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HITEC 2002 - Highlights

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June 01, 2002
HITEC Highlights
Jon Inge

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Property Management
Some interesting things are happening in the property management arena. Long-time vendors with excellent products have continued to bring in steady sales, many at a surprisingly good rate given the industry slowdown last year. Some big players are in the throes of re-developing their product ranges, and a couple more have shown, through recent senior-level hirings, how serious they are about making a major impact. ASPs were the hot topic a year ago; the products are still there, but the market hasn’t adopted them for PMS as readily as it has for back office (BOS) and point of sale (POS).

Increasing numbers of properties are looking for the benefits of integrated modules, seeing this as a real advantage especially now that their functionality has been brought up to a high level. Good examples are Visual One (which has the most integrated system currently available, with PMS/S&C/POS/BOS all in the same product), Springer-Miller (PMS/POS and a host of optional modules), Northwind (PMS/S&C) and MSI (PMS/POS/S&C). MICROS-Fidelio is finally – but steadily – winning orders for its powerful Oracle-based OPERA PMS, with a mixture of integrated modules (S&C) and separate (BOS, POS) systems rounding out the range.

Other vendors specializing in PMS alone are also proving that thoughtful design and excellent support pay off well, typified by INNfinity (formerly Lodgical) which has seen steady growth over the last year.

In the ASP market Radiant has indicated how serious it is about succeeding in this market after buying HotelTools, by hiring industry veteran Jeff Edwards to lead its hospitality efforts. PegasusCentral, launched with great promise last year, is still one of the most functional ASP systems available even if its market hasn’t taken off as fast as it had hoped, and Ramesys continues to offer its U.K.-developed ASP product, CMS.

Ramesys itself is showing renewed energy in telling its story as a successful and profitable PMS company, and its recent hiring of the highly experienced Mark Sadosky is an excellent move. Meanwhile, a couple of past giants wait in the wings; SoftBrands (formerly AremisSoft) and HIS both maintain a significant presence as they continue with the development of their next-generation products.

Sales and Catering
Increasing connectivity is the theme here. Newmarket’s Delphi continues to be the dominant player, but Daylight’s enterprise system has proven its worth in both large (MGM Grand, Opryland) and small properties. Both offer increasing levels of connectivity with lead-generation vendors, and are looking at higher levels of integration with PMSs and CRSs to maximize the benefits of revenue management across the whole enterprise. Hodges & Irvine also continues to flourish, with a good level of interest from conference centers as well as hotels.

Revenue/Yield Management
Revenue management systems (RM) are being adopted more widely; more independent hotels are committing to them and more chains are adding the functionality into the centralized systems. Much work has been done on integrating RM across sales and catering systems as well as PMS and CRS, and we should be seeing a quantum leap in effectiveness when these reach the market. IDeaS e-yield and MICROS’ Opus 2 are the two front-runners at the moment, but Yield Management Systems Inc. (YMSI) is making a strong resurgence and Optims is establishing a U.S. presence after considerable success in Europe.

The strongest trend here is toward offering solutions on an ASP basis. InfoGenesis reports that one quarter of its sales are now in this format, not least because its hybrid nature combines the benefits of central server and system management with the ability of its terminals to continue working locally if the communications link is lost. All the other main vendors – MICROS, SQUiRREL, Geac, Digital Dining, Aloha – continue to offer excellent products, with increased emphasis on centralized reporting and menu-updating functions, Web-based access to reports and greater integration with purchasing systems.

SpaSoft continues to be the standard to beat, but ProSolutions and SpaBiz are emerging as a couple of very worthy contenders. It remains to be seen whether the equally capable Rio, which was absorbed into AremisSoft last year, will return as a strong player in SoftBrands’ range; it deserves to.

Back Office
Continuing interest in the centralization of accounting functions continues to be the watchword, since remote access doesn’t have the same time-critical nature that arises with PMS and POS systems. Data centralization also allows for much more capable reporting and analysis. The range of systems in use in hospitality companies ranges all the way from Quicken to SAP, but long-time hospitality specialists such as Data Plus and DataPro are always worth a look.

Eatec, Adaco and Stratton Warren are the industry standards, all offering updated systems with an increasing focus on interactions with other systems, such as POS, menu analysis and Internet-based central purchasing marketplaces.

PBX/Voicemail/Call Accounting
Voice-over-IP (VoIP), the technique of providing telecommunications services remotely via Internet technology, is still in the emergent stage. Its anticipated benefits in flexibility, increased functionality and reduced costs are still being proven in early implementations, but it holds great promise. Early adopters may wish to look at some of the hybrid products now available, which combine IP readiness with traditional onsite switching.

Guestroom Technology
Guestrooms continue to see more sophisticated technology, though the issues of presentation (too much can be too obtrusive) and usability (the average guest must be able to understand how to use it) are still with us.

More properties are showing interest in energy management systems linked to their PMSs and to the door locks, to provide the most effective and invisible-to-guest climate control. Digital video services offer more products, from archived prime-channel TV episodes through music to Internet access. The latter is also offered by a multitude of independent providers, of course, and its adoption is still spreading steadily under more realistic pricing plans than last year’s free-for-all. Mini-bars with central reporting of sales are also being adopted more widely, given their advantages in more accurate guest billing and far more efficient re-stocking management.

Interestingly, there is increasingly effective cooperation between the vendors of these various systems, and it’s a good idea to consider all services likely to be needed (including the telephone system) to take advantage of possible network synergies. For example, energy management systems and electronic door locks sometimes communicate over the same infrared links; mini-bar systems can share the same wiring as pay-per-view movie services, as can connected guestroom safes.
ASP Systems - Connections Are Critical
Given the challenges of ensuring seamless, effective interfaces between systems, an integrated system that covers all your needs in one application can certainly ease the pain. ASP systems extend the concept even further to integrate multiple locations’ data onto a single server.

“We’ve embraced the concept from both sides,” said Marcus Bruninghaus, director of IT for Four Seasons Residence Clubs. “We operate two separate businesses at each of our sites: the selling and management of shared ownership packages, and F&B outlets for the Home Owners’ Associations (HOAs). Each uses ASP-based systems: For sales and unit management we use PCC’s TimeShareWare, while the HOA outlets run on InfoGenesis’ e-Revelation POS system.”

“The difference is that we act as the host for TimeShareWare, running it on a server farm at our head office, and as clients for e-Revelation, with each site accessing it from InfoGenesis’ server center. ASPs have major advantages in terms of data reporting since all the information is in one place. Without having to deal with system-to-system and location-to-location data consolidation, whole-company and cross-property data analysis becomes comparatively straightforward. Installing the systems at each site is also remarkably fast and simple once you have the central applications configured.”

But you can’t escape links between computers. “Communication is the issue,” said Bruninghaus. “As the TimeShareWare service provider for our remote sites worldwide, we have to make sure we have enough hardware and communications redundancy here to ensure they can always connect, which they do through Citrix. Especially overseas, though, we have to rely on local communications providers to keep their end of the link up, and that’s not always easy to troubleshoot.”

“Fortunately, Revelation has enough local intelligence in its workstations to keep running if the main link goes down. You lose the ability to perform all-terminal reporting or make menu changes, but these aren’t as time-critical as taking orders and printing checks. And with software updates being done after midnight, if we’ve lost communications since we installed the systems last year we haven’t noticed it.”

Jon Inge is an independent consultant specializing in property-level technology. He can be reached by e-mail at jon@joninge.com or by phone at (206) 546-0966.

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