as cloud-based still run on a local server and require nightly updates to the cloud, cautions Jason Purkiss, owner of Bond Street Motel in Boise (www.bondmotel.com). “These types of products don’t take advantage of the biggest benefits of cloud computing, which are mobility and
real-time information,” he says. Purkiss chose the Hotelogix PMS system (www.hotelogix.com) because it was a true cloud-based system where he could view data in real time from the hallway of the property or his home.
When Purkiss purchased the 57-room mixed use apartment/hotel, it operated without a PMS system. “Some companies we talked to wanted us to host our PMS on a local server; that wouldn’t do,” says Purkiss. “Working above property is pivotal. Relying on hosted exchange to store emails offsite is becoming the norm for hotels, and it’s beneficial to host the PMS in the same way. I don’t want to worry about technology or having to employ an IT guy on staff to manage the server. I also don’t want to deal with backing up my data. With Hotelogix, everything is stored securely in the cloud.”
2. Tokenize for security
Security remains an area where cloud technology faces challenge — and one that operators hope cloud-based PMS providers will step up to address. Using a cloud-based system, credit card information is transmitted over the Internet. “To protect your guests’ information, it is essential that the transport mechanism is highly secure,” says La Quinta’s Shaiva. “Tokenization is the most effective strategy at this time since then you are only sending tokenized information over the wire. Look for a product that tokenizes information before it hits your server for maximum protection,” he explains.
3. Look for mobile-first designs
Now that technology allows hotel staff to have anywhere-access to the PMS, Shaiva encourages hotels to consider moving staff out from behind the desk to facilitate the check-in process. However, he cautions that one of the challenges of using a PMS on a mobile device is the fact that operators are designing PMS systems for the cloud first. “The mobility portion is an afterthought, not the core user interface, which results in a less-than-optimal user interface,” says Shaiva. He challenges vendors to begin designing products for mobile first since the majority of users will access the system on mobile devices.
“Vendors think of the front desk as stationary, but the workforce today is mobile. Staff, including housekeeping, general managers, and maintenance, all access the PMS system on tablets or smartphones,” Shaiva notes. “There is no reason why there has to physically be a front desk anymore. We should start moving to a different paradigm and eliminate the constraint of checking in with the hotel employee behind a desk. We now have the technology to support this shift.”
4. Prioritize integration
Integrating with other hotel systems is one of the biggest benefits of using a PMS system. To more effectively take advantage of the ability to customize, consider a cloud-based system with a services enabled layer. The Alive and Well Resort (www.aliveandwellresorts.com) in Turks & Cacaos uses Maestro, (www.maestropms.com), a services-enabled PMS that allows for rentals of private units and timeshares in addition to traditional hotel room bookings. Because owner Gabriella Sullivan travels often, the service-enabled feature allowed her to customize the product so she can see activity from all parts of the business on her mobile device, regardless of location.
Roberts Riverwalk Hotel Detroit (www.detroitriverwalkhotel.com) implemented FrontDeskAnywhere (www.frontdeskanywhere.com), and has since seen revenues increase. Michael V. Roberts Jr., senior vice president, credits the ability to eliminate OTA fees, made possible by an integration between the company’s booking engine and the PMS system. Roberts actively manages the rate yield remotely. “If there is a customer issue, I can log into the PMS remotely and make adjustments. I am also able to closely monitor our systems for security to reduce theft and fraud.”
Shaiva says that many operators often run into issues with cloud-based PMS systems easily interfacing with local devices, such as printers, scanners and PBX systems. “Since I do not have a dedicated IT person on each property, it’s important to be able to work around the issue remotely,” Shaiva explains. Vendors are each addressing this challenge with different strategies depending on their product and Shaiva recommends asking about specifics when researching products.