Keys to Mastering the PMS

By Ric Leutwyler, President of SkyTouch Technology, division of Choice Hotels International | September 16, 2013

In the history of Yelp, no guest has ever written a bad review complaining about the property management system in use at a hotel’s front desk. And yet if this invisible-to-guests system doesn’t meet the needs of your hotel, it can undermine the best efforts of your staff, ruin the guest experience, and perhaps flip an otherwise profitable property into the red.
 
Unfortunately, ditching a bad PMS presents its own set of challenges. Until recently, a property owner had to factor in expensive new equipment, hours of staff time lost to training, and potential downtime during the switchover. All in all, muddling through could seem like the least bad option.
 
However, the industry is changing quickly and new “cloud-based” systems are eliminating many of those concerns – and even giving independent operators access to features formerly reserved for members of the largest chains.
 
With a traditional PMS, all the hardware is located on site at the hotel. This includes servers, networking equipment, data storage and backup, and other specialized hardware. With a cloud-based system, that technology moves off-site, to be managed by the PMS vendor. This arrangement dramatically reduces up-front costs and finally makes switching providers an affordable possibility.
 
Cloud-based systems can offer a wide range of other benefits, as well, depending on their features. Managers and owners can check the status of operations without even being at the hotel, making rate changes and resolving issues from a bank or soccer practice. Instead of spending hours learning new software, hotel staff can use any device with a web browser to connect to their systems and manage operations through familiar web interfaces. Tech support becomes an outsourced function, meaning managers can spend less time rebooting servers and more time overseeing businesses. Product upgrades are automatic and transparent, rather than being an expensive investment decision on a three- or four-year cycle.

PMS on the move
The portability of web-based systems opens up new opportunities for customized guest experiences. Imagine having a large group or convention coming to your hotel. With a cloud-based solution, you can take a laptop and set up a dedicated check-in station for those guests. The group feels special because they have their own queue and the front desk is still available for regular guests. 
 
This model can also be extended should the conference itself be at a different location, like a conference center. With an Internet-connected laptop, your staff can check in guestsat the conference, with any changes instantly available back at the hotel’s front desk.
 
Staff training is one of the biggest hurdles to bringing on a new system. Web-based user screens present a familiar interface that most hotel staff will find more intuitive to use, but a mix of in-person and online training allows the initial team to ramp up quickly and future employees to learn best practices, rather than shortcuts or other bad habits from fellow staff.


Facing cloud concerns
When hotel operators hear about cloud-based systems, one of their first questions is about security. How can they trust their sensitive data is secure when it’s somewhere “out there”?
 
Obviously, any computer system connected to the Internet is at risk of intrusion. But it’s usually safer to trust security to a large vendor whose reputation depends upon being reliable and safe. These organizations are – or should be – funding the personnel and equipment needed to keep systems safe against viruses, malware, intrusions other security threats. Tech geeks will talk about PCI DSS compliance and 24x7/365 monitoring of all systems, both of which should be standard for any cloud-based system you’re considering.
 
Another concern is what happens if the Internet connection goes down. It’s always a good idea to maintain a secondary connection that can kick in should something happen to the primary line. The advantage with a cloud-based system is that this can be something as simple as a card plugged into a laptop that connects to the cellular network or even – in an emergency – borrowing a nearby WiFi signal (with permission, of course). It’s always easier to find some way to connect to an off-site server that’s still up than it is to resuscitate your own system if it goes down, especially at night or on the weekends.
 
Finally, the bottom line is always the bottom line. In our experience, the difference between a bad PMS and a good PMS can easily be a 2.5 percent revenue increase. By integrating into other systems – including Point of Sale (POS), key management, phone/call accounting and entertainment rental – a well-functioning cloud-based system can increase efficiency and boost RevPAR.

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