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Executive Vendor Summit Review: March 17-19, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif.

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June 12, 2015
Executive Vendor Summit Review
Kris Burnett

San Francisco, what a fantastic location for Hospitality Upgrade’s 11th annual Executive Vendor Summit. The weather was absolutely amazing, the educational sessions sparked quite a bit of conversation and debate, and the private tour of Alcatraz Island at sunset was absolutely amazing.

While the speakers and topics were very well received and 100 percent of those surveyed said they would recommend the conference to their peers, networking continues to be the most popular focus. More than 94 percent said that strengthening and building relationships was definitely one of the main reasons they attend and many continue to return year after year.

“I attend the Executive Vendor Summit every year,” Digital Alchemy’s Don Hay said. “The networking is always great. The industry knowledge shared from true insiders and the informational sessions provide input we could not get anywhere else. This is truly a unique experience.”

Dan Bell of Oracle agreed and described the event as a “great opportunity to network with your peers, stay current on industry events, learn and build relationships with partners.”

This year’s event was co-located with TNT (Travel & Technology – see page 60 for an event description), and began with a joint reception on the top floor of the Hilton Union Square. A welcome dinner followed, and the educational sessions were launched the next morning.

First up was Renie Cavallari, an award-winning international marketing and leadership expert recently named in the Top 20 Most Influential Training Professionals by TrainingIndustry.com. As founder, CEO and chief instigator of Aspire, she sees more than her fair share of the challenges technology leaders face today. She presented “Navigating Change: Using Intentional Leadership to Disrupt the Status Quo” including how important it is to align your leadership and connect with your team, and learn how to achieve greater understanding by how you listen and interact with your team members.

She described “intentional leadership” as a deliberate act of connecting with your team to accomplish alignment, and went through The 6 Pillars of Intentional Leadership™, the components you want your leaders to focus on to gain alignment with your business strategies and build effective and efficient teams – teams that are less affected by the challenges of a constantly changing industry.

Another aspect of great leadership is reaching the third level of listening. “If you listen at level 1 – listening like you have heard it all before – you will not hear anything new,” she said. “If you listen at level 2 – listening like you have never heard it before – you will uncover new possibilities, solutions through a change in perspective. If you make the leap to the highest level of listening, level 3 – tuning in to the environment and the things left unsaid – you achieve even greater understanding through intuition.”

As Cavallari pointed out, having your leadership team aligned is a must. The different departments have to effectively communicate and support each other to identify market trends, secure customer loyalty, gain new customers and outperform the competition.
Following the leadership session, Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals CEO Frank Wolfe and Mark Lineberry, senior sales manager, GES, uncovered the world of rising costs with respect to trade shows and conventions. The pair took a behind-the-scenes look at what drives these costs and what to look for in order to prevent additional expenses.

From unions to special handling fees and tourist taxes, to audio visual needs and electricity/plumbing as well as food and beverage expenses, the fees can be excessive. With regard to food and beverage, some recommendations Wolfe mentioned included specifying portion sizes for beverages especially, and retaining service on a per-person, per-hour basis. Also of importance, confirm the guarantees and keep track of plate totals.

Additional tips included ordering your convention services early to save a considerable amount of money. You would be amazed at the savings just by reserving convention needs in advance of the deadline – sometimes as much as 20 percent to 50 percent. For international needs, Wolfe said it actually can be worth hiring a customs broker and retaining ship insurance. With regard to trade shows and conventions, mark all diagrams for electrical needs in the booth clearly, and reserve everything that you can as early as possible and you will reduce errors on the back end and see the savings.

While most don’t want to be “In the Hot Seat,” HU Senior Vice President and Managing Editor Geneva Rinehart moderated a panel discussion covering patent trolls and the challenges associated with protecting intellectual property as well as products themselves. This unique panel actually put two attorneys in the hot seat, pressing for their recommendations from the stand.

Panelists included Michael C. Lee, senior director of intellectual property, Cisco Systems; Michael J. Mehrman, Mehrman Law Office, PC; Scott Warner, owner, Garvey Schubert Barer; and Ron Peterson, CEO, Blueprint RF, himself in the middle of a lawsuit over a patent issue.

Lee currently leads a team that focuses on patent licensing, patent purchases, IP policy, standards IPR, open source, patent pools and IP due diligence for mergers and acquisitions. Prior to Cisco, he was at Yahoo! and in private practice focusing on patent litigation. 

Mehrman has 20+ years of experience in patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, corporate law and related areas of intellectual property. He has represented clients as lead counsel in Federal and State courts at the trial and appellate levels and before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The panelists discussed whether patent litigation is getting in the way of emerging technology in the hospitality industry. As discussed in this session, “Non Practicing Entities (NPE) purchase rights in patents (as well as other forms of IP) and monetize their investments through licensing and litigation.”

