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Do IT Now! Why Now is a Great Time to Stop Hesitating and Invest in Hospitality IT

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October 01, 2011
Jon Inge

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It’s perfectly understandable that many properties are feeling overwhelmed right now.  Business is tight and staffing has been cut to the minimum.  Everyday operational challenges have become too complex to manage effectively, and you have no time to focus on the outstanding guest service everyone says is the key to success.  The only way out is to use some form of technology to help you manage the workload, but the thought of having to buy and learn yet another system can be pretty depressing.  And where are you going to find the funds?

Actually, that last one’s easy.  To paraphrase IT consultant Bob Lewis, the answer to how much a hotel should invest in information technology is pretty simple. None.
What it must invest in is bringing in more revenue, reducing costs and managing risks.  While these investments often require new or modified information technology, that’s a different matter. 

There’s a host of different ways technology can support all three goals.  Some produce excellent ROIs, all provide tangible benefits and I’ll discuss several in the following sections.  But logic isn’t always enough; I’ll also look at some reasons why hoteliers so often have difficulty making a decision to implement these tools, even those with a crystal clear ROI. 

More Revenue
Obviously, the only way out of a recession is to generate more revenue.  While you can – and should – cut costs and improve efficiency, you can’t save your way to profitability; you have to get more new bookings, increase the revenue from each stay and improve the amount of repeat business.  Good approaches for this were discussed at length in an earlier article (“Sell! Sell! Sell!”, Fall 2009), and will just be summarized here.

More Bookings
The key to generating more reservations lies in combining customer relationship management (CRM) and revenue management (RM) skills.  The former helps you consolidate information on your property’s guest mix (including groups) and identify the most profitable segments at a very detailed level, so you can pursue them with closely targeted package offers.  The latter clarifies the channels they use to look for accommodation and activities, how far ahead they book and at what time of day, all to help you make those offers available at the right times on the right channels. 

The essential starting point, though, is accurate, appropriate data.  This can’t be over emphasized; success today requires targeting small differences between micro-segments of the market, and data errors can quickly distort an analysis. 

Begin by making sure your guest management system is configured with the right data fields for your current business mix and that the data in them is appropriate, accurate and consistent.  Monitor detailed reports for outliers (e.g., Tokyo, United States) and missing information (email addresses, etc.), reward staff for complete and accurate data entry, and clean data regularly through resources such as the national change of address database.  It takes constant effort to keep it clean, but it’s a critical chore. 

Effective CRM requires the most comprehensive guest profile possible, preferably one compiled in a single system to minimize duplicate data entry.  Fully integrated management systems such as Cenium and, to a lesser extent, Agilysys’ Visual One, PAR Springer-Miller Systems’ Host, IQWare, ResortSuite and Northwind-Maestro PMS, among others, provide such full profiles.  More limited GMSs can achieve good results in partnership with separate systems such as Libra OnDemand.  Specialist systems focusing on one aspect of CRM, such as compiling guest profile databases for marketing analysis, are also effective; examples include Cendyn, Digital Alchemy and ZDirect.

At the very least, export your GMS’ guest profile and booking data into Excel and try sorting and filtering it in different ways to find out just who your guests are; they might be different from the ones you think you’re seeing or that used to be your main segments.  If the GMS can’t track important details such as the reasons reservations are denied, start recording those in Excel. Similarly with forecasts, if you’re not getting the reports you need from your GMS and S&C systems directly, combine their data in an Excel worksheet. 

You have to know what segments are in your guest base today and how your marketing efforts are impacting future business.  It’s no longer enough to sit back and expect that your traditional business level will just materialize. You have to go after it in a focused, data-driven way, and even a high-level view that you don’t have today will begin to make a difference. 

On the increasingly complex RM front, comprehensive RMSs such as EasyRMS, IDeaS, Maxim, Rainmaker and Micros’ ORMS provide tremendous amounts of detail, along with the tools to analyze and manage it. With their level of automation and integration to GMSs and channel management systems, they help revenue managers and marketing managers, working together, achieve 3 percent to 8 percent RevPAR uplifts.  At a simpler level, Excel-based tools such as those offered by Buckhiester Management have regularly proven that they can help operations lift RevPAR.  One advantage is that their principles are more readily grasped by staff across the property, and thus more likely to be used well. 

