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Cooking Up HSIA - Is your proposal missing key ingredients?

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March 01, 2005
HSIA | Proposals
David Hostetter - dhostetter@its-services.com

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© 2004 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

A proposal that offers a simple marketing overview of the solution and summary pricing is not sufficient.

Hoteliers should insist that HSIA proposals contain a complete and appropriate level of detail to allow meaningful analysis and comparison of offers.

Hungry for high-speed Internet access a small group of high-end resort properties approached my firm to review and verify their HSIA proposal. As I read through the proposal from a leading HSIA vendor I immediately noticed that important details were missing and many essential parts of an HSIA solution were not covered. Some of the items that were noticeably missing included a description of the portal, a list of the billing methods and pricing options, the mention of their meeting room management features, sample screenshots and the technical information about user authentication. The security section consisted of six bullet points generically describing some essential elements for HSIA security, but hardly backed up the vendor’s claim of market-leading security. And while the pricing section provided subtotals for hardware, installation, training and professional services, within those categories there was no detail at all.

While the vendor is competent, well known and obviously does not provide an inferior service or unfair pricing, the proposal failed to identify and describe the many important features of a complete HSIA system. Neither did it illustrate the unique capabilities of this vendor nor provide a meaningful price breakdown. Choosing this HSIA solution may not be a bad choice in the end, but it would certainly be a blind one.

To assist hoteliers in a similar circumstance, there should be a list of sections and features included in an HSIA proposal. This article lists the major sections of a proposal including a brief commentary on each. This article is not intended to be complete. Vendors’ individual expertise and the inevitable progress of technology will create new features and may make currently essential items obsolete. However, the intent is for the reader to gain an understanding of the breadth and depth of coverage necessary to properly propose an HSIA system, allowing the hotel to make an informed choice.

Section 1–Introduction
The proposal should begin with a brief summary of the hotel’s needs including any special requirements. The vendor can briefly present their company background, philosophy, customer success stories and marketing claims. A high level overview of the proposed system might also be included, with special mention of the vendor’s particular strengths.

Section 2–General Equipment Description
The proposal should include and describe the supported hardware and software the vendor may use. Manufacturers, models and product lines should be mentioned. Many vendors claim to offer a best-of-breed solution but fail to tell the hotel specifically what the best-of-breed list includes. Specific equipment information is even more critical if a vendor uses anything that is unique or proprietary. If necessary, specific statements of standards compliance should also be made.

Section 3–Internet Requirements
Most HSIA vendors allow, or even require, that the hotel sign up for Internet access as a separate relationship with a third-party ISP. A few vendors require the hotel to purchase their own Internet circuit for HSIA.

In the first case, the vendor should include specific Internet access requirements such as the types of supported circuits (PRI, T1, xDSL), the recommended circuit speed for the hotel, the amount of required IP addresses and any required ISP installed equipment. If the vendor has any recommendations or has arranged special pricing, this should be stated along with ISP contact information. In the second case, the vendor should summarize the technical and contractual details about the required Internet solution, including highlights of the service level agreement, length of contract and any exit/early termination provisions.

Section 4–Features and Functionality
This will likely be the longest section of the proposal and should discuss every major feature of the proposed system including specific functionality and technical information. Certainly the unique or special features will be emphasized, but it is important that the proposal cover every key area of the HSIA system.

Items to be included are: plug-and-play IP configuration; static/public IP configuration and port-mapping; simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) proxy; external virtual private network (VPN) support with specific clients and protocols listed; virtual networking (allows guest groups to have private internetworking between ports); internal roaming between wired and wireless hardware, third-party roaming providers; customized and branded portal/login page including hotel, concierge and local information; walled garden featuring free-to-access Web sites; minimum, maximum and average connection speeds; customized and branded signage; in-room help materials; meeting/ballroom management features; usage and trouble reporting; and finally, loaner/rental equipment.

Section 5–Security
This essential topic deserves separate treatment. Although general security measures may be listed in the introduction, the vendor should present specific security features along with a technical description of how each feature is accomplished.

