Next Generation Property Management Systems

By Tina Stehle Senior Vice President & General Manager, Agilysys Hospitality Solutions Group | May 19, 2010

Thirty years ago many hotels were implementing their first Property Management Systems (PMS). Its main role at the time was to automate processes that had been handled manually. As the PMS has evolved, hotels have utilized these systems' capabilities to increase efficiency and maximize profits. Initially, this was accomplished primarily through interfacing and more recently, via integration and seamless communication. The complexity of our systems has increased and tech-savvy consumers are driving development. So, now that the PMS has evolved beyond merely managing our information, what will the Property Management System of tomorrow look like?

The Web will continue to be a major influence. However, it is the infrastructure of future systems that is the key to best utilizing what the web has to offer. Competition among integration vendors to enable legacy systems to provide web services has created a number of approaches and products that have provided quick ROI to respond to the needs of the marketplace. The term Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) has been used and misused in a number of contexts in order to market products, but with the effect of obscuring its intended use and benefits. SOA plays a part in the evolution of software towards greater flexibility and reusability through its core tenants of separating layers of logic and the execution of service requests. In turn, SOA then enables vendors and customers to more easily adapt to new technologies and new business models. Properly architected, SOA allows the designer of the system faster development and easier modification capabilities.

So what does SOA mean to the user? In theory, it can take the integration idea to a whole new level. When done right, SOA enables systems to request services of other systems without executing program calls. In other words, integration is easier because disparate systems no longer have to have inherent knowledge of other systems in order to interact with them. SOA can also provide opportunities to craft a custom user interface and/or process around data and logic which may reside across multiple systems. Imagine the possibilities if users could assemble the pieces and parts of various systems to craft a process that best fits their business.

Many hotels don't even realize that a great number of their processes evolved into their current state because some system they used over the years mandated transactions be done a certain way. The SOA approach enables the system to be tailored to customers' business processes, not the other way around.

Next-generation property management systems should also question established paradigms and look for new, better ways of doing business. System designers should ask questions like: Why do we need to use all of these cryptic codes? Why shouldn't that particular functionality be a part of a PMS? What if the PMS handled the entire lifecycle of that entity and, therefore, remove the need for properties to have other add-on systems? Should we take a more business-process oriented look at this design?

Legacy systems have tended to take the approach of porting their existing code to new development platforms or changing their user interface from character-based to a GUI, but taking this approach leaves the fundamental designs intact - and those designs in most cases are 20 to 30 years old. The old paradigms are still there. New, from scratch development, offers opportunities to leave those paradigms behind where it makes sense to do so.

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