Lodging Roundtable: Hotel Execs Break Down Systems Integration

By Dorothy Creamer, Managing Editor | March 04, 2013

Douglas C. Rice
Executive VP & CEO, HTNG
(www.htng.org)


What’s the greatest challenge facing systems integration?
RICE: A lack of standards adoption by both vendors and hotel companies.  Many vendors are suffocating under the maintenance cost of hundreds or thousands of legacy interfaces, yet continue to develop new ones that fail to follow established standards. Vendors and hotels who have put their foot down against proprietary interfaces paid a little more the first time they implemented standards, but have saved tons of money by avoiding future custom integration costs for similar systems.

What key component(s) do systems need to ensure interoperability?
RICE: Adoption of reasonably current versions of relevant standards, whether it be networking, hardware, software, or deployment is a necessity.  Systems also need to expose data and core processes through easily accessible Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).  The days of systems that insist on initiating a particular process only through its own user interfaces are history.  A PMS needs to be able to check-in a guest, but it also needs to expose that check-in process to mobile apps, kiosks, websites, and other systems.

What trends are emerging in systems integration?
RICE: Object XML, based on modeling techniques, is going mainstream among larger organizations.  It makes standards easy to extend and adapt, while maintaining the underlying consistency. It’s just beginning to take hold in hospitality and will play out over the next decade.

Has integration with legacy systems improved?
RICE:
Some technology toolsets have made it more feasible to put a “wrapper” around a legacy system that makes it seem to conform with standards.  It’s not perfect, but it certainly comes closer – and at less cost – than historical approaches.

Mark Haley
Managing Partner
The Prism Partnership
(www.theprismpartnership.com)

What’s the greatest challenge facing systems integration?
HALEY:
Vendors using different terms. When installing a CRS/PMS interface, vendors will describe common concepts such as rate plans in various ways, but never explain to the installer exactly what they mean by the term they have adopted.

What key component(s) do systems need to ensure interoperability?
HALEY:
IP (Internet Protocol) interfaces tend to be the most robust and reliable compared to serial interfaces.  If you don’t have a choice and must use serial, try to keep cable lengths to a minimum.

Does moving to cloud-based solutions help resolve integration challenges?  
HALEY:
An interface from a cloud-based PMS to another enterprise system should be easier, since other tenants in the cloud application are presumably already interfaced.  For interfaces to local, property-based systems (like a PBX or POS), a device that manages data communications to the host in the cloud must be installed and maintained. It’s not a big deal, and it’s a well-understood technology, but the promise of the cloud is “no technology in the hotel,” and this is putting technology in the hotel.
 
Mark Pate
Assistant Controller/ IT Director
Highpointe Hotel Corporation
(www.highpointe.com)

What’s the greatest challengefacing systems integration?
PATE:
Data security. Hoteliers want to be in cyberspace with accessible data and easy integration, but we also have to safeguard data from the wrong parties. This is especially a challenge in hospitality as we try to be as open as possible to guests, partners and franchises, but at the same time protect valuable information.

What trends are emerging in systems integration?   
PATE: More closed systems are opening up to system integration.  I never thought I would see Hilton and Marriott open PMS systems to allow data to be extracted and used to populate other applications.

How are you overcoming challenges facing systems integration?  
PATE:
We’re dedicating more time and resources to complete projects. It is very easy to hit a hurdle, get off track and then never finish the initial plan.  We partner with vendors that specialize in system integration, like Aptech Computer Systems (www.aptech.com) that recently helped us complete a Business Intelligence project that integrates key data from all hotels, regardless of brand, into one central dashboard and reporting system.

Vivek Shaiva, CIO
La Quinta Inns & Suites
(www.lq.com)

What’s the greatest challenge facing systems integration?
SHAIVA:
A lack of support for service oriented architecture (SOA) and web services across legacy systems; plus the challenge of integrating diverse systems being used in SaaS (Software as a Services) models across a variety of vendors and hosting providers is hindering systems integration.
 
What trends are emerging in systems integration?
SHAIVA:
Increasing use of “mash-ups” on web-based platforms to deliver complex websites with “tags” and real-time integration from scores of providers that serve varying needs ranging from rich content (Google maps) to tracking (web trends) and Test & Target (Adobe). These are commonly requested needs from marketing departments today.   

What do you see coming down the pike that is changing property management?
SHAIVA:
Integrated CRS and PMS in the cloud seem to be the target. There is no need for two separate systems if both are running in the cloud. Rates and inventory shouldn’t have to be duplicated in two systems when there can be one repository shared by both.

Erik Shappy, IT Manager
The Woodstock Inn & Resort
(www.woodstockinn.com)
What’s the greatest challenge facing systems integration?
SHAPPY:
The first issue is finding two systems that integrate and provide all the features needed. Once that is accomplished there is the age-old problem: finger-pointing among vendors. It’s tough enough to find systems that will integrate and provide solutions across platforms, but the real challenges come when things aren’t working properly and the answer as to why isn’t obvious.

What do you see coming down the pike that is changing property management?
SHAPPY:
Cloud-based offerings and mobility are changing the game for property management. Today’s travelers are tech-savvy and tech-dependent. Their experience where they stay has to match their lifestyle. Travelers want instant information and self-service through web-based interfaces and apps on personal devices. Hotels will have to be more agile to keep up with these trends.

Does moving to cloud-based solutions help resolve some integration challenges?
SHAPPY:
While we have not moved in that direction ourselves at our resort, I see where this could reduce integration challenges. The vendor hosting the application would have to shoulder the burden of integrating solutions, upgrading them and guaranteeing interoperability. One of the challenges we face with cloud-based solutions is availability. Bandwidth comes at a high premium near our property so the reduction for the expense of hardware for a cloud-based solution comes back in the increase in expense
for bandwidth.

How can vendors be a part of the integration solution?
SHAPPY:
The notion of “one solution fits all” just doesn’t work. If a vendor makes a phenomenal property management system, it doesn’t necessarily mean its spa software is as good. Vendors have to be willing to accept that integration with other systems is necessary and develop software on platforms that plug and play easily.

Robert Pauselli,
Director of Information Systems
Taboo Resort, Golf & Spa
(www.tabooresort.com)

What’s the greatest challenge facing systems integration?
PAUSELLI:
Our biggest stumbling block has been trying to find systems that are able to interface with little or no user intervention.  We have quite a few systems that communicate on an hourly basis and it’s critical to maintain processing time that the systems can handle all of the communications.  When the systems don’t seamlessly share data a special interface has to be written, which can be costly, or the data has to be manipulated before it is passed onto the second system.  

What key component(s) do systems need to ensure interoperability?
PAUSELLI:
When sourcing new software or systems, I look at what “back end” is used by the system compared to what our current Maestro (www.maestropms.com) systems use.  This helps with the challenge of sharing data between systems. If the new system adheres to industry standards when it comes to database architecture and communication infrastructure, it will more than likely be easier to integrate. The biggest component is the ability of the vendor to work with the customer to ensure integration, especially with legacy systems.   

How can hotels be a part of the integration solution?
PAUSELLI:
Hotel operators have to think outside the box.  Old school managers have to bring themselves into the 21st century and realize that IT is changing. If they don’t change with it, it can prove to be a huge hindrance on business.


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