Some of the most essential security items include: port-based protection (may be called virtual LAN) to prevent individual users including guests and meeting attendees from interacting, inbound/outbound virus scanning, outbound e-mail spam blocking, encrypted RADIUS/AAA user login authentication, use of secure sockets layer to protect logins, use of VLAN, secure shell and SSL to secure administrative access to equipment, stateful packet filtering firewall (specify software or hardware firewall and some discussion of what the rules are), intrusion detection (including time to respond and response actions) and internal/external VPN support.

It is beyond the scope of this article to list all security recommendations, and due to technologic advances this is a moving target especially regarding wireless security. The key is that the security section should be extensive and precise.

Section 6–Hotel-specific Designs
To illustrate their specific plans for the hotel, the vendor should provide customized network diagrams. Many vendors provide generic example diagrams and for small hotels or those with simple needs this may suffice. However, most diagrams should be customized for each hotel so that a non-technical owner or manager may visualize the specific equipment proposed and connected. There should be separate diagrams for wired and wireless, and illustrations for any optional designs.

Section 7–Support, Maintenance and Warranty
The vendor should separately list standard and optional services for support, equipment warranty and maintenance. User support should be 24/7/365 via a toll-free number. The scope of what the initial support agent can and cannot do should be specifically listed. Common support actions beyond the scope of the initial support agent should be listed with the resolution procedure and timeframe. The scope of normal preventative maintenance and what items must be performed onsite should be disclosed.

Section 8–Installation and Training
The vendor should provide a generic installation task checklist with an estimated timeline. The responsible party for individual tasks should be indicated, as well as onsite tasks. When the sale is completed the vendor should finalize this checklist, specific for the hotel. The vendor should also present a standard training outline for each type of role at the property such as front desk, concierge, sales and catering, accounting and general manager. Training class sizes, length and frequency should be stated.

Section 9–Pricing
Pricing for the proposed services should be granular. Line items such as individual hardware and software pieces, installation tasks, training, travel and signage should be itemized, separately priced, categorized and sub-totaled. Optional items should be priced separately. The contract length should be stated and a vendor may even calculate total cost over this span. Labor rates and estimated hours should be quoted by task. If some hardware is optional, then all hardware costs such as price, installation and maintenance should be listed separately.

Section 10–Financing and Revenue
The vendor may offer financing arrangements for the proposed system, as well as additional revenue or commissions from the use of the system and by selling advertising on the portal. Such offers should include a comparison of the total cost of ownership between financing and up-front purchase, any additional costs to implement such programs and estimated commissions and revenues for the life of the contract.

Section 11–Legal
Either included as attachments or submitted separately, the vendor should provide copies of standard and generic contracts affecting the hotel and Internet users. These may include a sales agreement citing conditions of the sale of service to the hotel, service-level agreement citing performance and support guarantees, Internet user terms and conditions/acceptable usage policy citing the prohibited and permissible uses of the HSIA system and a statement of inherent risk informing HSIA users that they bear all risk and responsibility for using the service.

Although many vendors do provide a bounty of information to prospective customers, all too frequently HSIA vendors will not cook up all this detail for a mere proposal, preferring to save the labor until after a deal has been sealed. However, from the hotelier’s prospective, this level of detail is required to make an informed choice as to which vendor should earn the business.

A proposal that offers a simple marketing overview of the solution and summary pricing is not sufficient. Hoteliers should insist that HSIA proposals contain a complete and appropriate level of detail to allow meaningful analysis and comparison of offers. Since the HSIA system will have an impact on revenue, legal, occupancy and reputation, great care must be taken in considering all aspects of a proposed solution.

HSIA systems are complex with many features, details and options. Choosing the appropriate HSIA vendor solution is not a decision that should be made hastily, arbitrarily or based on who offers the most clever marketing language and the slickest proposal document. Experienced insight, careful attention to details and a close comparison of offers is necessary to make a fully informed choice. And when HSIA vendors support such analysis by offering proposals with all the essential ingredients for a complete and successful solution, then we’re cooking.

David Hostetter is a consultant with ITS, a consulting firm located outside Atlanta, Ga., specializing in technology for the hospitality industry. David can be reached at dhostetter@its-services.com.

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