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Siegel Sez

August 16, 2019

Siegel Sez

by: Rich Siegel

As I go through the year, I often ask myself is this my favorite time of the year? In the spring, we produce our Executive Vendor Summit for the technology leaders from the vendor community, which is quite unique for the industry. Then in June, there is HITEC which is as much social as business. There are numerous events I visit throughout the year and throughout the world which are always fantastic learning experiences. But I as I look back, I seem to always realize that this is my favorite time of the year. Is it because it is summer and Saratoga Race Course in upstate N.Y. is open? Partially, but the real enjoyable part is everything we seem to be doing is related to the upcoming 18th annual Hospitality Upgrade CIO Summit this year held in Boston. The conversations I have with attendees in the weeks leading up to this event are insightful.  There has been a great deal of change in the industry for those in charge of their company’s technology. This year we have attendees coming to Boston from all over including Europe. Having an international attendance always adds to the interesting discussions at the summit. We are thankful that so many tech leaders help us keep our readers aware of current challenges. This year with the help of Mark Haley of the Prism Hospitality Consulting, Geneva and team are focusing on the challenges and trends hotels are facing with connectivity and HSIA. The responses are interesting in that there is no singular thing that seems to be the focus for the industry. I found the responses to the questions around the impact of 5G very intriguing after I spent so much time at CES back in January getting a better understanding of the changes that are coming. Thank you to all those who have participated in our industry survey. We have three days left before we close the industry polling. The results will be shared first during our CIO Summit in a few weeks and a summary will be printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Hospitality Upgrade. If you don’t subscribe, please go to www.hospitalityupgrade.com/subscribe and sign up today for a print or digital version. As if that’s not enough, we promise to have great pictures from the CIO Summit. Attendees will never look at Fenway Park the same way.

It is August, Saratoga is open and our miracle horse Hoboe is scheduled to run on Friday, Aug. 23. We might have been a bit aggressive as to the type of race he is running in but upsets happen sometimes, right? Anybody who plans an annual trip to Saratoga and will be there that weekend, please let me know. Many people from the industry have met Hoboe, and the more the merrier.

Here now is the real reason we are here, Doug Rice’s look at the latest technology happenings that have caught his eye. I will see you at the end with this week’s attempt at you-know-what. Boston here we come!


