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High Tech Items in a Hotel that Can Be Overlooked--Until They Break Down

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October 26, 2006
Hotel | Technology
Geoff Griswold - theomnigroup@mindspring.com

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© 2006 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

There are a wide variety of items within a hotel that are controlled by a computer. The obvious ones include servers to control the front office, back office and sales and catering systems to name a few. 

Some applications can be Internet-based, but all require personal computers as workstations.

If any of the above systems malfunction, there is usually a help desk 800 number to call.  Sometimes support is divided into software versus hardware.  Software support technicians usually can check out a device by dialing into it, or accessing it over the Web.  Hardware support typically means that a technician will come on- site and repair the failed device in a short amount of time.

Hotel general managers and chief engineers sometimes get lulled into thinking that all high tech devices will receive the same type of prompt service when repairs are needed.  This, or course, is not always the case.  The following is a list of high tech episodes that occurred at hotels, the problems that were encountered, and what could have been done to prevent such situations.

An upscale 500-room hotel in a major city has its elevator routing controlled by computer.  When a guest on the 17th floor pressed the down arrow, the computer determines where the nearest car is located and dispatches it.  The primary computer failed, and when the elevator company attempted to switch over to a backup, it was discovered that there was no backup because that computer had also failed and had not been replaced.

For the next four days, hotel guests had to call down to the front desk when they wanted to ride the elevator.  The desk would radio the floor number to attendants that were operating the elevators manually.  The closest attendant would then ride to the floor requested by the guest.  While this makeshift approach actually worked quite well, it was very labor intensive.

The elevator company flew in a technician who restored both the primary and backup systems.  This incident could have been prevented, however, if the elevator company had promptly replaced the original backup system and hotel engineering had closely monitored that a backup computer was always available.

Many hotels use stand-alone room key encoding devices.  Backup keys for each room are usually stored in a paddle rack.  The personal computer that controlled the key encoding device for a conference center hotel failed.  It was a weekend and the backup key inventory was depleted.  Hotel personnel had to walk each guest to their room to gain entry with the e-key.  This was a slow process when the number of guests far exceeded the number of hotel staff.

The locking vendor was contacted and said that another computer could be shipped but it would not arrive for a few days.  Fortunately for the hotel, a third-party technician, with the help of the locking vendor, was able to assemble a working system using undamaged parts from the failed one.

If the hotel does not already have redundant computers and key encoding devices, ones should be purchased.  These are relatively inexpensive items compared to the cost of using hotel personnel to let guests into rooms should downtime occur.  Backup keys should always be on hand.

Less critical, but still important, are electronic reader boards that are in the lobbies of many hotels.  Most all are controlled by a PC. If the PC fails, new messages cannot be entered into the reader board.  If the board itself fails, parts and service for the devices can be tough to find.
The software for reader boards should be loaded onto more than one computer.  If the primary computer fails, than the interface connection can be moved to the backup.  Engineering should know what company repairs the reader board itself.  In some cases, on-site service is available, but, in other cases the board must be shipped to a location for repair.
High-speed Internet connections have become very important items to most guests.  Guests not only expect a connection to be available, but they expect it to work flawlessly. 

Some hotels use high-speed Internet providers that take responsibility for the entire installation and resolve issues quickly.  Other hotels have Internet service that is less than reliable and issues are on-going.  Some more common problems include wired guestrooms not connecting and wireless coverage that is spotty or non-existent in some areas.  Complete downtime can also occur.

To prevent downtime if your Internet company is unable to resolve on-going problems, call in a third-party to evaluate the installation.  It can be complex, and another option is sometimes what it takes to resolve the glitches.

Do you have a high tech nightmare story to share?  Please e-mail it to theomnigroup@mindspring.com.


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