Industry Q&A: How to Up the "Wow Factor" with IP Phone Convergence

| May 13, 2008

The hotel standard has always been to ensure that guests receive the same accommodations that they would if they were at home. However, with the introduction of advanced in-home technologies, hotels now find themselves struggling to keep up with the technological boom. Scott Watts, director of IT at PCH Hotels and Resorts, has found one way to up the "wow factor" in PCH's Renaissance Montgomery property (Montgomery, Alabama) through the installation of Ayaya IP touch screen telephones (www.avaya.com). As part of an IP converged network, the implementation takes the "triple-play" concept a step further and creates a completely converged environment with one network supporting wired and wireless voice, high-speed data networking, and IPTV and video on demand. As a result, guests are able to perform a myriad of functions; from checking stocks, to making dinner or show reservations, to even finding directions and maps through their phones or televisions.

In a Q & A with Hospitality Technology, Watts explains the results and processes associated with his vision of returning to traditional guest standards through the instillation of an extended IP network convergence system.

HT: Why did the Renaissance Montgomery decided to go with a converged network and what is it enabling the hotel to accomplish?

SW: We were looking for the "wow factor." Running on a fully converged voice, data and video network, the Avaya IP Telephony-based solution provides our guests and staff alike with features and capabilities that help make guest-stays a unique experience. Because our guests are able to use their TV or in-room phone, we are also able to save on infrastructure costs while providing the ability for integrations.

HT: Does the network serve a larger purpose within the hotel (i.e., are other systems integrated into it)?

SW: It does. We have a common, centralized network for every aspect of the hotel, as opposed to siloed networks. The converged voice, data and video network means that guest room phones and televisions serve as interchangeable endpoints that are integrated within a number of hotel systems. For example, guests can use either their phone or the television to set a single wake-up call or a visit's worth of calls. If a guest neglects to respond to the wake-up call, the system automatically alerts the main reception desk, which in turn notifies a hotel employee via a text message to his or her Avaya Wireless IP phone that a personal visit is needed to check on the guest.

The system is also linked with the hotel's property management system, which enables the hotel to automatically personalize guest phones and communications services at the time of check-in.

HT: Are there any security issues regarding the phones and if so how are you overcoming those?

SW: Security is critical for this type of advanced technological offering. We are required to adhere to Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance regulations and a variety of Internet security standards. It is our obligation to protect guests' individual data along with the data of the entire shared network. Our guests can be at ease shopping online in their hotel room because of the data security quality we have in place, and movie studios can feel comfortable providing movies that have not yet been released on DVD to our guests because we've implemented content security provider Verimatrix (www.verimatrix.com) to ensure anti-piracy laws are followed.

HT: What has been the guest response to this new phone system?

SW: The response has been incredibly positive. There are still certain guests that find the advanced technological offerings to be intimidating, but we knew going into the project that we might receive some feedback of that nature. As a result, we made sure to keep some of the basics: when you pick up the phone, there's still a dial tone, and when you grab the TV remote, you still know how to navigate.

HT: Do you have any future plans regarding the converged network?

SW: Having a common platform with every aspect linked to IP opens doors and allows us to branch out from traditional hotel offerings. At the end of the month, we plan on offering a world radio feature where guests can listen to virtually any radio station in the world from their TVs. Our guests will also be able to schedule tee times at any of the nearby 26 golf courses along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and watch keynotes and performances occurring at the adjacent Montgomery Convention Center from their LCD TV in the convenience of their own hotel room.

HT: For anyone else out there thinking of undertaking an implementation such as this, what tips can you give them?

SW: There are two pieces of advice I would give to anyone who is interested in this type of implementation:

1) Pick the right integration partner. There are very few companies with experience in this level of implementation. Experience is key, and it makes the entire process more smooth.
 
2) Give yourself plenty of time. While we completed our implementation successfully in time for the opening of the hotel, we definitely underestimated the time it would take to complete the task. It never hurts to allow yourself a little extra time in case a hurdle or two arise.

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