As the market becomes increasingly sub-divided and the number of specialized booking channels proliferates, channel management systems have become an essential tool for anyone but the most straightforward property.  Systems such as EZYield, RateGain, RateTiger and SynXis help, gathering competitive data and ensuring the hotel’s own rates appear at the right time to the right channels. 

All of these systems provide control in a great depth of detail, but you don’t have to try to do everything right away.  Focusing on the major market segments and principal channels will provide better control from the start, and free up time to look at more detailed analyses and refine the tools as the operation learns more. 

Other Tools
Other helpful tools reflect current Internet trends.  Obviously, every property needs an attractive, easy-to-use and easily found website, but it also needs to be mobile-compatible to reach the steadily rising number of guests making last-minute bookings on their smartphones. Search engine optimization services complement these to ensure visibility to the right travelers. 

Reputation management systems (e.g., Revinate, SearchView, eBuzz Connect, Chatter Guard and ReviewMetrix) are important to track what guests are saying about your property.  Because sites such as TripAdvisor are such a prime source of trusted information for many travelers, it’s essential to keep on top of any adverse comments, respond appropriately and fix whatever operational glitches happened, in order to keep reports positive.

Competition for group sales is equally fierce.  Making sure your property is listed on the right mix of RFP sites for its business mix is just as critical as for transient segments, and an immediate and attractive response is essential to stand out and make a good first impression.  Consequently, many S&C systems (e.g., Newmarket’s Delphi and several GMS vendors’ S&C modules) can receive electronic RFP leads from sources such as StarCite and Newmarket’s MeetingBroker, route them automatically to the right sales manager and draft a reply incorporating photos and text from a property or corporate library, a huge help in coping with the workload and landing the business. 

Higher Value Bookings
Along with generating more reservations as such, increasing the value of each one is a prime goal of every property.  Most shoppers compare hotels by price as much as location, but they also value personalized experiences more than ever.  Offering something extra with meaningful value to them will catch their attention, and has the added advantage of hindering straight room rate comparisons.

Well designed package plans can ensure that each micro-segment of a hotel’s guest mix can find what it’s looking for.  Many GMSs are remarkably flexible in generating plans and controlling their distribution; exploring these in conjunction with CRM analysis of your guests’ typical preferences is a low-cost way to leverage your existing tools. 

Several GMSs’ website booking engines also support selling packages, some pre-defined and others allowing travelers to build their own from elements such as spa, golf, dining and tours.  Websites that offer contextual upsells can also be very effective.  Once a guest has made the major decision by selecting a room or package, the incremental cost of upgrading to a better room, extending the stay or adding an activity faces much lower resistance.

This has to be kept in balance, though.  Multiple upsell attempts quickly become intrusive and offering too many options has repeatedly been shown to reduce the number of items selected, not increase it.  Best are systems that don’t overwhelm the guest with every possible option, but offer a select few that CRM shows to be most relevant to the particular market segment. 

Contextual upsells are equally effective after the guest has booked his stay.  Confirmations or other follow-up emails with hot links back to the GMS or other systems can encourage an upgrade or a reservation for activities that often sell out and would be unavailable once he’s arrived.  If the GMS doesn’t provide this powerful tool, capable third-party alternatives are available from Digital Alchemy, ZDirect, Cendyn and others.

Apart from increasing the value of the booking itself, pre-arrival upsells also increase a guest’s commitment to the property and significantly reduce the number of cancellations. Hyatt Hotels, for example, gained revenue of $12.5 million in one year after it introduced this approach four years ago.

Upselling doesn’t stop at check-in. Front desk agents can offer the same options, picking up clues from their interaction with the guests, and appropriate special offers can be sent to a guest’s smartphone during his stay.  Self-service and concierge applications such as Incentient, Intelity ICE, Runtriz, Tiare, Ascension Software and others also encourage additional purchases through their sheer convenience, both as in-room applications and in smartphone versions.

More Repeat Business
It’s a truism that it’s much more cost effective to generate repeat business from an existing customer than to attract a new one.  That takes a two-fold strategy: making each guest feel personally recognized and valued before, during and after her stay, and ensuring that the stay itself is as smooth and trouble-free as possible.

