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Point - Outsourcing: Home is Where the Expertise is

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April 01, 2002
Rob Bender

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Selling intangibles: hotels do it, property management system companies do it. Services are an integral part of our sale and an intangible that needs solid references to support them.

At a full-service hotel catering to corporate and group business, one of the most important selling points your sales staff has is the quality of service your hotel staff provides. In a typical large city with hotels strategically grouped, the first meeting planner concern to overcome is location; the next concern is often the level and quality of service. The service provided by your reservationists, front desk, convention/catering and housekeeping staff is what differentiates your property from the rest.

CSS Hotel Systems is a developer of hospitality management application software and has been for nearly three decades. Much like a hotel, we are a service-oriented organization. Our application software is always sold as a bundle and includes: installation, implementation, training, support and often custom programming; virtually all intangibles. Beyond that, CSS is a privately held company. The principals are still in the office every day and have just never considered outsourcing services as a viable alternative. In the early development years, much of the programming was done onsite at the client property. Custom enhancements as required by a particular customer were written, installed, implemented and trained by the CSS staff onsite. As a matter of fact, 7 out of 10 of our recent installations benefited from custom programming to suit specific client needs. We cannot justify outsourcing this level of service, it is simply too personalized.

Over the succeeding years CSS has earned a reputation for getting the tough installs. For example, mixed use facilities that, in addition to guestrooms, have complex timeshare and wholly owned rental condominium management requirements, extended-stay properties, club membership accounting as well as marinas, campgrounds and more. Additionally, we have installed on multiple-platform wide area networks. The CSS definition of this is a midrange IBM AS/400® located at corporate which receives and sends data transmissions from hotels operating on Unix, Novell® and Windows® networks. Imagine the configuration intricacies when installing and implementing our software on two different hardware and operating system platforms and having them communicate transparently. We didn’t earn that reputation by outsourcing the installation, implementation and training to another organization.
We do of course win more standardized hotel accounts. Would we consider outsourcing the installation and training in these scenarios? We haven’t as of yet. And that’s not to say it couldn’t work; however, we would be concerned about the thoroughness and consistency of these installs. Our installer/trainers rotate as support staff. There is invaluable knowledge gained from handling support calls from properties they installed and trained. The feedback they receive, the modules needing support and the call log details, all determine in what areas the newly trained hotel staff has strengths and weaknesses. This genuinely enhances and sharpens the techniques used by our staff in the next training experience. We also need to mention the friendships that develop from this ongoing interaction. There have been many situations when management staff moves to a different hotel and has CSS Hotel Systems installed there as well.

If a hotel chain was having a PMS installed at a large number of limited-service hotels that will all be utilizing the same functions with little deviation, we can understand a vendor outsourcing the installation and training services to a third-party organization. In this type of a project a consistency would develop and the installations would be uniform. We expect the same outsource company installer/trainers would be used throughout the project and they would get quite proficient at both the needs of the hotel staff and the functionality of the application they are installing, a benefit for all parties involved.

The hotel chain project may be the only ideal set of circumstances for outsourcing. Having never gone that route we don’t fully understand the mechanics of an outsource company’s business. Like any other business, they would stay alive by securing a number of clients. Their clients being software vendors, vendors that compete with one another. Herein lies another concern. If a multiple hotel chain install doesn’t materialize, are each of the outsource company installer/trainers required to learn each PMS vendor’s application functionality, installation requirements and training methodology? It would be hard to say how difficult it would be to keep all of the particulars separate for each of these applications, but if the number of resumes we receive from outsource company installer/trainers is an indicator, we choose to continue operating the way we have been for the past 27 years.

There is one last point that will continue to keep CSS telling prospects and clients that all services, including: programming, installation, implementation, sub-system interfacing, hardware configuration, training, support and custom enhancements, are handled in house by CSS staff. We have recently released Inntegrity™, the Windows® version of our PMS applications. Inntegrity™ is a total rewrite of our former system in a true 32 bit Open Database Compliant format. It was designed to operate on various hardware/operating system platforms and being ODBC, will operate with a variety of database applications. This new system is a work in progress, and will continue to receive ongoing functionality enhancements for years to come. Our staff will need to be dedicated to stay on top of new developments as they unfold; would an outsource company staff have the motivation and take the time?

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