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Innovation: Computer assisted hotel management

There is not a single area of hotel operations that does not rely –more or less– on technology, tools and applications that facilitate data entry and their use. Whether it is for basic management of the property, including reservations, reception, billing, connectivity, or finding the universal tool that becomes the PMS, or tools for strategic consideration, to optimize Revenue management, authorize Channel management, simplify Facility management and human resources.

These technological challenges are already complex enough but developers have a long experience of hotel informatics to bring somewhat more sophisticated, more convivial, more multifunctional solutions. But this “evolution” is upset by a new context that makes it necessary to reexamine traditional responses: the multiplication of mobile tools that are now integral to the daily lives of customers. Naturally hoteliers must be up to par. Hotel management informatics, and all its components, had already been switched over to the Cloud, a veritable revolution that brought flexibility, reactivity, security. Today it must align with the widespread mobility brought by tablets and mobile telephones, which are no longer just communication tools, but check-in and payment platforms as well.

Former challenges assume a whole new dimension to bring hoteliers efficient and secure tools. Two words come to mind regularly in conversations with professionals in terms of applied technology: connectivity between these points of sale to facilitate the circulation of information without having to re-enter commercial data; and securing of payments through new mobile phone applications for example.
After past progress in the integration of many complementary functions within the hotel’s PMS, new work is underway to adapt the tools to customer behavior and obtain a maximum of information from each commercial relation. One of the axes in the developers’ work is to offer connectivity of points of sale to PMSs through portable tools (tablets and telephones), with interfacing made possible with social media. In hotel restauration, for example, this allows the customer to order a dish on the site via tablet or mobile, to make payments using new applications such as Applepay, and to leave a comment on the property’s Facebook page or on TripAdvisor. The goal is to gain in rapidity and operational marketing by preserving a trail of each client to feed the CRM.

The primary difficulty is to guarantee secure payments and to respect the standards implemented in the different countries. Europe is ahead in adopting widespread use of memory chips on credit cards. Security was originally reinforced by the need to type a 4-digit PIN code. This did not happen quickly in most of the rest of the world and especially North America, where the procedure has been made obligatory by the end of 2015. Companies in all sectors including the hotel industry must follow recommendations and standards provided by the PCI SSC (Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council). This council implemented a PCI DSS for Data Security Standard that governs transactions using bank cards to protect customer data and prevent fraud. This standard is constantly evolving to keep up with technological progress, and the 3.0 version is currently being unrolled.

In addition to what may be technically called the Chip&PIN model, the safety of payments via mobile is a key point to make it a new electronic portfolio. Either the NFC chips incorporated in portables are credited with a sum that may be debited via contact-free terminals; or a rapid interface must be made possible between the portable’s owner and their bank to credit the hotel’s account in real time.

The generalization of mobile tools is not without any impact on the need for hotels to manage new volumes of traffic. Two questions arise with greater acuity, that regarding the circulation of all this commercial, personal and, accounting information….  And how this information is treated from an operational marketing standpoint, and particularly how it may feed of the CRM. On the first point, hoteliers are faced with a new issue: are the web and WiFi speed sufficient? Hi-speed is no longer an option but a requirement and it has a cost when it comes to being implemented at hotels. Studies show that a business traveler uses three computer tools on average (portable computers, tablets or mobile phones) that he immediately connects to the Wi-Fi network upon arrival at the hotel. A congested network is unavoidable at certain times of the day. Two different speeds of service are thus often made available to clients: a complimentary basic connection (512 Ko/sec for email and a paid service for high-speed downloads. In the United States a 3Bs (Bed & Breakfast & Bandwidth) approach is becoming widespread. Additional services are a source of revenues depending on customer demands for comfort.

Connectivity is also an internal challenge, especially for chains and connections between a brand and its franchisees. Major developments are currently underway in terms of Intranet so that information may also circulate between headquarters and operational services on the field. These technical improvements often make it easier to consult reference documents, communicate field information by correspondents who are capable of doing so – while keeping in mind the need for confidentiality of this information. The way is open for automated ID management that will limit the number of connections and passwords the user needs to remember.

