Just-released standards from the working groups of the nonprofit industry association, Hotel Technology Next Generation
(HTNG) add new features for kiosk interfaces, extend the functionality of payment system interfaces, and enable complex data queries between disparate systems. In addition, HTNG just chartered two new workgroups to address critical challenges facing hotels today in entertainment systems and cellular phone coverage.
The newly released specifications are part of HTNG's ongoing effort to improve the operations and connectivity of technologies throughout the hotel. The association's software-related workgroups release new or revised web-service specifications about every six months. Vendors can certify their products to these specifications, so that hoteliers and partners know that such products conform to the highest standards of open-systems interoperability. Highlights from the new specifications include:
Increased kiosk functionality
The HTNG Kiosk workgroup released the first update to their original specification, adding seven capabilities including upselling, share-with and multiple-name room check-in, duplicate and replacement key cutting, guest messages, and others. The new specification will help adopters provide more robust capabilities through kiosks connected to a supporting PMS. Several of the kiosk and PMS vendors who collaborated in creating these specifications are already working on implementing the specification in hopes of achieving a significant reduction in custom development time, staff effort and product cost for new installations. The specifications are publicly available through the HTNG website as the Kiosk Integration Specification, Version 2.0
Payment systems interface
The second release of the HTNG Payment Systems and Data Security specification expands functionality for additional types of transactions including restaurants, retail, and e-commerce. A very important addition was functionality for the European marketplace with support for international processing and EMV (commonly known as Chip and PIN). It also adds features that make it easier for hotels to manage prepaid cards by allowing for partial authorizations and authorizations with balance inquiry. The workgroup's original release eliminated the need for PMS and Point-of-Sale system vendors to write and maintain multiple interfaces to payment gateways and vice versa — currently a very time consuming activity. The specifications are publicly available through the HTNG website as Payment Systems & Data Security, Payment Processing Specification, Version 2.0
Easier data sharing between disparate systems
HTNG's Open Data eXchange (ODX) workgroup released a new specification that will help disparate hotel data systems share information with each other on an as-needed basis. This specification enables a generic, query-based data transfer that fosters greater information sharing among a wide range of existing systems. This is an expansion of the initial release, which allowed systems to encapsulate flat-file transfers to simply move data files from one system to another. For details, access the full specification through the HTNG website at Open Data eXchange (ODX) Query Specification, Version 1.0
Other workgroups continued the refinement of previous specifications. The Guest & Room Status Messaging and Product Distribution workgroups updated their respective specifications with operational revisions.
In addition to the newly released specifications, the HTNG board of directors just approved the charters of two new workgroups to address other ongoing technology challenges for hotels.
The first new workgroup will address the problem of cellular phone coverage in hotels, and will develop a specification for a new product that would not only provide better signal coverage for all cellular carriers within hotels, but also bridge between cellular and Wi-Fi services, allowing phones to roam seamlessly between the two systems. Solutions available in the market today have proved incomplete or financially impractical for most hotels. In addition to bringing to market a lighter-weight solution specifically tailored to hotels, the new technology may also create revenue opportunities for hotels, who could offer wireless carriers the ability to "offload" cellular traffic from the overcrowded wireless spectrum onto terrestrial Internet connections operated by the hotel.
Hosted entertainment content delivery solution
The second new workgroup is focused on creating solutions that would enable hotel guests to enjoy an interactive entertainment experience that is comparable to what they have at home, while eliminating or reducing the need for head-end equipment in the hotel. The group will seek to identify and solve the technical challenges faced by different content delivery approaches (e.g. cable, satellite) with regards to hardware and encryption in the hospitality market. The hope is to identify a standards based framework for content delivery from a variety of content providers. Because the content providers, entertainment system vendors, infrastructure, and licensing issues for entertainment are specific to each country, the initial effort will focus on a US-based solution, with the expectation that many aspects of a solution may later be adapted for use in other parts of the world.