The Need for Smart Hospitality: Technology and its Role

Tim Thilleman, Regional Director-IT, Filmore Hospitality
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Tim Thilleman, Regional Director-IT, Filmore Hospitality

Challenges in the Hospitality Arena:

The no.1 challenge, according to Tim Thilleman, Regional Director of IT, Filmore Hospitality, in the Hospitality show, is the wide array of new systems that have sprung up in the recent years. Be it a branded or a non-branded hotel with issues occurring anywhere from reservations to sales, from front-office to back-office, from operations to sales and marketing, IT has swiftly risen up to the rescue. As we advance further into the social media explosion, collaboration tools like Chatter, Flip. to & Smart Hospitality are bridging the gap between clients, guests and sales staff. There are about 40-50 hotels within a square mile radius in Chicago, many of which are of the same brand, managed by different people, or a franchise or an individual. From the Hiltons to the Hyatts and Choice Hotels to the Intercontinental Hotels, all are going to be striving for the same small footprint . The downturn of 9/11 in 2001 and the crisis of 2008 has actually stimulated the IT sector and added to the need for its interference into the Hospitality arena. There was so much that Information Technology could proffer, like data-pulling, data integration, collection of information, seamless collaboration and fruitful marketing. Hotels relied heavily on IT for analysis and analyzed data. The IT perspective came in two-fold: one was to bring in more revenue and the other was to look out for ways in which they could satisfy their customers. “We're contemplating if we can present the business in a streamlined fashion; like remote check-in at airports. This will be the next big feat impending to be achieved by any Hotel business,” says Thilleman.

Mobile development is where we should keep tabs on in the future

Entertainment: Our Next Focal Point

Decades back, it was just adequate to provide some good TV channels in hotel rooms, but now, we are venturing into collaboration with Smart Hospitality - Your All in One In-Room Entertainment Solution, (smarthospitality.tv) Another idea is for guests to utilize their personal devices and enabling them to hold onto their customized sophistications wherever they check-in. “We have started to work with Apple and it was no surprise to learn that Apple was beginning to invest their interests in the Hospitality business. Among their numerous conceptions and ideas is the digital check-in—through which guests are entitled to virtual keys to the rooms they have booked and by handing all of these features to the guests right on their iPhones or iPads.

Trends in CRM, CRM Tools:

Delphi.fdc, a CRM product driven by SalesForce.com and one of the many CRM product solutions from New market International, has been in use for the past 4 years which is intuitively trying to work towards the basic necessity of sales to a client/guest. The tool saves a lot of time when you can decipher almost seamlessly what the client requires rather than having to gauge yourself through a maze. Delphi single-handedly takes care of activities like event-management, account management and it accomplishes this by taking it to the next level of interaction through Social Media. Now the control is where it’s always meant to be, which was in the client’s hands while our sales force help facilitate and work on the services to maximize the client’s needs. Flip. to is another great collaborative social media CRM product which propagates feedback to a large audience feed such as Facebook and Google+. Guests, who have had a first-hand experience of the service, would also be entitled to benefits such as discounts in the process of spreading the word. Flip. to says it best, “Everyone trusts their friends more than ads. Turn advocacy into a massive new channel for your hotel.”

The Unmet Technology Need

The one unmet need globally in the hotel space is the basic operation of digital and mobile technology for the guest to book, check-in, check-out and as for the organizations that are doing it, they are still in the inceptive stage and they need to blossom and grow. For instance, our business specialist from Apple said, “Why can’t we just put an iPad in every room? Just like how a remote works on a TV, why can’t we hand an iPad to the customer, to use the services during their stay at their own time, which would integrate with operations”? It’s no more about picking up the phone, trying to tell somebody ahead in time about their requirement of service. For example if the guest wants the temperature in his room to be at a particular level, the request can be put on the iPad from where it reaches the designated person and the communication happens seamlessly. This is the unmet need right now, the fact that we don’t know where something gets resolved when it goes through a channel of communication.

What CIO’s Need to Know

From a CIO perspective, an IT Professional on a hospitality level has to have the ability to work with various different departments. It’s all tethered together and what we focus in on the IT perspective is ‘he is the guy that makes the hotel run’. IT no longer just stands for Information Technology, but it stands for something that says ‘I’m equal with a General Manager that makes the hotel run’. IT is that which makes the various departments work together in impeccable unison, so that the hotel operates effectively. It cannot just be on an operational level, or reactive level, but it has to be on a long-term proactive level. Everything that works has to work together in a seamless integration of communication and information. It has to, else, if one piece breaks down, the whole piece comes crashing down and that is why it is instrumental to have all of these pieces and tools put properly, thoughtfully and proactively. From the moment somebody takes in the call to have the dumpster emptied, or face issues with the security cameras, the phone systems, or to check-in, check-out, room service, sales & marketing, revenue management systems, they’re all integral in one big circle of information technology, so it is critical that it gets bound together with some motivated individuals who tip more towards inspiration than perspiration.

Next Few Years for the Travel & Hospitality Sector:

As I already held, ‘Why can’t I have an iPad in every room? Why can’t I step out of my car and the valet takes my car without handing me anything and I can go straight to my room? Why can’t I unlock the door using my phone?’ Mobile development is where we should keep tabs on in the future.

The biggest point we can communicate is that a Hospitality-driven Information Technological person should be instrumental in the so-called core of operations and from its nucleus has to be a part of that process. Just as much as we look at design, elements, color, scheme for branding, I believe that Information Technology is part of branding as well.

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