The first naturally takes a good CRM operation, with an observant staff constantly aware of its guests, forestalling potential issues and responding to their needs and preferences.  GMSs help by recording this information for future reference by service staff and marketers; several also allow a hotel to set up custom fields to record data unique to its operation. Third-party specialists such as Libra OnDemand offer extremely comprehensive alternatives.

Using this information, email marketing campaigns targeted very precisely at small groups of prior guests can be extraordinarily effective.  A typical blast that costs $600 to send out can generate repeat business of $15,000 or more, and some vendors guarantee an ROI of at least 400 percent in the first year.  Again, though, this level of impact relies completely on starting with clean data; an offer that makes one guest feel personally understood and valued can backfire completely if sent to someone else.

The other part of the strategy is to make sure everything works well and that guest requests and complaints are dealt with quickly and effectively. Rapid response systems such as GuestWare and MTech’s HotSOS pay great dividends in managing preventive maintenance and in routing guest requests and housekeeping work orders automatically to the right person wherever they might be on property, improving staffing efficiency. Automatically escalating requests and problems if not completed within the hotel’s service standard times makes sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Tracking guest requests not only establishes their preferences for future visits, but also, if there had been a problem, allows a work order to be generated automatically before the next visit to ensure that there will be no repeat.  Some systems integrate with GMSs to alert the front desk staff to verify with the guest that any problem was resolved satisfactorily.  Everything possible must be done to ensure that the guest’s checkout and departure leave a good impression. 

Analysis of all this data is highly useful  to identify trends in service efficiency and potential engineering problems in guestrooms. As with everything else, if you can monitor it, you can improve it, and despite the benefits of resolving guest complaints quickly, it’s always better not to have any at all, and so eliminate requests for refunds.  With a subscription pricing model, ROIs can be achieved in just a few months.

Lower Costs
We all know that we could operate more efficiently if we could just get organized.  Fortunately, there are plenty of truly useful tools to help hotels do just that, with proven track records in saving significant amounts of money.

A lean, efficient procurement operation is every property’s goal, keeping minimal inventories on hand but never running out of items and so impacting guest service.  Systems from vendors such as Adaco, RedRock, Moreton Bay, Agilysys Eatec, Agilysys Stratton Warren and others help pay for themselves by helping hotels run a much tighter ship.  Improvements come from managing competitive bids and tighter receiving practices (savings from 2 percent for individual properties to 10 percent in larger chains that can leverage volume), less theft from storerooms and kitchens, minimizing kitchen waste and over-production (1 percent to 3 percent), and reductions of 20 percent in inventory levels due to tighter control of turnover and closer alignment of purchasing with actual needs.

Labor Management
At the top of every manager’s list because staff costs are such a high percentage of operating budgets, labor management tools pay major dividends.  Again, there’s a range of steps available, starting with straightforward analysis of transactions (check-ins, checkouts, POS sales volumes) at 15-minute intervals and paying close attention to catering forecasts for group business. Systems such as those from Unifocus and Heath & Co. automate the process by analyzing business drivers (e.g., how many housekeeping and catering staff are needed for each 5 percent increase in occupancy for each major market segment) and providing clear reports and goals for managers to work toward.

RFID Uniform/Linen/Towel Tracking
This very labor-intensive area was first improved by using bar code labels on uniform garments.  These allowed the tracking of individual items to specific staff members, although each garment had to be scanned individually.  The more recent introduction of UHF-band RFID tags (which can be read in bulk from a distance of several feet) by vendors such as InvoTech and Foundation Logic has meant that it’s now feasible to track linens and towels, too.  These can be tracked automatically simply by scanning a bin as it passes through a doorway, as can uniform garments, doing away with individual item handling. 

Tags can be pre-sewn into items ordered from manufacturers or sewn in to existing stock at the hotel, an admittedly labor-intensive job, but one with which vendors will often help, and which in any case still has a quick payback.  The benefits come from far tighter inventory control, fast reconciliation with cleaning services’ invoices, tracking the number of uses, repairs and cleaning cycles for each item, fewer staff needed to manage issues and returns, and more precise ordering of new garments.

