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The Role of a Hotel Engineering Department in IT

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October 15, 2015
Notes from an IT Service Shop
Geoff Griswold - geoff@atlantaomnigroup.com

The involvement of the engineering department with information technology varies widely from hotel to hotel. In some larger properties, there is a complete IT staff that tends to all areas of the hotel, front and back office, point of sale, sales and catering and guest Internet. However, in smaller properties the burden of many of these tasks falls on engineering, with possibly the help of an outside contracting firm. The engineering staff is trained in many critical areas, but not necessarily in IT. The hotel’s IT vendors are many times providing remote support, but not necessarily onsite.

Engineering should maintain a detailed list of all vendors and the equipment serviced. The list should include both the sales and technical contacts for the company as well as the proper phone numbers, including direct line numbers which are often better than 800 numbers. IT vendors can change names, merge or go out of business frequently, so the list must be kept up to date. The value of detailed, up-to-date documentation should not be underestimated.

It is important to know not only which equipment is maintained but also the type of service contract that is in place. Contracts can include remote support only, both hardware and software support, or can be on a per-call time and materials basis. If onsite hardware fails, what is the procedure for replacement? Does the vendor send someone to replace the item, does a third party perform the replacement, or is the item drop shipped to the engineering department?

It is important to know the exact location of each piece of IT equipment. There can be multiple equipment rooms and many items can look alike. Each item should be clearly labeled and there should be a diagram showing the location of each item. This includes a wiring diagram that shows the path of all data wiring. Equipment room access should be limited to only necessary service personnel.

The exact location of where the Internet signals enter the building should be documented. This is needed for troubleshooting should the Internet signals go down.

One area of constant IT activity can be the guest meeting rooms. While many hotels use an audio/visual company that handles both A/V and Internet requirements, some A/V companies do not supply Internet setup, leaving the task up to the hotel. Some groups request hardwired connections – Ethernet wiring from each PC into a switched hub. The hotel should have the necessary wiring and switched hubs to accommodate these requests. The company supplying guest Internet services can be of assistance in configuring the meeting rooms. For security reasons, in no case should any guest connection be made through the admin network of the hotel.

Some groups may bring their own equipment and wiring, only needing to be directed to the proper connections. It is possible to stack hubs “too deep,” thus causing the signal to fail. This means there are too many hubs connected in a row. This can occur when the hotel is unsure how many hubs lead into the meeting room.

The telephone system can present issues, especially if it is an older analog model. Some hotels have been slow to upgrade to voice over IP systems because of time and expense. While it is possible to use existing wiring with newer systems, rewiring with Cat 5 or higher data wiring may be required. Maintaining older systems can be challenging. Some manufacturers discontinue maintenance service on older models, leaving that to third parties. Parts can become an issue as well. It is not just the telephone switch itself but also the call accounting and voice mail systems that are also in place.

Some switches have call accounting and voice mail built in, but in other systems these are separate units. Knowing exactly what company is responsible for each item is required. Call accounting units require periodic rate table updates. Voice mail systems also require software updates.

Issues with in-house telephone system wiring can be addressed by a qualified wiring contractor. A diagram showing the location of all wiring closets, where the lines come into the building, and where 66 blocks are located is very useful.

One system that is critical to the hotel, and can malfunction, are key encoding devices. Some systems provide an interface to the property management system while others operate on a stand-alone basis. Most consist of a server and multiple encoding devices. If an individual encoder fails, other encoders can be used to make keys. If the server goes down, then keys cannot be made and the property will have to revert to backup keys. Some properties maintain an entire backup server for such occurrences.

Having good documentation can go a long way in dealing with IT issues. This, along with good vendor support, can keep the hotel running smoothly.

Geoff Griswold is a field engineer and general manager of the Omni Group, an IT services company specializing in the hospitality industry. He can be reached at geoff@atlantaomnigroup.com or (678) 464-2427.

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