The Platform That Protects An Interview with Enseo Founder and CEO Vanessa Ogle

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October 21, 2019
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Fran Worrall - Fran@hospitalityupgrade.com

As Enseo marks two decades in the hospitality industry, Ogle discusses the company’s groundbreaking platform and how it has expanded to improve operational efficiency and elevate the guest room experience.

For nearly two decades, Enseo has been shaking things up in the hospitality industry. Founded in 2000, the Texas-based company got its start designing and selling hardware and software that enabled hotel guests to purchase in-room movies. Although that business model was successful, founder and CEO Vanessa Ogle could see what was on the horizon: Guests would soon carry their own content wherever they went. “I knew we needed a different business model if we wanted to remain competitive,” she said.

So, six years ago, the company made the transition to add integration services and content to its technology platform. Within a year, it had become the first hospitality integrator to license and deploy Netflix® into hotels. Fast-forward to 2019, and Enseo is now recognized by the world’s largest hotel groups as the premier provider of in-room entertainment and media solutions. Its cloud-based platform reaches 84 million people each year, making it the largest fully monitored out-of-home network in the world. It also has expanded its offerings to include applications that increase operational efficiency and improve RevPAR. And it’s still the only company with a worldwide license to bring Netflix to any brand hotel anywhere on the globe. In this exclusive Hospitality Upgrade interview, Ogle discusses Enseo’s innovative solutions and talks about how the company meets the challenges of a quickly evolving industry.



ONE PLATFORM, MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS
Enseo’s powerful platform delivers multiple solutions to hotels of all sizes and brands. Built with an open architecture, the platform manages highspeed internet access as well as Enseo’s solutions for in-room entertainment, energy management and room control (IoT), and employee safety. “We’ve created a platform that protects — a series of cloud-based management tools interacting with various hardware devices, software applications and content,” Ogle said. “Enseo’s platform does more than other traditional entertainment systems. It’s a room operating center, a marketing hub, an IoT gateway and more. If an owner or a brand is going to invest in a platform, let’s protect that investment.”

Properties can choose a single product or multiple solutions, but they save money with every product they put on the platform. One of Enseo’s customers, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, chose to install Wi-Fi and in-room entertainment using their coax cable, which spared the hotel company from having to tear out walls in its iconic properties yet gave them in-room entertainment as well as updated Wi-Fi and a connected room experience — all for the same investment as implementing the in-room entertainment product alone. Although Enseo’s hotel customers come in all shapes and sizes, the Enseo platform works for each one. “One of the unique aspects of our platform is that it works with any kind of infrastructure and in hotels of any size and age – from boutique properties to large resorts and from historic hotels to new builds,” Ogle said.

That means properties can utilize whatever network infrastructure is already in place — whether it’s coax cabling from 50 years ago, current ethernet or fiber optic technology or Wi-Fi. “5G is real, and it’s important that hotels protect their investments,” she said. “There’s no need for them to waste resources now on building and wiring infrastructure. They can save that money and apply it to the 5G expansions that will be coming in a few years.”



PROTECTING THE GUEST EXPERIENCE
In-room entertainment is a huge part of Enseo’s offering. In addition to Netflix, the company delivers an industry-leading number of over-the-top services, including HBO GO®, Pandora® and YouTube® as well as more than 100 channels of Free-to-Guest TV. It was also the first company to bring Bluetooth® audio to hotels so that guests could listen to their own music.

Enseo continues to protect the guest experience by giving consumers control of the guest room. EnseoCONNECT, an application that turns a mobile phone into a powerful remote simply by pointing it at the TV, gives each guest ultimate control of the in-room environment, including lights and temperature as well as TV. Since the majority of guests already consume over-thetop content from services like Netflix and YouTube, they can simply use the integrated keyboard on their phone to enter their credentials or search for their favorite content.

These kinds of industry-leading breakthroughs are why Enseo has been ranked for the last four years by Inc. magazine as one of the fast-growing private U.S. companies and recognized by Entrepreneur magazine as one of the ‘Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America’. Enseo also holds more than 50 U.S. patents.

PROTECTING EMPLOYEES
In 2014, Ogle was visiting an in-room entertainment installation at JW Marriott Essex House New York when the general manager mentioned that the city would soon require hotels to provide employee safety devices in every guest room. “I realized we could add this feature to the technology already installed,” she said. The GM trusted her to give it a try, and the Enseo development team was soon tasked with bringing more value to a current customer.

The company met the challenge, successfully installing the pilot within 90 days and launching MadeSafe® within a year. MadeSafe is a fully configurable employee safety product with geo-location capabilities that works in any size property with any kind of wiring. The product is now in its fourth generation and is available as a standalone service or as an added feature for existing Enseo platform customers.

Properties with as few as 60 rooms and as many as 3,000 rooms have implemented the solution, which is approved for use by more than 60 brands across the country. MadeSafe is easy to deploy. Beacons are installed in guest rooms and common areas to create a high-resolution location detection grid. Hotel staff then receive personal locator devices the size of a key fob. If an employee experiences an emergency — whether harassment, a guest altercation or a medical scare — he or she simply presses and holds the red distress button on the personal locator device, which transmits the associate’s exact location to first responders. The solution can send alerts via email, text message or third-party application. Moreover, escalation rules can be set to make sure management is notified if alerts are not cleared.