Frequently, NPE claims can be difficult to evaluate and really aren’t eligible for patent protection, but then a company can come in and demand others to settle out of court or litigate. This can be expensive and a challenge with regard to unspecified claims, bundled patents, multiple owners, claims against items already on the market, the cost of litigation and the impact on current deals. And, this problem is bigger than many think; over a five-year period venture capital funding was 8.1 billion less than it would have been without troll litigation. In 2011 alone, legal fees and expenses drove the costs of these cases as high as $29 billion.

And, in 2015, experts are seeing a significant increase in patent litigation.  There have been 22 percent more patent cases in January and February of this year than there were in the same two months last year. NPE litigation made up 65 percent of the February 2015 District Court cases and 58 percent of those in January.

Warner and Mehrman did make a few recommendations should a company find itself on the wrong end of a patent suit. Recommendations included seeking counsel, examining the claims, demanding a claims assessment, contacting the manufacturer and other defendants, doing your due diligence, examining your litigation options including IPR and other actions, and engaging with a trade association as a resource. Additionally, industry experts are working towards better legislation to protect against frivolous lawsuits and to penalize bad faith demand letters.

After quite a bit of open discussion with the panel, Mehrman concluded, “The industry expressed great concern with patent infringement litigation and troll patent suits that have been highlighted in the press. Some expressed an interest in supporting patent reform legislation but the details of specific legislative proposals were not available (here) at the conference.”

The next session, “How Can You Benefit From Buying, Selling or Merging Your Company?” provided insight into maximizing shareholder value. John Rovani, managing partner, Ponterra Business Advisors, a specialty middle-market technology and services-focused investment bank within the global travel, hospitality, retail and foodservice industries, and a popular speaker at the Executive Vendor Summit, opened the discussion.  (Click here for a more detailed look at merger and acquisition market trends from Rovani.)

Hiring and retaining good talent is a challenge in all industries, but especially the hospitality industry. In the session, “How Leaders Hire Top Talent,” Valerie Frederickson, founder and CEO, Valerie Frederickson & Company, HR Executive Search and Consulting, provided some tips on finding the right candidates for an organization. Regardless of a company’s size, hiring talented, committed people is critical for a business to grow and innovate. With clients like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Groupon, Qualtrics, Thumbtack, TubeMogul, Change.org, Marin Software, YuMe and Palantir, Frederickson has had success in helping find and hire some exceptional candidates and her team members are known as thought leaders on talent acquisition and people management.

Some of the biggest challenges of the recruiting world today are a lack of technical talent, candidates receiving multiple offers, much longer interview cycles and misaligned interview teams. Some of the most important recommendations Frederickson made were to utilize internal referrals, employment branding, metrics and a thoroughly aligned interview team to take a disciplined and proactive approach to your talent acquisition strategy. Some other tips include moving faster in the interview cycle and offer process than other larger technology companies, and being creative where you recruit applicants.

The next session, “What Does a Vendor Have to Do to Get a Drink In This Town?” was presented by Max Rayner, partner at Hudson Crossing, a strategic advisory firm where he focuses on market and technology strategies, agile business transformation and product innovation. Hudson Crossing clients range from global hotel brands to private equity and venture capital firms, world leading financial services companies, leading casino and entertainment groups, airlines, travel distribution and technology companies and startups in e-commerce and big data solutions for digital marketing.

“At the highest level, competitive advantage has switched from transactional capabilities to demand generation,” Rayner said. “To be relevant as a B2B provider, you have to show how your products and services move the needle where it matters.  Which means contributing to profitable growth in the critical areas of cost-effective demand generation, predictive analytics and mass customization.”

Rayner did say that smart hoteliers know what they need, and one recently admitted, “I know I should be personalizing ad-bidding at Internet scale and dynamically yielding channels, room types, and customer micro-segments. But my PMS and CRS are welded shut and my IBE can barely up-sell ancillaries much less personalize on the fly.”

According to Rayner, system vendors need to get ready for a future that is already here in other industries, and he made three points on latencies, data volumes and transactional systems: “The best assumption on latencies is that zero is too long, hence data brokers and NoSQL benchmarks with latencies at the 99th percentile in the 1ms to 3ms range and over 2 million TPS per commodity server,” he said. “The best assumption on data volumes is that they will grow indefinitely large, hence the jump from batch BI to streaming BI with continuous computation and the attractiveness of flash/SSD direct access storage economics vs. RAM. The best assumption on transactional systems and APIS is that they can’t have limits/garbage collection pauses/or table locks and must be polymorphic. Hence hot caches, database parallelism and high interconnect bandwidths.”