Definitely Doug

by: Douglas Rice

Laboring to Innovate
Labor has long been the biggest controllable cost in hotels, and for most hotels, housekeeping is the biggest contributor. Labor shortages and minimum wage increases have made this painfully obvious in more and more markets. At the same time, Amadeus reports that 50% of all negative guest feedback is attributed to the readiness and condition of rooms, much of which may be related to housekeeping.
Yet despite this, many housekeeping departments are run very much like they were 50 years ago. To be sure, task sheets that were once prepared by hand each morning may now be produced by the property management system or a housekeeping system and printed. But is that really progress?  
In the last 5-8 years the industry has seen a proliferation of new, cloud-based labor and service optimization tools, many of which have a specific focus on housekeeping. They are designed to minimize the amount of staff labor needed to deliver a given level of guest satisfaction. If there was a common theme around the products that got my attention at HITEC this year, it was that technology is finally starting to achieve some success in addressing these 50-year old issues.
In addition to housekeeping, many of these systems also address work order/guest request management, preventive maintenance, room service, laundry, concierge and other functions. Some of them focus more on optimizing labor, while others try to improve guest service and satisfaction. Many include elements of both.
Service optimization is too broad a topic for one blog, so today I will focus principally on housekeeping technology, because housekeeping exists at every hotel and because there’s a lot of innovation going on.  Future articles will address other aspects of service and labor optimization. The Amadeus report provides a good overview of the state of the art of housekeeping technology. 
Properly implemented (and that’s an important caveat), a housekeeping system can reduce labor costs substantially, while maintaining or improving guest satisfaction. These savings (less the costs of the technology) go straight to the bottom line.  In addition to reducing paid cleaning time (and especially overtime), some of the best ones can also cut training time and improve staff turnover, which are themselves major contributors to total labor costs. They can also lessen the need to pay service recovery costs when rooms are not ready at check-in time, or for rooms that were not properly prepared. Guest satisfaction can be improved by speeding the delivery of rush rooms, by getting staff to report maintenance items before guests discover them, by ensuring rapid response to guest requests, and even by customizing housekeeping activities for specific guests.
Labor cost savings can come from several sources: optimized movement between rooms and floors, less time knocking on doors trying to find a room that’s ready to be cleaned, reduced overtime from better real-time balancing of assignments, more efficient scheduling of inspections, and even less time doing tasks that specific guests may not value. My personal pet peeve is hotels that rearrange all the stuff I leave on my work desk. They pay an extra minute of labor per day, and it seems to have no purpose other than to annoy me! While every guest is different, and maybe this is something you want. I would venture that most of you would say that some portion of the specific tasks a room attendant does in your room each day provides little or no value to the quality of your stay, or may even detract from it. One wasted minute per day per room is half an FTE at a medium sized hotel. How is this smart, when technology can easily enable a room attendant to know what a specific guest doesn’t want them to do?
Preparing for this article, I spoke with seven different vendors: Alice, Amadeus (HotSOS), Knowcross, Nuvola, Optii Solutions, PurpleCloud, and Quore. Each of them offers a housekeeping product, either alone or in combination with other service or operational optimization products.  I asked each to highlight innovative ideas and capabilities they thought I wouldn’t see elsewhere. I won’t pick a best, since one innovative idea doesn’t necessarily make a product great. And as always, these aren’t recommendations to buy, only suggestions to explore; due diligence is always appropriate!
Most housekeeping products now provide a mobile app that room attendants use to update room status and view their assignments. The better apps work on both iOS and Android, and can be used on personal devices while protecting sensitive information. One (Knowcross) was in the process of launching support for its first wearable device.
While all of these vendors offer mobile support, there were big differences in how it was used to modernize the operational process. You could measure this on a scale ranging from “viewing a paper task sheet on a mobile device” at one end, to “fully automated and optimized dispatch of staff to their next task only when they are ready to start it.”  A few vendors noted that task sheets are anachronistic in an era when all staff are carrying mobile devices and the needs are changing from minute to minute. Rather, the task sheet should be dynamic, viewed in real time on a phone or other mobile device, and be ready to change the next scheduled task for any room attendant at any time. Most of the products I saw reflected this thinking, but with significantly varying degrees of maturity.
The greatest variation was in how housekeeping assignments are managed. Some of the systems did little more than lay out a fixed task sheet at the start of the day, but then allowed supervisors to manually change assignments when needed.  Others can integrate with occupancy detection and room status lights (MUR-Make Up Room or DND-Do Not Disturb) to make intelligent guesses as to when a room can be made up without disturbing the guest. Alice’s new housekeeping module even integrates with the concierge system to know when guests have a dinner or show reservation, so turndown service can be scheduled appropriately.
Optii Solutions, true to its name, takes optimization to the highest level, applying patented big data analysis to manage expected cleaning times and other room attendant activities. We all know intuitively that a standard double-double checkout may be a 20-minute cleaning task if it’s been occupied by a lone business traveler attending a conference, or an hour if a family of four has been on vacation for a week. Yet Optii was alone in considering this difference systematically (they said it causes more variation in cleaning time than does room type, which is what most systems use). Optii looks at factors including the number of guests, day of week, and market codes, along with room type and checkout vs. stayover, to predict cleaning times per room based on actual data from that hotel. It then optimizes the cleaning sequence based on measured travel time between rooms, restocking time, work rules, breaks, and the like. Since room attendants check in and out of each room on the app, Optii can track the exact cleaning time so it can learn each hotel’s patterns over time, and also so it can track the time a room attendant spends NOT cleaning, which may highlight the need for closer monitoring or coaching. Optii found that in a single hotel there may be a variation in the percentage of time room attendants spend inside rooms from 65% to 85%, which at the low end can point to a lot of wasted cost. Optii can also respond with instantly to a changed arrival ETA from the PMS, to a change in DND or MUR status initiated by a guest, or to a room attendant taking more or less time than expected to clean a guest room.