Mobile Technology
It may sound odd to include new tablets or smartphones under cost savings, but their flexibility and attractiveness pay off in several areas.  Tablets placed in guestrooms can replace all the guest information, room service menus and local guides you used to have to pay to print; the information can also be updated instantly and at no cost.  The tablet and smartphone-based guest self-service applications encourage impulse booking and buying, and also reduce the number of staff needed to take orders.  Using tablets as self-service menus and wine lists in restaurants can also both save labor and encourage upselling.

Tablets and smartphones can lead to better use of staff, too.  For example, a mobile app for smart housekeeping scheduling (such as MTech’s REX) can pay for itself through more efficient use of room attendants.  Linked to a GMS, it can dynamically assign staff to priority rooms such as one for an early arriving guest or one from which a guest has just checked out early, without a housekeeping supervisor having to track them down personally.  Savings also come from not wasting time checking DND rooms, nor the time and paper taken in printing forms.

Business Intelligence
We live in a data-driven world, and without good data to work from, our decisions become no more than guesses – or, worse, can be confident steps in the wrong direction.  Business intelligence (BI) systems such as Aptech, Datavision and ProfitSword and, at a higher level, SAS, QlikView and others, excel at consolidating data from multiple systems, normalizing it into a meaningful whole and providing flexible analysis tools to help hotels get the most out of it. 

Savings frequently come from better knowledge of traffic patterns, allowing for smarter staff scheduling, but it’s also easier to see which departments are running more efficiently than others, find out why and spread best practices across the property.  Multiproperty operations gain even more from cross-property comparisons, and posting top five/bottom five reports on various operating parameters can work wonders through peer pressure.

Managing Risk
There are some investments you have to make just to stay in business, to mitigate the risks of legal actions, data loss or of guests staying away from a property that fails to meet their expectations. 

Internet Access
Good Internet access may be the most obvious example; without it, guests will simply stop coming to your property. The type of access you need to provide is driven by your guest mix. Free access in the lobby or other public area is the absolute minimum, but any significant demand can quickly overload that to the point of unusability unless plenty of bandwidth is provided. 

To get sufficient bandwidth many properties buy service from different carriers and technologies: T1 phone lines, DSL, cable or even wireless.  This provides both a good mix of prices and bandwidth, and redundancy in case of a single outage.  Some of the costs of this can be recovered through tiered pricing, with limited free access for email checking and low-level browsing and priced access for faster speeds.  The caveat is that if you decide to charge for access at any level, it must be both reliable and consistently at the speed advertised if guests are not to be discouraged from returning.

Consequently, bandwidth management devices from vendors such as iBAHN, Elfiq and others have become very useful tools.  They not only identify and charge high bandwidth users, but also keep costs down by maximizing the use of all available channels. This includes switching different types of traffic to the most appropriate connections, and re-assigning bandwidth inside the property to high-usage areas at different times of day, such as from guestrooms in the early morning and evening to group meeting rooms during the day.

Mobile Communications with Guests
Catering to guests’ use of smartphones and tablets is another such area.  A small but rapidly growing market segment relies completely on mobile devices for booking, often at the last minute.  If your website is not compatible with mobile browsers you’ll simply be invisible to them, and you must invest in this if your guest mix covers this segment.

Security, PCI, Backups, Outsourcing
Then there are the risk-mitigation areas necessary for the operation to keep functioning.  Although PCI compliance will be an ongoing operational burden, likely always evolving to counter ever-changing threats, remotely hosting credit card transaction software modules helps by reducing compliance requirements on property. 

While necessary, PCI compliance doesn’t cover all aspects of data security, though it does have the merit of focusing attention on them. Making sure that user access is properly managed and that you always have a usable, accessible data backup are risk management measures at their most fundamental, but it’s surprising how often little attention is paid to them.

General Considerations
Guest management systems need to be emphasized as they’re still the key on-premise systems and the consolidation point for all guest interaction data.  Upgrading to a guest management system that provides better integration with other systems and that allows for more flexible ad hoc reporting can lead to more accurate and better-informed management.

