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Rogue Technology & My Favorite Bar in the World

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March 01, 2017
Jeffrey Parker

©2017 Hospitality Upgrade
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One of the great benefits of being able to travel for work is to see the world on someone else’s dime. Beyond that is seeing what works in true customer-facing solutions, what technology makes a positive difference and what is a rogue attempt to sell more foam than beer, umbrellas than drink, sizzle than steak.

What I look for in a great watering hole is not only a fantastic selection of craft beer, but good service and a staff that is knowledgeable of the beers they have available. Nothing is worse than a chain of tap houses that prides itself on having the most number of taps, but still has a staff that would rather drink margaritas and has no clue how to work a recommendation to a patron. Unfortunately, in the realm of hospitality technology we are often doing the same thing to our team members, putting technology in a room that is so far above the head of our staff, without proper training, that they are left confuzzled on how the offering is supposed to work, let alone how to help a guest with it.

It all started with Wi-Fi, the bane of every hotel’s existence, and a top priority for every hotel operator. Wi-Fi was the first place where technology started to get out of the scope of understanding for the hotel teams, networks and support are almost always outsourced, and the guest is left with calling an 800 number that they never really call. Travelers expect the hotel staff to have the skill set to help troubleshoot issues with connecting, and are left frustrated when the front desk agent can't do much more than read the tent card or point the guest to the toll-free services line. This is the point that technology started to go rogue, the point where guests started to bring their own technology into our rooms and demand that it worked. Wi-Fi is the IPA of the craft beer bar; everyone has one, but few understand the nuances of them. Considering that Wi-Fi is such an important amenity, it is a shame that hotels spend so little time explaining it to the staff.

Once technology started to develop from the laptop and BlackBerry to smartphones and tablets, things started to slide quicker than drinking a Bohemian Pilsner on a hot summer day. Hotels had gotten used to having technology that was as good as or better than what a guest had at home, and setting that bar led to implementing technology that we thought the guest would want, at speeds that eschewed any reasonable controls to make sure that guidelines are met, that technology is safe, and that it is delivering superior guest service.

Many times rogue technology is placed because the brands struggle to implement solutions, particularly in-room technology, in any reasonable timeline. It is not really their fault, as the process to construct a request for proposal, vet certain solutions, test in an environment and then clear all the legal hurdles, before putting it in to the brand standard takes a ridiculous amount of time. Best case scenarios for the largest brands are that technologies they are looking at today might be in most of the brand’s hotel rooms in three years. Hotels wanting to stay closer to the consumer adoption curve are taking risks placing technology into the room that is often not ready for commercial application; they are going rogue to meet perceived guest demands, without proper security or support, and even worse without the hotel team understanding how the systems work and how to help a guest use it. 


AppleTV or Amazon FireStick
It is clear we need a solution, but putting in unmanaged AppleTV boxes and FireSticks is not a commercial solution. There is currently no good way to reset these devices automatically at checkout, and that leaves the guest either not using the technology or worse, leaving their accounts logged in for the next guest to use. Plus the broadcast rights that apply to these devices when owned by the hotel and used in the rooms are still very unclear. 
To pair or not to pair, that is the question. I have long held that pairing is the best path. This is because I believe that it is easier for a guest to 'cast' their content from their device that already has passwords and account information on it, one that leaves the room with them and one that we are already clear how the broadcast rights work for the hotel. Apps on a TV are great, until you have to enter a really long email (comehaveabeer@touchdownbrewery.com) and a 16-character complex password (54qz#Qq#O@%O#tk8) via the on-screen keyboard through the remote. Then you have the trust factor, does the guest really believe that their credentials are removed at checkout?


Bluetooth Alarm Clocks and Speakers
I love my Bluetooth speaker that I carry with me, but I never use the one the hotel provides. Why? Does your hotel have units that all have different pairing codes? Think about the ease for a hacker to broadcast the common Bluetooth name and use the same generic passcode (0000) that is printed on the clock instructions. They can get your guests to pair and then download all of their contacts, email and other personal data, or worse, push a tracking piece to the smart device.


If you are going to engage with your guest via an app, make it one app. It is difficult to get a guest to download one app, let alone one to open the doors, one to make reservations and another to chat with the front desk. This is particularly important for independents. There are too many stand-alone apps that teams are putting into hotels, often overlapping functionality and therefore not communicating a clear message to hotel guests.


Google, can you tell Alexa to order a cheeseburger?
A few months ago I wrote how I think that voice is the next frontier, but that does not mean that I think the technology is ready to put into rooms today. There are some rogues out there putting a custom app on an Amazon Echo or Google Home to allow for simple commands, such as “Alexa, have the hotel bring some towels to my room.”

The problem is Amazon requires Alexa to be hamstrung, taking out many of the cool features that a home unit has. There is no, “Alexa, play 80s music,” or “Alexa, put milk on my shopping list.” You can’t connect your personal account to the Echo in your hotel room. I just don't think the technology is mature enough to put into hotels.

Lastly, even though every Android and Apple mobile device is always listening for the voice prompt, for some reason guests are still not comfortable with a device in their room listening at all times. There needs to be some very clear controls here, to build trust with the guest.
And showers, I had a general manager approach me about putting in Bluetooth shower heads. Really?


Data Storage Technology

I can’t believe that hotels still allow open USB ports, Dropbox and other personally controlled technologies on their systems. Your data is walking away with no proper security controls. If your team requires access to data away from the office, then put in a company-owned plan to control this access. I have literally seen people post salary and financial data to one of these solutions and share it out.


Remote Access Technology
Have a clear remote access policy, with a solution that is centrally controlled so it can be turned off. This solution has to be encrypted, use two-factor authentication, and be part of a regular audit to assure that no one has access that should not. You can’t let your sales coordinator download LogMeIn on her personal account and access computers on your network.


(Bring Your Own Device with no Mobile Device Management)
If your team is going to access company data (email) on their personal devices, you need to have MDM in place. Just allowing a user to set up access to data without controls in place should be a concern. For example, if there is no MDM with a passcode/PIN requirement to unlock a device, anyone can see sensitive emails on a user’s device. Many of these systems have credentials that are the same for your network as the ones used to access email.

Back of house rogues tend to be because your teams feel that there is no good way to do their jobs with the resources that they have. Communication is important; make sure your team understands the dangers, and what your plan is to address the problems they are seeing in being productive.
I am sure you can think of some technology rogues in your operations. It is time to sit up and take notice. Proper vetting and planning can take a rogue to a success story; a secure, productive, guest-loving success story.

Improper planning and controls leads to drinking that same crummy IPA over and over again, never being able to get the bitter taste out of your mouth.

Jeffrey Parker is the vice president of Hotel technology for Red Lion Hotel Corp.

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