Work on the Intranet liaison extends into the property itself so that the different departments may communicate with one another in the same quest for simplicity and confidentiality. This aspect covers another dimension in that owner-groups, which manage properties under franchise, sign increasing numbers of contracts with brands competing with one another, depending on the hotel’s location. Each relationship with the franchiser must thus maintain the confidentiality of strategic information.

In addition to the different aspects of hotel management, the technological evolution is important for strategic considerations and improving the customer experience. The new CRM tools would deserve an entire article dedicated to them, but it is important to mention those areas already explored by hoteliers. The new platforms sought after by operators make it possible to collect information at the time of purchase, whether it is online reservation or the use of points of sale at the property (restaurant, bar, fitness, …); to integrate them in the customer database and make them exploitable to improve the customer experience. An example given by a hotelier is that of a client who ordered only vegetarian dishes at the restaurant, without making a note of this preference during the reservation. The information introduced in the CRM program makes it possible to propose an appropriate menu during the stay and include it in the welcome message during the next stay… Amazon has become an expert at gattering this type of exploitation of customer information in order to send targeted offers.

Personalizing customer relations is a major goal for marketing teams. It is only possible if the operational teams have access to useful information on customer profiles and, in as much as possible, in real time for greater reactivity. In the words of one director of a chain: “Our challenge is to understand and surpass the changing expectations of our clients by making them live an even better experience  regardless of the manner, moment and place where these have entered into a relationship with us.”
The CRM is also a part of the broader strategy that integrates Revenue Management. Once again, the evolution of it aims to make information available in real time, with graphs, curves, and interactive variables that may be consulted on a user-friendly dashboard. Synchronizing back office rechnology is among the important tasks to be tackled.

Change is a process: Kaizen

The word kaizen is the fusion of two Japanese words: “kai” and “zen” meaning “change” and “good” respectively. In English it means “continuous improvement”, a quality management method that aims to analyze and bring change through a process of concrete, simple and not very costly improvements.

So, with respect to “pure” innovation, Kaizen appears like a complementary approach through continuous progress in baby steps that require involvement from all players.

The concept may naturally be applied to the hotel world in which improved processes are the combined result of Kaizen and Innovation. The new tools, in particular technological, do not stand in the way of constant consideration of possible improvements. The process relies on a certain number of principles that may be listed as follows:

• Treatment of problems as they appear.
• The initiative comes from personnel.
• Participation of all those concerned (improvements affecting
   all levels).
• Creation of multifunctional teams.
• Pragmatism and orientation towards immediate action.
• Quest for better use of the existing.
• Visual communication of the project’s advancement.
• Use of a single methodology for resolving problems.
• Improvement is constant: not a day goes by without
  improvement (5 min per day per team).
• Regardless of the level reached, there is always room to
• “I want results and I want them now!” is the antithesis
   of Kaizen.
• Improvements are driven by customer needs (internal and
• The process is more important than the result.
• Apply the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) rule
• Management dedicates time to hear suggestions and observe the process for studying the problem.
• Management focusses on:
* discipline (respect for principles)
* time management (shift from corrective to preventative
* development of qualifications
* involvement

Basic rules to follow:
• The DOER is the one who KNOWS.
• It is impossible to be simple at first, so destroying what we did today in order to produce something simpler is an idea that must be accepted.
• There is not just one solution to a problem, each problem has multiple causes and thus multiple solutions.
• It is preferable to immediately implement a small improvement that provides an immediate advantage, (even if it only solves 10% of a problem), rather than wait in vain for the perfect, utopian solution that will never be implemented.
• The good of the community is a direct result of each one “facilitating” work.
• No one knows a workstation better than the one who uses it, thus no one is in a better position to find the best way to make it more comfortable.
• If we take some pressure off the operator, they will spontaneously tend to implement immediate, simple solutions that will facilitate their work in the end.
• Any solution that facilitates work, that is implemented by or at the initiative of the operator, stimulates a trend toward permanent improvements through fun innovations.
• Once the operator has been encouraged, congratulated for this small initiative, it will continue to improve the workstation in a continuous and infinite manner.

In a word, Kaizen means preferring the imperfect thing that exists over the perfect thing that will never exist.

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