One other general approach with a definite ROI is staff training, which is both revenue-generating and a cost savings.  The former comes from ensuring that everyone is using the systems to their best effect and in the most efficient manner.  Online training modules provide a good grounding, but having the vendor’s trainers visit the property on an annual basis pays even greater dividends, as it allows them to suggest alternative ways of operating and using their systems based on best practices they’ve seen with other properties. 

The cost savings come from reduced turnover, through improving staff morale by showing them that they are valued enough to invest in. When they know that they’re appreciated they’re more likely to work well and happily.  It’s always costly to replace staff and no operation can run at proper efficiency until new hires are fully up to speed.  

Finally, this is a good time to invest because it’s never been less expensive.  Vendors are eager to sell and are often prepared to offer attractive payment terms, and interest rates could hardly go any lower.  In particular, more options are now available that reduce or eliminate the need for CapEx funds through subscription-based pricing, both for remotely hosted or cloud systems and, in some cases, for on-premise systems. 

Start with a Map
It’s often tempting to focus on improving individual operational areas and to find technology tools to help each one, not least because the individual steps are easier to grasp, to implement and to afford.  However, while such point solutions do have benefits they also tend to shift operational bottlenecks from one area to another.  It helps tremendously to start with an overall road map for the property, one that defines where it wants to be, operationally, and what systems and architecture it will need to get there.  Individual components can then be implemented within a set framework, knowing that others will fit with them later.

It’s seldom possible to implement this all at once, and knowing where you’re going can make the intermediate steps and work-arounds more tolerable. However, there’s a definite threshold effect in having everything working well in a seamless, integrated fashion; given the above ways in which each system contributes to a property’s success, the sooner it can be done, the better.  When all the pieces of the plan fall into place everything will suddenly click, and the operation will finally run smoothly at its full potential.

Decision Making
Given such a wide range of possibilities that make life easier and generate real financial benefits, why is it so hard for many properties to actually go ahead with even one of them?  Part of the answer is probably mental overload; too much time spent on manual operations or working around the limitations of older systems is exhausting and leaves managers with no capacity to contemplate doing anything else.  As the old saying goes, they’re too busy chopping down the tree to stop and sharpen the axe. 

Taking the first step is the hardest one, but the moment you take it things become easier.  Any small improvement, from introducing a new approach in even one area, buys you a little breathing room to contemplate the next one, and you can build steady and escalating improvement from there. You have to know where you’re going, hence the need for an overall road map, but your team can help identify each quick win area on the way. 

Oddly enough, it turns out that the time of day you start makes a huge difference.  Work by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister makes it clear that the human brain has a finite decision-making capacity. If you’re faced with multiple choices early in the day, anything coming up later feels completely overwhelming and is likely to be dismissed, postponed or decided on an impulse just to make it go away.  The brain truly becomes unable to cope with all the factors involved.

Start first thing in the morning. Get your team together and identify a single, achievable project that fits into the road map and will make a measurable difference in a short time.  Define it clearly in both scope and timeframe, such as send six email blasts in the next three months that generate $50,000 in new revenue, or reduce guest complaints about housekeeping by 50 percent in six months.  Then sell it to the boss, also early in the day, and get things moving.  (I strongly recommend the book “Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard,” by Chip and Dan Heath; it’s both practical and inspirational.)

The range of both problems and ways to solve them is amazing, but don’t feel overwhelmed either at the potential size of the challenge or by the tyranny of choice provided by the many options.  Take a deep breath, start with areas that can show quick wins, keep the goals few and focused, and start. 

Do IT now.

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

©2011 Hospitality Upgrade
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent.
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Knowledge Drives Revenue at the Strand Palace Hotel
Complexity comes in many forms. Revenue managing an 800-room, city center property such as London’s Strand Palace Hotel is challenging. The property has a corporate/leisure market mix that swings from 80/20 during the week to 10/90 at weekends. 

“Forecasting by room type and market segment and then manually applying the appropriate rates and restrictions to our guest management system (Agilysys’ Visual One) had become very complicated and time consuming,” said General Manager David MacRae.   “Looking for a way to automate the whole process, we selected EasyRMS’ SaaS-based system with a VOne interface.

