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The Convergence of IT and AV in Hospitality

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April 17, 2019
Connectivity Trends
Mike Dickersbach

I can remember when I was working as a restaurant manager for a Doubletree hotel in New Jersey, and I was close with the audio-video guys. Their jobs – before the onset of internet, Wi-Fi, IP addresses, bandwidth shaping, MAC filtering, dedicated bandwidth and VLANs – was really a matter of sound and rigging.

It was a different time with different needs. It was in that time that I had transitioned from front of the house to an accounting and IT role for the same hotel. It was 1999, and I recall a presentation that I had given for the sales team on wireless connectivity. I spoke of how it would change the world, and how soon people could have meetings outside and still be able to print their documents wirelessly. Today we see the outcome of how the internet has shaped the world and our industry.
However, audio video (AV) didn’t just change dynamically. It slowly morphed into a category that was IT centric, but still required audio and rigging. When we look at AV and transpose what has filled this category, more items come into play. Now we can think of things like smart speakers, smart displays, mobile keys, HVAC, smart lighting controls, and almost all true audio components having some sort of ability to connect with a network. We see this coming from the consumer side and making a firm footprint in our hotels. Whether we like it not, the consumer life is ultimately driving the technology that they expect when traveling.
When looking at a guestroom today and what brands are proposing for the guestroom of tomorrow, we see a great deal of nuances that have touchpoints within AV. We have seen a strong push for smart speakers in guestrooms, which many dismissed as a novelty a few years back. Today's smart speakers do more than just provide the guest with restaurant ideas. They also offer active translations.
Red Lion Hotels’ VP of Hospitality Systems Jeffrey Parker thinks the biggest technology push will be in the guestrooms, and what he said next isn’t surprising. “It’s voice, voice, voice and artificial intelligence (AI), but mostly voice. No new UI, multiple languages, and hopefully the ability to pair a guest's account to [the] smart speaker in the room,” Parker said. 
Mode:Green President Bill Lally said that the guestroom technology profile is ever changing. “That paradigm has obviously shifted with [internet of Things (IoT)] where the hotels can’t possibly keep up with the changes happening in tech. The hotel will continue to evolve from the AV perspective as an extension of the guest’s home, content and experiences. The hotel guestroom is a place where hotels will have to continually adapt to consumer-based IoT, whatever that may bring,” Lally said. 
This brings up an excellent point regarding keeping up with technology. As most readers probably know, with brand affiliation you are buying into the brand ecosystem. When a brand makes the decision to implement (insert anything that costs money here), then the owners of the asset are the ones holding the bill. We can argue (I don’t have that much time) about which, if any, guestroom-centric technology has a return on investment, but we can agree that consumer demands have, and always will, keep changing.  
To accommodate these changes, we have seen major brands implement new video systems within the guestrooms that allow guests to view their favorite shows on demand from major video platforms.  Guests can simply cast their own shows directly to the TV in their room. Traditionally expensive integration of lighting and audio controls are slowly becoming more prevalent in hotel rooms and no longer reserved for large casinos hotels. However, if we step back and look at what it truly takes to build a hotel with the technology to achieve many of these AV and tech-forward touchpoints, we encounter design and construction. 
Today’s renovations and new builds require much more than just brick, mortar and “some cabling,” which is often how I hear construction project managers refer to the category cabling. Today’s hotels require more than just cabling, more than just a line item for information technology sitting at the bottom of a budget as an afterthought. Hotel renovations and new builds require not only a structured cabling plan, but a detailed network design and someone with the talent who can blend it all together. The days are long gone of just letting the general contractor do a design build for low-voltage cabling – it doesn’t work, and when working with a brand, requires the developer to meet the brand standards for design. Even with the brand standards, it still is not as easy as handing the book over to the general contractor. 
All technology touchpoints require someone that understands them, knows how they function, knows how they are supposed to communicate with each other, and can see the big picture come together. Those people are out there, but you have to find them, and then listen to them. Someone needs to have the foresight to accommodate and guide the designers to facilitate the needs of IT design. The need to properly lay out the HVAC controls, the lighting controls, the HSIA vendor, the back office, the smart speakers, the audio controls, the digital signage, the TV service, the door locks, and the ever-growing list of other network connected devices, the converged network of digital traffic that allows for audio, video and all other IoT devices to communicate correctly.
In terms of keeping up with the technology, Mr. Lally said, “Creating technology that appeals to all demographics is not easy, but properly embraced, provides a conduit for guest experiences that not only continue the notions of a high-touch guest experience, but allow it to stay with guests from reservation, during their stay and following checkout.” That statement best sums up what brands are striving for. It is a total guest experience, from the moment I pick up my phone and use the brands application to book a room, to precheck-in, to mobile key, to controlling my room from the same app, to the checkout experience, making it all come together as a single homogenous system. 
The convergence of all these systems bring about the need for proper design and security. As you may imagine, security can be another article on its own, but the key takeaway in relation to this convergence is that it needs to be weighed and addressed appropriately. It’s not just the risk of a hack itself, it’s the risk of what data may get exposed, and who will use it in a nefarious way. Will our guests still want the convenience they have at home with their smart speaker, in their guestroom? Every generation of consumer will have different answers. The best thing we can do as technologists in hospitality is understand what we are building and make sure that everyone involved with a new technology understands what it is providing and how it works. Being able to translate that data into non-technical words to the C suite is more important today than ever.
Audio video and IT will continue to become dependent upon each other and will continue to require better network designs that allow for the convergence of all systems. 

©2019 Hospitality Upgrade 
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