The Enabler

By Lisa Terry • Contributing Editor | April 01, 2006

It used to be the property management system was the center of attention. It was the platform," says David Sjolander, vice president of hotel information systems for Carlson Hotels Worldwide. "Now it's the enabling platform and a key part of the technology infrastructure" that also includes the customer reservation system, customer relationship management and the data warehouse. "They all have to fit together and talk to each other."

Carlson recently announced its standardization on Micros Systems' Opera Enterprise Solution (micros.com) as the PMS component of its platform throughout its brands, eliminating the need to support two different PMS systems for its Radisson, Country Inn & Suites, Park Plaza, Park Inn and Regent hotel brands.

Despite efforts by developers to enhance property management systems by adding newer capabilities such as wireless check-in, it's the tried and true PMS functions, integration capabilities and support that are winning hoteliers' attention--and delivering benefits.

To Sjolander, for example, "there are more important things than functionality, such as the ability [for the developer] to support it globally." Quality of service is also a key deliverable. "We're more concerned about integration with other systems and the ability to update and manage systems across the world."

Steve Jacobs, executive vice president and CIO, U.S. Franchise Systems, also views the PMS as part of a larger whole. USFS franchises 300-plus Microtel Inns & Suites, Hawthorn Suites, and Best Inns and Best Suites hotel brands. Three years ago, the company operated 27 different PMS versions on 21 platforms; that's been replaced with a solution from Multi-Systems Inc. (msisolutions.com).

"Full [two-way] integration is critical" between the PMS and applications such as revenue management, yield management, CRS and CRM, says Jacobs. Industry efforts to standardize integration, as well as service-oriented architecture, are helping in that effort.

However, PMS applications do offer important distinguishing features, he says. "Where there is a lot of differentiation is value-added attributes, such as yield management or tools to interface to outside applications or in-house repositories," says Jacobs. "PMS' are giving tools to better understand guests." As a result of that integration, "we have complete visibility into our underlying business," says Jacobs, enabling real-time decision making. ROI comes from better identification and targeting of customers, control and operational checks and balances, and the ability to see and attain new margin opportunities, he says.

Integration within
A common platform within a property can also be important. That was the goal for Grand View Lodge, a resort located in Nisswa, Minnesota. The PMS had to be able to handle two-way integration with modules for golf, food and beverage, sales and catering, spa, and unique room units, such as one unit with eight bedrooms. IT Director Jeff Schultz and his staff sorted through 50 companies before finding Visual One Systems (v1s.com). "The main thing we wanted to avoid was, it's not my problem, it's theirs," when multiple developers are involved, says Schultz. "I may have sacrificed some on POS or spa, but they're definitely making strides to improve it," and Grandview has avoided integration hassles.

The PMS is returning the investment with improved efficiency, and "we can offer more services because we have a better feel for what's going on," Schultz says. "We track whether it's a good or bad offering." The resort can now allow niceties like charging to the room and boosting guest spending, and payroll is in line.

Sometimes specialized features are essential, though. For Value Place, a fast-growing chain of ultra extended stay hotels, the ideal PMS was one that would offer low upfront and ongoing costs while offering a key ability: to manage lodging or bed tax refunds for guests staying over 30 days. They installed the NiteVision PMS from REMco Software (remcosoftware.com).

The ability to offer a Web interface into the PMS for customers to make online reservations at a hotel's own site is important to a number of hoteliers, including Value Place. "Most other services don't offer the ability to drop reservations into your system, and I don't pay a commission," reports Andrew Chaney, senior vice president at Value Place.

Reporting tools, or the ability to export data, are also critical to many hoteliers to help them gain more insight into their customers and their businesses. Value Place requires its franchisees use the system. "It's the nerve center of the property," says Chaney. "Without it we don't know who's there and what's happening with the money. It's as much to our benefit as theirs."

Functions in demand
Another growing need is the ability to handle condominium-hotel functionality. "We needed standard condo functions, such as statements for owners, rotations, how to schedule housekeeping," and the ability to combine room types, says Jill Higgins, revenue manager for Grand Lodge Crested Butte, a Crested Butte, Colorado, resort. "We're a destination resort, with a lot of packaging of activities, and we wanted to easily add those to guest reservations and track them," adds Higgins.

The resort chose Northwind's Maestro PMS (maestropms.com). "We've already seen some savings, such as in tracking of cancellations, and tracking of activities used to take a lot of manual work. This improves how we operate," explains Higgins. The resort is able to extract more and different data from the PMS for reporting and analysis.

Hoteliers make a nod to advanced features such as the ability to cross-sell resorts through multi-property functions, online reservations integration and wireless check-in. But when it comes to evaluating PMS, basic functionality, ease of integration and quality support trump gee-whiz features.

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