Many of the systems, with varying degrees of manual intervention, automate the reprioritization and reassignment of rooms, for example assigning early-arriving room attendants to rooms with early check-out guests, reassigning an attendant whose remaining assigned rooms are all in DND status, or reprioritizing the room of an elite member who shows up early. A key difference among systems is how rooms are reprioritized, for example some systems prioritize any VIP room, while others look at other factors such as the ETA, since there is no benefit to having a room ready at noon for a VIP guest not arriving until mid-evening.
Knowcross has a feature to help hotels detect departures, which is important since many guests leave without actually checking out. An app feature enables any staff member who sees a guest leaving the hotel with luggage to verify departure and ask the room number. By reporting it via the app, they enable higher utilization of room attendants, especially early in the day when it is too early to start knocking on doors. How aggressively staff will capture this information will depend on factors such as training and incentives.
Several of the companies talked about the challenges of getting room attendants (and even supervisors) to use the system. The two big issues here are training (often of a workforce with limited literacy) and motivation. Several of the products now include embedded training materials, which may include text, documents, videos, or even formal courses; standard operating procedures may be set up as checklists, which a new employee can be required to check off (and perhaps even document with a picture) each step; contextual training materials are right at hand for unfamiliar tasks.
PurpleCloud was the clear innovator for motivation; among other things it is a gamification platform that incentivizes room attendants to do things that benefit the hotel or the guest (including just allowing themselves to be tracked, which union contracts may otherwise prohibit). Aside from earning game points for speed and quality, room attendants can earn extra credit by volunteering to take a rush room, by opening work orders for broken or malfunctioning equipment, by servicing timed requests at the right time, and other tasks. Rewards for top scores may include shift preference for weekends off, gift cards, or other low-cost items. Team competitions are also used, and can provide a sense of belonging for housekeepers who toil alone behind closed doors all day. I will be fascinated to look at longer-term staff retention rates once this product has been in the field a bit longer; the concept could be, uh, a game-changer. (See the “Piqued Our Interest” Section below for more on gamification.)
There were notable differences in what the systems did for housekeeping supervisors. Since most hotels can’t reduce the number of supervisors, the question becomes whether their time can be better spent on other tasks. Some vendors ignored this issue, and I saw a correlation between those that did and those that reported that supervisors resisted automation (presumably due to job security concerns). Others aggressively redirected supervisors toward higher-value activities like more room inspections (especially of rooms cleaned by less experienced room attendants) and coaching, which I would expect to reduce resistance to adopting the technology. PurpleCloud creates real-time task sheets for supervisors and ties the inspections to their gamification, reinforcing the importance of managing people rather than spending time on scheduling activities that can be automated. Knowcross uses analytics to determine how often each room attendant should be inspected; this should be more reliable than simply designating senior room attendants as “self-checkers” who don’t need inspections at all. Optii also manages supervisors, budgeting their time, scheduling inspections, and evaluating their performance.
Language is often a barrier to technology adoption in a workforce that may be dominated by immigrants with limited command of the local language. Most of the solutions allow the staff member to customize the app to their preferred language, and to see any embedded training materials consistent with this. PurpleCloud went one step further, providing automated voice-to-text and translation of freeform text (such as maintenance requests submitted by a room attendant), meaning a room attendant could speak the maintenance request in their own language, but the engineering staff will see it in text form in theirs.
Many of the vendors talked about the complexity and context-sensitive nature of housekeeping assignments, and the challenges of automating them. Indeed, there are many factors that need to be considered in deciding which room attendants can be assigned to which rooms: their skill and experience levels, their inspection ratings, their current location, whether they are due for a break, the importance of the guest, the urgency of getting the room serviced, and other considerations. Some of the vendors took this as a reason why automated scheduling was too difficult and therefore shouldn’t be implemented. Others, notably Optii and PurpleCloud, saw it simply as a problem that could and should be automated. But to be sure, a sophisticated system that faces resistance from key staff may end up being an expensive mistake, so it is critical to ensure buy-in especially from the housekeeping supervisors.
There were significant variations in the way housekeeping solutions were packaged: most are part of product suites that include things like guest messaging (or apps), staff messaging, guest request, work order/task management, preventive maintenance, consumables inventory, minibar consumption, concierge, room service delivery, package storage and delivery, lost and found, and valet parking.  Many of the features found in housekeeping software can be leveraged across these other systems, since they often have the common element of having a staff member perform a scheduled or ad hoc task that should result in a guest having a positive experience. Alice takes this the furthest; while its housekeeping system is just being released, it is fully integrated with other modules, which are communicating with the guest throughout their journey and know everything the guest has booked or requested. Regardless of source, it can task the appropriate staff to make it happen, track that it actually does happen in a timely way, escalate it if it doesn’t, and communicate the status to the guest throughout. Many of the other systems take a similar approach but over a more limited set of activities. The greater the integration, the better a system can balance competing tasks that are often both proactive (clean this room so it will be ready at check-in time) and reactive (respond to this urgent guest or management request). Of course, much can be achieved with interfaces as well, but the list of interfaces that are relevant to housekeeping can be very long.
Nuvola does a nice job of packaging core components (housekeeping, work order management, messaging) in a multiproperty solution with rich analytics and a closed-loop process for completing tasks and (where relevant) informing the guest or other staff of the fact. Nuvola also offers a guest-facing app that can be white-labeled as the hotel’s own, enabling guests to initiate requests and even schedule them for a future time. The analytics enable a hotel to easily focus on issues that are occurring too often, such as recurring maintenance tasks that may indicate specific poor-quality parts or materials.
While many of the products target higher-end hotels, Quore was notable for providing core functionality at a price that is attractive to 2- and 3-star hotels, and integration with preventive maintenance, recurring tasks, work orders, and inventory. While younger than many companies (founded in 2012), it already has nearly 4000 customers. Quore also emphasizes multiproperty configuration and reporting.
What are your thoughts on service optimization software? Are there other companies that should be on readers’ radar? Please let me know!
Douglas Rice
Email: douglas.rice@hosptech.net
Twitter: @dougrice
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ricedouglas/


