Converting from a Conventional PMS to an ASP Model

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June 01, 2001
Property Management
Paul Griswold - theomnigroup@mindspring.com

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

There has been much discussion in 2001 about utilizing an ASP model for property management functions. ASP, which stands for application service provider, is in some ways a throw back to the timesharing services of the late 1960s and 70s.


The timesharing concept was simple; the hotel rented a terminal and modem, dialed up the timesharing company’s computer, and used their software for various tasks. While this concept was not prevalent in front office applications, it was widely used for back office accounting. Fees were based on hourly connect time and disk storage utilized. The biggest problem in this environment was connection speed. The modems had a coupler in which the user inserted the telephone handset. Connection speed was 300 baud or over 5,000 times slower than today’s DSL connections.
 
Today’s technology is light years ahead of those days, but some common considerations remain. Most hotels today are utilizing a traditional property management configuration consisting of an in-house server, interface connections to internal devices as well as central reservations, the corporate office and even the Internet. What is involved in transitioning a property to an ASP model? What becomes of existing equipment, how is data transferred and what new equipment and/or services are required?

If the existing PMS utilizes a local area network, it may be possible to simply provide high-speed access through a port on a hub. Many ASPs only require a Web browser loaded on each workstation.
 
If this approach is not feasible, each workstation can be wired to the Internet directly through some form of high-speed connection. Generally, legacy systems and dumb terminals cannot be used in an ASP model.
 
Some providers require special interface hardware for interfacing call accounting, point-of-sale and other systems. Existing interface devices, such as interface boxes or controllers, will probably not work in an ASP environment.

The current front office server can be used for other applications, such as office automation (word processing and spreadsheets), sales and catering and numerous other applications.
 
The communication link, just as it was back in the timesharing days, is the weakest and most important piece of the configuration. Do not even consider using an ASP without a high-speed connection. There are several types, such as satellite, T1 (a digital high-speed line from the phone company) and DSL (digital subscriber line) available from the phone company and other sources. No matter what approach is taken, the service should have built-in redundancy (that is, backup lines in case of failure) and a firewall to prevent unauthorized access to either the servers or local workstations. In some areas, high-speed access is not readily available and even if it is, it may not be affordable. Phone companies and others have been relatively slow in deploying high-speed access.
 
A third communications backup can be the use of standard dial up lines and modems, should this become necessary in an emergency.
 
Existing CAT 5 and electrical wiring should meet all ASP requirements. It may be a good time to review all electrical outlets to be sure that they have surge protection.
 
The data on the existing property management system has to be transferred to the ASP server, either by manually re-keying or by some form of electronic conversion. While an electronic conversion always sounds painless, many times it takes longer and is less accurate than manually rekeying. Codes have to be converted and errors in existing data need to be corrected. This is best accomplished by ke-ying the data and it also serves as a good training tool on the new system.

Most ASPs provide a training hotel environment that can be used initially and on going for training. Jeff Stivers, director of hospitality solutions for HotelTools, Inc. (Atlanta), said, “We provide all the necessary tools and services to get our users up and running as painlessly as possible.”

As an example of what applications are available, HotelTools’ ASP offering is a suite of enterprise-class applications and services which include an integrated suite of Internet enterprise-class services, including a variety of ASP applications and services to the industry. Besides PMS, including enterprise and property management, a universal reservations solution (including a call center application, a branded booking engine and GDS/IDS distribution) and relationship management services are available.
 
There are several operational differences for a hotel once the conversion to an ASP model has been completed. The most obvious is no more on-property backup of the server. Complete and continual backups are performed at the ASP location. Most databases are redundant and are spread across several servers. Many hosting facilities are bunker-like in their construction and could even withstand a bomb or tornado. Few hotels offer this kind of security in-house.
 
Another operational advantage is that the hotel no longer has to be concerned with technical service on the in-house server. Even with a prompt response, it can take hours to repair an in-house system. With the redundancy of equipment at an ASP hosting center, usually the hotel can be back up and running within minutes.
 
There are several advantages to the ASP approach over the traditional in-house system. First, the system is available anywhere there is any kind of Web connection, either high-speed or dial up. This is beneficial for traveling salespeople, management personnel or even employees that need to temporarily work from home.
 
Another advantage is that all data is stored in one location. This greatly assists in analyzing guest history, creating financial models and budgets or merely looking up historical information.
 
Software upgrade and maintenance can be performed at the central site, thus eliminating the need for CD distribution or download of software. This can insure that all users are on the most current software levels.

The same applies for installing new applications. Since the software only has to be loaded once, at the central source, new applications, especially in a hotel chain, are brought on board much more quickly than with traditional methods.
 
Facilities costs decrease as the hosting site, servers, personnel and more can be shared among many entities thus reducing the cost per entity.
 
Valuable IT personnel resources can be freed to work on new systems, integration projects and other mission-critical applications while leaving the day-to-day to the ASP.
 
Virtually every property management vendor is offering some form of an ASP model. Some suppliers have actually created new systems that are true Internet-enabled ASP solutions while others have taken existing systems and made them Web-enabled. Regardless of the vendor approach, the ASP model is not only here to stay but also will become the platform of choice in the years to come.

Paul Griswold is a technical consultant to the Omni Group and has worked in the hospitality industry for over 10 years. He has specialized in back office and Web-based applications and has assisted both chains and individual hotels in implementing technology. Paul is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in computer science. Paul can be reached at theomnigroup@mindspring.com or (888) 960-8787.



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