Rayner focused on some of the most notable RFP failures by the vendor community, compared the current state of the industry with other leading verticals, and presented a vision for more sophisticated, future-proof hospitality technologies. He said the biggest trend currently is RFPs with vendors failing to address today’s needs, coming up short on value pricing and missing the sale – a valuable warning for the solution providers in the audience to hear.

The first day of sessions was capped by an amazing tour of Alcatraz Island at sunset and a dinner cruise of San Francisco Bay (see page 69 for some breathtaking photos from the Island).

The following day, HU Publisher Richard Siegel opened the sessions with some “Group Therapy.” At registration time, attendees were asked about their biggest challenges currently, and this session focused on these topics that included hiring and employee retention challenges, legal and security issues, as well as team alignment goals. While several of the educational sessions focused on these areas of concern, attendees and speakers alike had the opportunity to openly discuss issues that they are facing in an open, free-flow format during this session.

The final session of the conference was by far one of the most popular and thought provoking. Marion Hughes Roger, vice president business development, Hospitality Evolution Resources, has 25 years of global experience in online travel and hospitality technology, and spearheads HER’s guest data utilization and protection division. A frequent speaker and author on privacy, data security, PCI compliance, electronic distribution and payment technology/systems, she explored the best practices being adopted by companies in ensuring that their external partners comply with privacy requirements, and made recommendations for handling privacy contractual wording.

Roger presented part of her session in a Jeopardy game format, allowing for open discussion and Q&A. With categories like AA (Acronyms Anonymous), Semantic Sciences, Myth Busters, Legal Eagle Ease and Who ya gonna call?, attendees were treated to a rapid-fire overview of reputation management, security compliance and several other topics to close out this year’s Summit.

This invitation-only event for presidents or similar C-level executives (CEO, chairman, owner, founder) at technology companies actively involved in the hospitality industry, continues to be one of the most popular networking events in the hospitality industry. “The Vendor Summit will be put on my calendar every year,” Heide Werthamer of Edge Communications said. “As a first-time attendee, you could really feel the camaraderie among all the vendors who have been attending for years. The summit accomplished its goal...high-level execs swapping stories in a relaxed and fun environment where although you may be competitors, it’s all about respect and admiration for what others do.”

Special thanks go to event sponsors Ponterra Business Advisors, Garvey Schubert Barer and HFTP.

- By Kris Burnett, Editor - Hospitality Upgrade

©2015 Hospitality Upgrade
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Attendees included David Chestler, SiteMinder; Chris Atkin, iRiS Software Systems Ltd; Mark Haley, The Prism Partnership; Marion Roger, Hospitality Evolution Resources; Bruce Bensetler, Data Plus; Vivek Bhogaraju, IDeaS – A SAS COMPANY; Jay Troutman, Aptech Computer Systems, Inc.; Jon Inge, Jon Inge & Associates; Isaac Wieder; ZDirect, Inc.; Andrew Yorra, Eleven Wireless; Michael Waltman, Interactive Sites, Inc.; Frank Pitsikalis, ResortSuite; Rob Drotar, HP; Heide Werthamer, Edge Communications; Bob Magliozzi, Cendyn/ONE; Don Wilson, MaximRMS; Jeff Venza, Venza Group, Inc.; Ed St.Onge, Flip.to; Jake Buckstead, SkyTouch Technology; Ron Peterson, Blueprint RF; Frank Wolfe, HFTP; Rick Munson, MSI; Ted Horner, E Horner & Associates; Jason Floyd, Infor Global Solutions; Tim Klanke, Ponterra Business Advisors; Bob Lowe, Shift4 Corporation;  Patrick van der Wardt, Itesso; Michael Garvin, RoamingAround; Nikhil Nath, Knowcross; Mark Munger, Munger & Associates Inc.; Josh Keatts, Ponterra Business Advisors; John Rovani, Ponterra Business Advisors; Dan Bell, Oracle Hospitality; Evan Brown, ENG Infotech Corp; Cam Troutman, Aptech Computer Systems, Inc.; Kyle Buehner, NAVIS; Alex Alt, Sabre; Not pictured: Jim Dennedy, Agilysys; John Chiles, BirchStreet Systems; Mike Schmitt, Clairvoyix; Don Hay, Digital Alchemy; Dan Yacker, Duetto Research; Greg Duff, Garvey Schubert Barer; Scott Warner, Garvey Schubert Barer; Mike Benjamin, Guestware; Cindy Estis Green, Kalibri Labs; Jeff Hiscox, Newmarket International, Inc.; Scott Quintal, Tambourine; Dave Porter, Teradata Corporation; Amar Duggasani, The Rainmaker Group; and Trevor Warner, Warner Consulting Group.

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