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For more information on People On The Move for 8/16/2019


- Maestro PMS Upcoming Users’ Conference Draws Record Attendance for Education Workshops, One-on-One Labs, Innovation Roadmap and Networking
Maestro announced its 2019 Users Conference will have record attendance and a stellar event lineup. This year’s conference, themed “Building Tomorrow Together,” features four days of education sessions, 1-on-1 training labs, the latest hotel software product and service innovation announcements, loads of networking opportunities at the all-inclusive events.

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- INTELITY to Attend the Hotel360 Expo in London 
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For more information on Guest Services for 8/16/2019


- Hyatt Relaunches its Loyalty App with More Personalization
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- CallTek Answers the Call for Nationwide White Label Managed Field Service
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- INTELITY and Silverware Partner to Fully Automate Food & Beverage in Hospitality
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- TraknProtect Partners with Illinois Hospitality as Safety Button Legislation Passes for Statewide Adoption
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- Rainmaker, a Cendyn company, has VP Lead Session on Measuring the Success of Group Business at Hotel Data Conference
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- Choice Hotels Vendor Reportedly Leaks 700,000 Guest Records
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For more information on Piqued Our Interest for 8/16/2019


And now for you-know-what.…  

An elderly couple went to breakfast at a restaurant where the Senior Special was two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast for $1.99. 

"My, that sounds good," the woman said. "But I don't want the eggs." 

"Then I'll have to charge you two dollars and forty-nine cents because you're ordering a la carte," the waitress warned her. 

"You mean I'd have to pay more for NOT taking the eggs?" she asked incredulously. 

"Yep," stated the waitress. 

"I'll take the special," she replied.

"How do you want your eggs?" 

"Raw and in the shell," she exclaimed. 

She took the two eggs home.

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