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Apollo Wills It!

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October 01, 2012
Michael Schubach - michael.schubach@mac.com

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In a recent overworked metaphor, I dragged the Olympian goddess Athena into a symbolic representation of newly developed software. Now I am going after her brother, Apollo.  (Brother, cousin, uncle or some relation or other, these folks didn’t actually exist in the first place, so let’s not get bogged down in details.) Apollo is most interesting to me for his cred know thyself. Apollo’s watchwords were adapted by Socrates, who crystallized the essence of the thought into his now-famous observation that the unexamined life is not worth living. All that classical stuff said, I think that we hotel folk should take a second look at our technology lives. 

I support this call to examination action based on a conversation I had with an equipment supplier who was very excited to see the interest that the hospitality community was showing in his company's latest generation of self-service equipment. To quote his sales team’s reaction: “We are surprised to see this much interest in self-service platforms from the hospitality industry. We always thought of them as historically touchy-feely.” 

Does the world still think that the hospitality industry is too much in touch with its touchy-feely side? I seriously doubt that – in this case I believe that we’re dealing with urban myth hangover. There was a time – once upon a time – when the dreaded computer terminal was viewed as the sworn enemy of high-touch personalized service. Hoteliers wanted the technology in the back room and the clerk with the caring smile out front at the desk. Hoteliers hated that guest service agents would go heads down over a display rather than meet the guest at eye level. (I think we fixed that problem by installing bigger screens higher up, but let’s not digress.)

As an industry, we finally realize and openly acknowledge that high-speed technology is the handmaiden of high-touch service, and today, with the rising tide of millennials and the ubiquity of personal computing devices, being one with the matrix is not just socially acceptable, it’s ultimately cool. Heads down is now the posture of choice for both sides of the desk. For a growing number of travelers, self service is not only a viable option but actually the way in which they prefer to be served. 

We have no problem with technology adoption – we’re all over it like crazed fashionistas at a half-off shoe sale. Self-service equipment manufacturers and application writers can allay their fears, forget any lingering suspicion of hotelier touchy-feeliness and churn out next-generation products as fast as they can. Hoteliers want shiny somethings for everyone, and that enthusiasm is by no means confined to the IT staff. Point in fact, IT may be the least enthusiastic group in a technology stampede that encompasses virtually every other operating department, all of them feverishly seeking new technology solutions to make their businesses easier and their results more lucrative or satisfying-or lucrative. 

This is the real reason that a re-examination of our technology-based life is due. Wanting, needing or even buying each next new innovation isn’t enough; maintaining and leveraging technology is every bit the challenge that evaluating, acquiring and deploying represents. I am always amazed when I speak with hotel operators who can find the money for yet another snap-on attachment that offers the promise of everyone-wants-this market pull but haven’t-been-able-to-find budget dollars for boring fundamentals like server replacement, software upgrades and staff training. The network chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the information it contains is only as valuable and usable as the input source is reliable. 

Yes, the vendor community has an obligation to keep producing new products and has its own vested interest in keeping the shiny quotient as high as possible. And the hotelier’s willingness to invest in new technology in service to its guests is both smart and admirable.  But the sheer volume of technology options being deployed in some operations is more than capable of overwhelming the advantages that the component pieces offer. We all try to respond to potential sources of income and then we realize that income opportunities can arise from everywhere. We try to be in touch with our guests’ wants and desires and realize that those could be anything and everything. We try to be open to every possibility and we realize that means never being able to exclude any possibility.  We set up to reach out to the entire world and realize that we must be ready to respond accordingly. 

These are not only noble objectives; they are examples of how the game is played today. However, the bigger question they beg is how the game is won today. In the absence of a deliberate strategic plan with specified outcomes for each device and investment, technology can be reduced to nothing more than a lot of stuff of questionable value that may or may not be delivering the promised return on investment. The strategic plan needs to include a realistic assessment of how the hotel views its market and guests, whom it wishes to serve and how it wishes to grow.  Technology must serve those objectives or be retired, and each new project has to compete with other departments and other projects for the limited supply of budget dollars. 

Surrounding one’s operation with some of everything doesn’t support the notion of knowing thyself, really knowing thyself. Your technology array should demonstrate what your business is and tell a story of where it’s going. Unlimited possibilities may sound Olympian but it isn’t very practical. Besides, Apollo didn’t ask you to know thy universe; he, too, functioned on a more realistic plane. From a technology perspective, I think the philosophical statement that makes the most sense is know thyself, make thy plan and remember that the unexamined stuff is not worth buying.*   

(*To give proper credit and make certain that the quotation is accurately cited, that was Socrates, Apollo and me all sort of shoved together at once.)      
Michael Schubach is a regular contributor and can be reached at michael.schubach@mac.com.     

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