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Executive Vendor Summit Review: March 30 - April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Ga.

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June 30, 2016
Executive Vendor Summit Review
Kris Burnett

What Made This Year’s Event Different? Beer, Shotguns and Football

This year’s Executive Vendor Summit, Hospitality Upgrade’s 12th, was held in Atlanta. Each year, for two and a half days, C-level executives from the hospitality industry’s leading technology solution providers take time out of their busy schedules to attend highly informative and very unique educational sessions, and more importantly, network with many whom they would not normally have one-to-one access.

One new offering at this year’s event, was an industrywide happy hour, or should we say hoppy hour, held the night before the conference at the very popular Sweetwater Brewing Company, and sponsored by HFTP, VENZA and Hospitality Upgrade magazine. Aside from those at the Summit, more than 100 from the hospitality industry were in attendance, providing additional networking opportunities and even more fun to kick off this year’s conference.

What They Covered:

It Only Took 10 minutes to Hack Your Company While You Were Sitting Here

Keeping your Guard Up: System Security in an Age of Constant Surprise with Caleb Hurd, certified ethical hacker and senior software and security engineer, The Elf on the Shelf

Imagine sitting in a conference and finding out one of the speakers had researched every company represented in the room, and tried to hack them all. That is what white hat hacker Caleb Hurd did while preparing for arguably the most popular session of the conference. It gave shifting in your seat a whole new meaning. He analyzed the companies represented in the room and built an attack plan based on 10 to 15 minutes per company. While a few companies were above the fray of hackability, there were others who Hurd recommended check some specific patching/security issues and contact him offline. Let’s just say, Hurd has been busy with the followup post conference. This session proved eye opening and fascinating at the same time.

As Hurd mentioned, McAfee estimates global cyber crime has reached a cost of $400 billion per year. He reminded the group that their companies are an extension of their partners, increasing risk. He also suggested training users about email phishing – the most popular attack currently, installing and monitoring a good intrusion detection system, patching and conducting regular audits.

What You Need to Know to Partner with the Big Technology Providers

Participant Panel: Partnering and Beyond with Alex Alt, president and general manager, Sabre Hospitality Solutions; Stewart Applbaum, senior vice president and general manager, Infor; and Rod Jimenez, CEO, SHR and president, Richfield Hospitality

Strategic partnerships can be a big part of many technology providers’ history and growth – just look at the last 12 months. One of the other most popular sessions was this highly interactive panel session with significant players in the hospitality industry who covered the pros and cons of forming and maintaining strategic partnerships and gave some advice to those smaller companies in the audience on how to partner with them as bigger players in the hospitality space. Alt, Applbaum and Jimenez did a fantastic job of answering questions very candidly, and the plug for the Executive Vendor Summit as an ideal place for companies to meet did not hurt either. (Note: No money exchanged hands during any of these sessions.)

Stewart stressed the importance of partnering to Infor’s success (“Trying to find the right partners to augment what we do is significant”), while Alt and Jimenez said general managers at the property level are still an influential part of the process in bringing two vendors together.

Frank Pitsikalis of ResortSuite described how important these relationships can be to his business. “Probably 50 percent of our revenue is from when we come in not as a PMS vendor but (with our activities or other modules to use with another system),” he said. “At the end of the day it can be win-win as we can both make each other’s products stronger by working together for our client.”

When asked how they find partners, the panelists not only stressed the importance of attending and participating in the Executive Vendor Summit because of its unique brand of networking and educational content, but also the importance of relationships with consultants in the industry. “All kidding aside, forums like this are excellent for finding potential partners, because (otherwise) how do we know you exist?” Jimenez said. “I may talk to (a well-respected industry consultant) and he might say, ‘I just saw this great startup company. You might want to look at them.’”

And one last bit of advice from a member of the audience who spoke from experience, “I have worked with all three of the panelists,” said Ed St. Onge of Flip.to. “It’s your responsibility to understand their products and their customers. If you can tell them how your product will enhance theirs, you will have an advantage.”

The Technologies Top Hoteliers are Looking at Right Now

Customer Insights Onstage/CIO Panel with Ron Hardin, vice president technology, Davidson Hotels & Resorts; Mike Uwe Dickersbach, chief technology officer, Highgate Hotels; and Mark McBeth, vice president, information technology, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Most hoteliers will tell you that they are focused on the user experience (UX). And, what they aren’t telling you is that they are dependent not only upon the service their teams can provide, but the technologies that many providers can offer them. This panel of experts addressed just that: User experience is important to both the hotelier and the service provider because when the guest is happy, they both are happy.

