Monday, March 12, 2007

Hotel’s data and existing IT: Building blocks for an information hub

Hotels seeking ways to improve the guest experience through technology solutions face a significant internal challenge: their existing information technology (IT) architecture. At a typical hotel, there are a large number of different interfaces needed simply to allow existing applications to work together. This complex architecture makes the prospect of adding any new solution a daunting one. But a technology approach that makes extensive use of existing interfaces, while still allowing both current and new applications to “talk” and work together, is taming the toughest of these challenges.

Business benefits

The concept of using an “information hub” as the basis for a hotel’s IT platform offers a number of important benefits, according to Brad More, president of Theodatus, LLC. This concept, and the Microsoft technology supporting it, has helped Theodatus enable a number of applications that enhance the guest experience.

Charging the room across multiple properties

For a hotel company with several properties in the same city, Theodatus’ integration with the properties’ point of sale (POS) and property management (PMS) systems allowed the hotel company to extend the concept of “charging back to the room” across multiple properties. Guests gained greater convenience while the hotel company was easily able to increase its revenues on food, products, and services.

Cashless payments and location services

At a resort hotel and theme park, Theodatus facilitated the implementation of cashless payments to guests’ room folios, accomplished through radio frequency (RF)-equipped bracelets. The bracelets also allow family members to locate each other by way of kiosks placed throughout the property. According to More, integration was accomplished by making use of “native, primary supported interfaces” for both the POS and PMS systems. Theodatus middleware was used to integrate existing interfaces with the newer radio frequency identification (RFID) technology elements.

More believes the most significant business benefits of integration will come when hotels can unlock the power of data they are already collecting but currently are only rarely bringing together. “A hotel restaurant might have some historical trend-based information on a guest’s favorite table or meal type, but if that data lives in a silo and never gets connected with other guest preferences, the information is never shared to the benefit of the company,” says More.

Improving guest experiences and customer loyalty

According to More, centralizing and analyzing guest data could help hotels establish a “lifetime value” for each guest. Such a value would be based on more than just the number of times the guest stays at the hotel. It would also encompass a guest’s use of amenities such as the golf course, spa facilities, and entertainment options. Hotels that establish such a value could reward their best customers with benefits that are meaningful to them, further enhancing the guest experience and building customer loyalty.

In addition, hotels that increase their knowledge about guest activities could market themselves more effectively. Hotels could alert golf enthusiasts about upcoming tournaments or improve the yield on a theatrical show by contacting guests who have attended previous shows.

Integration technology

As hotel companies realize the value of the information they already have, and as they seek to avoid the IT issues caused by proprietary technology and one-off interfaces needed to make applications work together, offerings such as Theodatus’ become more valuable. “When new systems come out, hoteliers are asking two questions: whether the new system can help them service their guests better; and whether there’s a way they can isolate themselves from the problems they’ve had with proprietary integration,” says More. “The technology we’re implementing can help them with a real best-of-breed approach, so they can use the best POS, the best PMS, the best central reservation and central marketing call center for them.”

Hotels can also see benefits by simplifying integration with systems outside the individual property, such as the reservation networks used by travel agents and by Web-based consumer reservation sites. Each of these systems uses different proprietary messaging, formats, and protocols, according to More. “By using the same technologies and strategies to connect to these larger networks as they do with their internal systems, hotels can make the sale of their product easier and more efficient,” he says. “If they only need one interface to ‘talk’ to their central reservation system, they can select the interface that’s best for them. All the different proprietary formats and protocols can be handled by an integration engine and an abstraction layer, provided by the guys who do this for a living, like us.”

Theodatus’ platform makes extensive use of Microsoft BizTalk Server and Microsoft SQL Server. The use of BizTalk Server allows hotels to add solutions more easily at the pace that’s right for their business needs and select the solutions that will provide the best return on investment (ROI).

“Hotels have already made a big investment in their IT infrastructure,” says More. “They don’t want to lose that investment; they want to make more out of it.”

Partner information

The following Microsoft partner can be contacted for more information on this solution.

Theodatus, LLC, is an independent software vendor (ISV) and technology solutions provider to the hospitality and gaming industry that uses Microsoft technology to achieve system-independent and information sharing.