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Steering Clear of the Sand Traps to Bring a Competitive Advantage - Exploring Club Technologies

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June 01, 2003
Club Management
Debra Kristopson - dkristopson@ndtc.com

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© 2003 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

When you wrangle with technology, sometimes you hit the fairway and sometimes you hit right into the water. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re considering implementing technology within your club environment, your first mission is to determine your needs. One of the easier ways to accomplish this is to build a matrix (using the checklist [see sidebar on page 30] as your starting point) and then prioritize each area of functionality. When prioritizing, focus on what will help you differentiate yourself. What functionality will bring your club competitive advantage? Another key point when prioritizing is to make sure that there is a distribution between high and low. Everything can’t be high. You may need to make trade-offs as you automate and it’s important to identify, upfront, those areas which are most important to you.

Understanding What You’re Facing
Once your needs are determined then it’s time to review options. If your club is associated with a hotel/resort, the first avenue to explore is to check with your PMS vendor and review the software offerings they have available for club management. For most though, a PMS-based solution will not be available.

The reality of club technology is that there are numerous smaller, function-specific vendors. For instance tee-time scheduling software will normally not be sold by the same vendor who sells food and beverage banquet space management software. Therefore, if your needs span more than one area, it will be unusual for you to find a single, one-stop shopping approach to your needs.

Integration and Standards
You are probably going to need a multi-vendor solution. Consequently, integration capability must be high on your list as you review vendors. You’ll want to establish a standard hardware platform and database from which you attempt to only review vendors which comply with your standards.

One of the best ways to establish your standards is to identify your cornerstone product and then build forward from that product’s base. For instance, if tee-time management is one of your highest priorities then you might select the best tee-time management program for your needs and look for complementary products which comply with that standard.

As you select your cornerstone products consider both the priorities you established when building your matrix as well as the general availability/diversity of offerings. Because POS and accounting solutions can be applied in a broader marketplace than clubs, there will be more vendors offering POS or back office solutions than there will be vendors offering club-specific technologies such as tee-time management or spa scheduling.

Locating Vendors
While some club technology vendors will be exhibiting at HITEC, many will not. It’s going to take research on your part to identify the vendors you want to review. When compiling your vendor list consider the following sources for information.

First, and most powerful, are referrals from other clubs. Call other clubs and discuss what they are using and their level of satisfaction. The Internet is also a powerful source of information. The majority of vendors will have some semblance of a Web site. One caution, don’t just look at the first three or five entries in the search engines. Search engine placement is a separate and distinct issue from how well a company is able to meet your needs. Use the Web as a starting point to learn what products are available.

When using a search engine, perform your search based upon a search phrase and use quotes at the beginning and end of your phrase. This will help you to specifically target companies who offer what you’re looking for. For instance, using GOOGLE, if you enter:
• SPA it will return 9,820,000 matching entries;
• SPA SOFTWARE will return 826,000 entries;
• “SPA SOFTWARE” it will return 3,310 entries; and
• “SPA SCHEDULING SOFTWARE” will return one entry.

The Internet can be overwhelming if you aren’t as specific as possible in your Internet-based research approach.

Association and industry publications can also be a valuable source of information. Review articles which assess vendors and pay attention to vendor advertising.

Refining Your Vendor List
As you narrow your list of vendors for consideration, make sure that you check references of the vendor as well as the software. Odds are, you’re not going to be dealing with very large companies; therefore, stability and longevity should be prime factors for consideration. You will also to want a vendor that will be cooperative and understand that you may want to operate multiple systems on the same hardware.

Because these software packages tend to be smaller and more specific in functionality, the software purchase costs are lower than what is traditionally experienced with PMS software. In fact, your internal implementation costs and your hardware costs will normally exceed your software purchase costs. However, just because the software package may not be expensive, don’t underestimate the total cost of implementation and make sure you consider all costs.

Role of an Integrator
Once you enter into a multi-vendor environment, you may need to retain an integrator. Each of your software vendors will be responsive to your questions for what is needed to operate their software; however, they normally will not be conversant on whether another software package will co-exist on the same hardware. The best time to retain your integrator is before you make your first purchase. The integrator will advise you if there are any anomalies with your vendor which may restrict future software integration. On an ongoing basis, with each software decision, your integrator can assist you (prior to purchase) on the relative compatibility of each software package.

Debra Kristopson has over 25 years experience in hospitality and is a leading industry expert on the practical application of technology for the industry. She can be reached at dkristopson@ndtc.com.

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