The solution incorporates flexible reporting capabilities that can accommodate the various requirements of the major brands. “Reporting is a critical component of any solution that deals with employee safety,” Ogle said, noting that the policies and procedures that surround staff safety are still evolving. “As hotels refine their first responder strategies, the flexibility of our architecture will accommodate changes while protecting owners’ investments.” Enseo is a sponsor of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 5-Star Promise, a nationwide employee safety initiative, and the company also worked with trade association Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) and other vendors to compile the Staff Alert Device Buyer’s Guide.

Now, the company has adapted its emergency notification technology for the education sector. With incidents of violence in schools on the rise, MadeSafe gives parents and teachers peace of mind. “Our children are our most precious resource, and there’s nothing more important than keeping them safe,” Ogle said. Enseo is now installing MadeSafe in K-12 schools as well as in hotels across the country. 

PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
The same cloud-based hotel technology management platform that Enseo developed for MadeSafe also powers the company’s Fido™ Room Control solution. This technology — known as the Internet of Things, or IoT — can detect if a panic button has been pressed, if a TV is on, or if a thermostat has been adjusted. And more, it can communicate with and report back on all the connected devices in the guest room. “We were doing IoT before IoT was even a term,” said Ogle, noting that more than 100,000 guest rooms use Enseo IoT-supported features.

The company connects to more than 12 brands of third-party devices and has 400 televisions in its library of supported products, along with thermostats, light controllers, window shades, water leak sensors, and a variety of other technologies that operate both inside and outside the guest room. One of the most exciting aspects of IoT technology is how it helps the environment while also protecting the investment of property owners. “Fido can reduce energy use in guest rooms by as much as 15 percent, which translates into enormous savings for hotels. When you can realize an environmental benefit and a financial benefit, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

THE PLATFORM THAT PROTECTS
Enseo brings a holistic approach to a rapidly changing industry with a robust and flexible software platform that manages in-room entertainment, high-speed internet access, integrated room control IoT and employee safety. It also integrates with other vendor solutions.

The company’s mission, Ogle said, it to make sure property owners have a first-class platform, whether they use Enseo for multiple services or only for one or two. “Although we think we have the best solution in each of our segments, we understand that owners are often locked into long-term contracts with other vendors. Our priority is to see that they have a best-in-breed platform when they are coordinating a multi-vendor environment.”

Enseo currently integrates to all major property management systems, point-of-sale systems, IoT standards and ticketing solutions. “We want to make sure our customers can connect the data into their businesses in whatever way works best for them,” Ogle said.

SITE, a cloud-based web application that allows Enseo to view more than 200 sets of live data on every connected device to its platform in each room, is ‘command central’ for the company’s ecosystem. SITE monitors millions of pieces of data for the room nights Enseo supports. “We can see if someone has unplugged a cable on site and notify the property before the guest knows or voices a complaint,” she said.

                                                     

The data, which is displayed in a three-dimensional floor plan that shows the entire property, helps Enseo refine and improve its services. For example, the company can see which channels and streaming services are logging the most viewing and listening hours, and it uses that information to enhance its channel line-up and over-the-top offerings. “Paying attention to the services and channels guests are using allows us to give them the best possible experience,” Ogle said.
                                                          

That explains why Enseo properties have such high guest satisfaction scores. “We have higher up-time for our technology than any provider in this space, and it’s all because of data. We see ‘live’ what’s happening in the room and can act on it quickly, most times before it is noticed by the hotel or the guest.” Hotels can also install mySITE, which enables general managers and IT staff to quickly see the many aspects of their properties — from channel usage to room temperature. As different systems are connected to the Enseo platform, mySITE can become a window into managing all the hotel’s technology.

LEADING THE CHARGE
At the heart of the company’s success are its employees. “We have a great team, and the same core people have been developing and deploying our technology since the company began,” she said. “It’s exciting to see how they continue to innovate.”

Ogle is keenly aware that hoteliers are constantly bombarded by companies that want their business, and she intends for Enseo to stand out from the crowd. “Technology is changing rapidly and hotels have tech vendors asking for their money every day,” she said. “Our platform can contribute back to the bottom line by offering a single solution that protects a hotel’s most valuable assets — the guest experience, the employees, the environment, and the technology the property has already invested in. And, it ultimately saves them money."

When asked what has surprised her most in recent years, Ogle pointed to the overwhelming success of Netflix and other over-the-top media services. “If you had told me five years ago that over-the-top would comprise more than 60 percent of total viewing hours on television, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It has grown much faster than I thought it would.”

She has also been surprised to learn that more apps and channels aren’t necessarily better, noting that the same ones receive the bulk of the viewing, regardless of property location or guest demographics. “Guests know what they like and keep coming back to their favorites,” she said. “Yet, no matter what channels they prefer to watch, they want the TV to be easy to use, they want a fast response time on the interface, and they expect it to work every time.”

When Enseo started out as just a technology company, integrators and hotel brands were its primary customers. When they added integration services, ownership and management groups became direct customers. “This evolution has given us incredible insights not only into the use of technology in the industry but also into the financial investments made in technology by the people who write the checks,” she said. As a result, the company has been able to direct its engineering resources to develop products that meet the exact needs of its customers.

As for what’s on the horizon, Enseo will continue to lead the charge with innovative solutions that work every time. “This is hospitality, and the guest is always right,” Ogle concluded. “It’s our job to make sure they get a ‘home away from home’ experience regardless of the content they choose or the mobile devices they carry. Technology is no different than hot water or electricity. It has to just work.”

                           

©2019 Hospitality Upgrade 
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent. For permission requests, call 678.802.5302 or email info@hospitalityupgrade.com.
 

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