“In the two years after introducing EzRMS, rates are growing at 14 percent with the same occupancy. The weekly revenue meetings have gone from a painful chore to one of the most interesting and well attended meetings in the hotel,” said MacRae.  “Everyone has different needs and requirements, not just the revenue managers and reservations staff but the accountants, front desk and housekeeping too." Every department can see the business on the books and forecast, displayed graphically so that it’s clear to understand. "Insights we’ve gained have guided us to extra revenue in many ways.  For example, seeing that the 40 Club King rooms were returning higher rates than other kings, we added extra amenities to them, charged a £30 premium.  That’s £1,200 extra revenue per night.  Extending this approach to other rooms has raised the whole hotel’s ADR by £2.00.

“Examining nationality and booking patterns on the hotel website showed that Spanish-speaking countries were yielding the largest proportion of business. Consequently, we added a Spanish section to the website; this now returns up to £10,000 of business every month, and at lower cost than the more expensive channels.  We’re also adding a new time and attendance system which will use metrics from EzRMS to help set staffing levels, and are integrating EzRMS with our back of house signage system to help ensure the correct display data.

“The hotel’s financial investment in EzRMS was recouped within two months, but the pay-off for investing in the staff’s better understanding of the business never stops.”

Big Resort, Big Returns at Blue Mountain
Like any highly complex resort, Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario, Canada, had automated most of its operations departments over the years, finding good point solutions in each area but without much cohesion between them.  With multiple inns, hotels, suites, condominiums and houses, plus skiing, golf, tennis, spas, restaurants and many other activities, that added up to many different systems.

The impetus to streamline this came in 2009 when the resort wanted to replace a 26-year-old financial system.  One possible alternative was based on Microsoft’s Dynamics NAV platform, which offered the opportunity to look at Cenium’s NAV-based full property suite.  “The more we looked at it, the more sense it made,” said John Gowers, director of IT.  “It was a very comprehensive system, a full ERP, and in areas where we wanted something a little different there were other NAV modules that could be adapted for our needs.

“With our own, conservative ROI study validated by an outside consultant, we cut over the financials in the summer of 2010, quickly followed by most of the core resort operations.  Overall, we’ve been able to replace 26 different systems with one, integrated application.”

Everything they could do before, they can do now, and more.  “The savings have been dramatic.  It’s eliminated a huge amount of data entry, which is now easier and more accurate.  If a guest wants to book four activities, no longer do we have to key the same guest data into four separate systems and run the risk of no one telling the golf course if the room reservation is cancelled.  The reservations agents have to learn only one system, not four, and we have one complete view of the guest’s profile.

“We used to need two full-time staff to build rates and packages; now it’s a half-day job for one.  Instead of taking days or weeks to re-enter group and conference billing data from multiple systems into one and then re-key that into the financial package, we can present the invoice on completion of their stay.  It’s more accurate and takes fewer staff.  We hire 1,200 employees every season, and their system training time has been cut in half, a major savings.  We use the time now to bring them up to speed in guest service, which has had a further beneficial impact," Gowers said.

“From a technical viewpoint we no longer have to involve multiple vendors when we need an enhancement, or have trouble with interface problems.  While before we didn’t have enough servers to allow for redundancy on any but the core applications, now everything’s covered, on less hardware.
“The whole operation runs much more smoothly and efficiently, and we have absolutely gained more payback than we were looking for,” he said.
Keeping count at the Casino
For security reasons, casinos are known for running tightly controlled operations, detailed player tracking and highly targeted marketing. At the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Ill., that concept extends from back of house to uniform management, too.

Like most casinos, Rivers is a complex place, with seven F&B outlets, each themed differently and each requiring a different uniform.  The company decided from the start to install an RFID tracking system (GIMS from InvoTech) to maximize efficiency, and had its uniform providers deliver the garments with RFID tags already sewn in, saving considerable time. 

“The system is a great timesaver,” said Olga Pellecer, Rivers’ wardrobe supervisor.  “We have nearly 1,300 employees here with 30 different uniform styles, yet we operate very effectively with just four people. Conveyer systems take care of issuing uniforms.  Employees wave their RFID employee cards past the sensor by the access door, and the conveyor automatically delivers the right garment style and size, recording who it was issued to.  Returning soiled uniforms is as simple as dropping them into a hamper; the system automatically detects the individual items and checks them back in for cleaning.”