Data Security Concerns if you are Doing Business in the EU and Elsewhere Across the Globe

Keeping Things on the Down Low: Evolving U.S. and EU Privacy Laws with Greg Duff, owner and chair of the hospitality, travel and tourism practice, Garvey Schubert Barer

Protecting guest and employee information is a huge focus for many hospitality companies. In this session, Duff examined the rules of the road across the globe, as jurisdiction doesn’t just cover the home office, but all the places companies do business.
He reminded attendees that if they are doing business in the EU, they are now subject to the EU Data Privacy Directive, and that many of his clients are defaulting to the Privacy Shield. His coverage of the EU Directive included what classifies personal information (PI), fair information principles, how the directive applies to entities that collect and process PI of EU citizens/residents, and the restriction of PI use as defined in the directive.

While the EU Data Directive remains in effect, there are new proposals including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Privacy Shield. GDPR would replace the EU Data Directive and make uniform/replace the data protection requirements across EU member states plus expand the scope of coverage. Privacy Shield is similar to Safe Harbor but is more detailed, including additional rights for EU individuals, stricter compliance requirements for U.S. organizations, and further limitations on government access to personal data.

Takeaways from Duff included: Update and revise privacy policies and data protection notices, update processes and procedures to confirm compliance, be familiar with GDPR or Privacy Shield, revise contracts with processors, and limit data collected/purge unnecessary data.

No Really, What is Your Business Worth?

What is Your Business Worth? with Marcus Sullivan, director of engagement support services, Ponterra Business Advisors

Ponterra Business Advisors is no stranger to the Executive Vendor Summit, and once again provided a thought-provoking session covering the ins and outs of mergers and acquisitions – specifically business evaluation.

Sullivan advised the attendees to conduct a valuation within the first five years and then every three to five years thereafter; identify key value drivers, industry trends and business opportunities; develop a long-term strategic plan, enhancing value creation initiatives while mitigating risk; partner with an experienced advisor who knows your industry and can help maximize value; and reminded the group that preparing for an exit requires planning. 

Where is the Industry Heading?

Economic Trends from CBRE Hotels with Jamie Lane, senior economist, CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research

In this session, Lane explored the past and future performance in the U.S. lodging industry, and reviewed recent volatility, future trends, employment and conditions within the hospitality and technology marketplace. But as he described, many of these factors affect the technology providers as well as the hoteliers.

Lane predicted elevated industry growth will persist comfortably through 2017 and likely beyond. Additionally, high occupancy levels will provide the leverage needed to achieve large real ADR increases for the next two to three years. Competition for building materials and labor will continue to present challenges for developers in most markets, and modest (but increasing) hotel construction will be the result for the next three years. And finally, above long-run average occupancy levels will lead to strong profit growth comfortably through 2017, enough to offset increasing labor costs.

Should You Call a CAB?

In the Land of the Software Professional with Michael Schubach, Hospitality Consulting Services

This highly interactive session afforded attendees the opportunity to focus on their challenges, their teams’ challenges and to share how different companies juggle the stress of customers’ expectations and those of their boards. Schubach led an anonymous survey portion that yielded some interesting results.

With regard to outside advice, only one-third of the audience members said their companies had formal, organized customer advisory boards (CAB), and for those with CABs, 43 percent were by invitation and 37 percent had volunteer members. More than three quarters of those with CABs said their boards meet semi-annually, while the remainder meet either annually or as needed. The majority preferred to meet while attending events like trade shows, while the rest split the difference between scheduled in-person meetings and conference calls. Most of those in the room said their CABs serve a set term (62 percent), with the remainder unlimited. The majority (62 percent) also were “paid” through upcoming software releases.

Youngest Panel in the Executive Vendor Summit’s History, and Probably One of the Brightest

A Look at Lego Robotics’ Team Technic with Greg Genske, Evan Genske, Preston Shirmeyer and Corbin Shirmeyer

Hospitality Upgrade invited a special team focused on the issues surrounding sustainability and the robotics potential in the hospitality industry to this year’s Executive Vendor Summit. One catch – they were all under the age of 13. Hospitality Upgrade sponsored this team of bright young robotics enthusiasts as they participated in local and then regional competitions with some pretty innovative ideas on sustainability in hotels, and with their programmable robot concept.
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