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Regrets? I’ve Had a Few But Then Again Not Too Few to Mention

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October 01, 2008
Tech | Decisions
Michael Schubach, CHTP, CHAE - mschubach@trumphotels.com

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

You’ve no doubt noticed a degree of consumer panic in the marketplace lately.  With mortgage failures at an all-time high, gasoline that costs more than Chanel No. 5 in comparable quantities, and the nagging uncertainties of presidential politics, panic is understandable if not downright logical.  But that is not the panic of which I word process.  The primal fear I reference is the knowledge that next February, conventional broadcast television will cease to exist.  In order to prevent the loss of western civilization as we know it, hardy survivalists are flocking themselves to B2/C2 (Best Buy/Circuit City) to make certain that their family can survive the ordeal of a future teeming with evenings and weekends.

Having always been a great admirer of civilization, I can freely admit that I have made just such a journey.  I managed to acquire (merely in the interest of keeping society’s flickering flame alive, you understand) the largest, flattest screen one can obtain with an income tax refund and a small economic stimulus rebate.  I know my new government-subsidized television has the best picture ever conceived by humans (until they announce next spring’s models) because I painstakingly stood in front of 87 different models, all hanging there on the Great Wall of made-in-China.  I watched so many Harry Potter trailers that I feel like I could pass the entrance exam at Hogwart’s.  I moved up and down the rows of sets comparing tiny details of image quality.  I made up my own little purchase elimination rules (matte black edges, not silver and anything over 56 inches is just vulgar).  I demanded expert assistance from every sales associate within range until one of them seized up and passed out trying to verbalize the differences between the LCD and plasma models.  (In retrospect, I believe it may have been a suicide attempt.)  I got valuable second opinions from knowledgeable-looking shoppers that happened to wander by.  Finally, I made my selection.  I took it home and plugged it in only to realize that despite a mountain of technical advancements, I Love Lucy reruns look essentially the same (although the cast is now substantially taller). 

Once you get your own flat screen home and installed and the showroom euphoria is gone, you find things may not go quite as you imagined they would.  You notice that your home signal doesn’t conjure Potter’s magic quite so vividly, and that he is now vulnerable to failures and outages.  There may be a variety of options and devices you overlooked such as a new class of cable service, a Blue Ray DVD player and, oh yes, Blue Ray replacement DVDs.  Perhaps most disappointing of all is that the remote control is in the same old hands, so the same dumb shows keep appearing on the screen.  Civilization hasn’t vanished – it just feels that way. 

Looking back, those other choices you had all seem better, easier, freer of care and less prone to failure.  You’ve forgotten all those nifty little comparative advantages that drove the decision in the first place.  It can be frustrating when you’re down to just you, the system you chose, and a sad case of buyer’s remorse.  It’s very disheartening when a trusted process yields less than optimal results. 

Does this process seem familiar?  It should – it’s the way that hotels buy service technologies.  We line up the competitors for comparison, spend hours agonizing over minuscule differences in functionality, solicit testimonials from random strangers and finally, finally make a selection.  It’s a triumphant feeling; all questions are answered, all the options have been called out and any lingering doubts are vanquished.  As buyers, we know the path we took and the genesis of our decision.  When we stand in the midst of the field of competitors, the differences between the winner and the losers couldn’t be clearer. 

In hotel systems purchasing, it’s probably the last moment of crystal clarity you’ll have.  Major systems purchases (especially PMSs) can take months or years to plan and just as long to deploy, refresh and refine.  Given the scope, the interoperability requirements, our dependence on subsystem vendors working well together, and our reliance on the effectiveness of the training we give dozens (perhaps hundreds) of users, buyer’s remorse is almost certainly a part of the installation equation at some point in the process.  When you hit that point, success can look and feel an awful lot like failure.

Looking at existential despair statistically, there is a finite universe of only three possibilities for any project’s outcome: success, failure or something in between. 

I’ll define a failure as an installation where the results are bad enough to trigger an immediate back-in-the-box reaction.  You don’t see out-and-out full system installation failures all that often – given the investment requirement coupled with that plucky never-say-die attitude that has cost so many hospitality professionals their sanity, even desperately unhappy buyers rarely drop the take-it-back bomb.  In my decade as a PMS vendor and the guy responsible for installations, I estimate our failure rate at 0.08 percent. 

But complete out-of-the-box successes are almost as elusive as the total failures.  Rarely do complex solutions anticipate and correct for every variable explored or unexplored during the shopping process.  More to the point, a successful system selection and installation is the ongoing practice of system operation.  With that definition it shouldn’t surprise you that over time, successes can morph into failures and back again depending on changes in staff, management and the business climate. 

Sidestepping a wrong choice is fairly elementary; you look for the fatal flaws and deal killers and then run the opposite direction.  Remembering that you and your team made a right decision as conditions fluctuate around you is much more demanding.  Right decisions are right at the time, right with the limitations placed on the project, and right given the budget you were given.  Right is defined not only by your purchasing practices but also by an ongoing commitment to the decision that results from the process.  If “right” is therefore a temporary condition and attitude, then being right is the art of continually negotiating the third possibility from that finite universe: the middle territory between perfection and failure. 

Practically speaking, if you find yourself amazed at what a tangled Web you accidentally specified, ordered, installed, overlooked or bought from an overestimated spider, remember a few simple rules for managing your buyer’s remorse:

  • Keep your perspective; you’re rarely facing an all-or-nothing decision.  You’re usually somewhere in the middle of the spectrum facing a management issue rather than a purchase/repurchase decision. 
  • Remember that the spider is in as deep as you are, and is often just as anxious to get the problem resolved satisfactorily.  Leverage your relationship and your status as a future purchase reference to get the help you need.
  • Attack the problems as you would any other; set goals, prioritize, measure results and hold poor performers accountable. 
  • Address people problems while you correct your systemic issues, they’ve borne the brunt of errors and omissions and are often the worse for wear.  Retrain them, keep them informed and make sure they are supported through the demands of process improvement. 

Now that I’ve made being right so easy, I’ll see if I can’t work on being right about selecting a flat panel TV.  After I finish that, I’ll see what I can do about the interplay of television and western civilization.  Now there’s a challenge that will require a magical touch…cancelamos rerunicus! 

Michael Schubach, CHTP, CHAE, is chief information officer for Trump Hotel Collection. He can be reached at mschubach@trumphotels.com.

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