Equally important is the control gained through accurate data and good reporting. “It’s easy to check cleaners’ invoices against our own records of which garments were sent and what cleaning treatments they needed, and make sure we’re being billed appropriately,” said Pellecer.  “ Re-ordering is much more accurate because we know how often each piece has been worn, repaired and cleaned and exactly what mix of sizes and style our staff needs; we don’t have to estimate.  We don’t lose items, either, because we know where each item is: issued, being repaired, out for cleaning, on the conveyer.  If it does go missing, we know who was last responsible for it – and bill them.”

Receiving new shipments from the cleaners and vendors is also really simple.  “One person can receive 20 boxes with 1,000 pieces in a single operation, cross-reference the system read-out against the invoice and send the garments back to storage.  Without a system like this we’d need two or three people just to count everything manually, which would take far longer and be much less accurate.  I can’t imagine operating without it.”

Fast Returns on Staff Management at Montage
Ask any hotel or restaurant manager what his or her biggest concern is and labor costs will be right near the top.  The Montage Laguna Beach, with 250 rooms and five F&B outlets, is no exception.  The weekly traditional forecasting reports from its guest management and sales and catering systems weren’t detailed or comprehensive enough to be truly effective, so the resort looked for a suitable staff scheduling and labor management system.

Director of Finance Rudy Blanco said, “With a good balance of functionality, ease of use and clear, simple reports, (OnTrack®, from Heath & Co.) has been embraced well at all levels.  Our labor data is more refined and accurate, and it’s easy to dissect what’s happening and respond to it.

 “We found that we were able to manage our staffing levels much more closely, realizing significant productivity improvements that let us provide enhanced guest service as business grows and fluctuates. Forecast accuracy is monitored closely, which lets us staff to the level of business even when that changes rapidly. 

 “We started phased implementation with the system in April (2011), and it’s been tremendously effective for us.  Even in our first full month after complete implementation, we saw significant improvement in wage cost margin year over year, and realized even stronger results in July and August.  We keep a close eye on staffing perfectly to business levels to ensure we are meeting our guests’ service expectations while managing labor costs appropriately," Blanco said.

“The ROI has been remarkable, easily within three to four months, and yet we’re only just scratching the surface of what we can do.”

Analyzing Harmony at Concord Hospitality
If it’s a challenge to get your hotel’s daily flash report together first thing in the morning, try it with 83 properties spread across the United States and Canada, especially when they’re managed under multiple brand flags using different systems.  Manually re-entering the data from faxes and emails into a common worksheet is incredibly tedious and error prone.

That’s the situation Concord Hospitality was dealing with when it purchased Aptech’s suite of applications in 1999.  “We started with the centrally hosted Profitvue financial system,” said Brian Cornell, vice president of information technology, “along with the Web-based Webvue to standardize nightly data entry for those hotels without an interface.  We waited a year until we had accumulated sufficient consistent, meaningful operational data, and then implemented the Execuvue business intelligence system.”

How’s it worked out?  “The consolidation of cross-enterprise reporting and market data has been invaluable,” said Cornell.  “Multiproperty daily reports are available first thing with much greater accuracy than before, and the ability to slice and dice the data helps us keep up with developments.  We’ve seen steadily better ROI as the data and metrics have matured, and are adding new data streams for more insight. Weekly and monthly statistics from Smith Travel Research, labor figures from Kronos, GSS scores for our Marriott-branded properties and others all expand our knowledge and insight.  We have better analysis of our labor costs and more accurate forecast-driven labor scheduling as a result.  You get very concise overviews of information with data from 83 hotels displayed on just two pages, and publishing the top and bottom (performance) properties for a variety of parameters really brings peer pressure to bear!”

It’s always about guest service.  “We’re constantly comparing revenue managers and directors of operations across our brands.  We add in data from twice-yearly associate surveys to measure staff satisfaction, and are comparing that to GSS scores to see if there’s a correlation between staff and guest happiness," said Cornell.

It's a continual process. “There are always new projects," he said.  "New data and new ways to analyze it, and the ROI continues to grow.”

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