Next Generation Technology: Trendy term or actual practice?

By Drew Rosser VP of Business Development, Whiteboard Labs | May 06, 2012

Next Generation, Next Gen., NG, how ever you say it, it is suppose to convey something state of the art, something new, cutting edge. Really? Or is it more or less the new marketing lingo used to lure clients in? I tend to believe the latter. Every industry does this and the hospitality industry is no exception. How many times do we hear, state of the art, space age technology, construction grade? These are just marketing terms used to sell products. So with that being said just do your due diligence when evaluating a technology decision.

I can't tell you how many HEDNA Conferences or HiTEC Shows I've been to where these terms are being thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras. As always, the proof is in the pudding. Let's step back a bit and start from the beginning. As a hotelier, Management Company, Franchisee...when shopping for technology you need to have a clear understanding of what your current needs are and what they will be in the next few years. Don't buy into something that will only satisfy your short term needs. You need to be looking at what your needs will be in six, twelve, twenty-four and thirty six months. Especially, when looking to make large hardware and or client side software purchases. How will the technology impact your business? Will it improve your business flow, reduce or eliminate costs, give you better analytics, increase revenue, is it scalable?

I for one am not very fond of the use of the term, "Next Generation". I don't know about you but if it takes an entire generation for a firm to enhance their offering I think I would be looking elsewhere. The one industry that I think gives the term merit is United States National Airspace System or NAS and their massive re-engineering of the air traffic control system from a ground based system to a satellite based system. Now I know "generation" especially how it is used with technology denotes a natural progression or advancement in that technology. But Next Generation should define what is coming next, what you are currently developing not what your current offering is. Something by definition cannot be "Next" if it is your current offer. Call it what you want but I'd rather base my decision on what something does, what I need it to do and how it impacts or improves my business flow. Not by the name. The technology sector for our industry needs to be more nimble and able to adapt rather than asking hotels to adapt to us. Our industry's technology needs to be innovative - constantly pursuing new ideas and ways of doing things. Not only does this mean with how the technology performs and feature sets but also the way this industry thinks about standard operating procedures across the various platforms that tie hotels to their client base. In some cases certain technology platforms must adhere to old business protocols that just slow everyone down and cause the true innovators to dummy down their offering due to the slow monolithic standards that are in place. Now there have been huge improvements over the last ten years but work still needs to be done.

Since we have the marketing phrase defined, let's take at look at where we are and what this next generation will look like. Single image inventory is no longer considered next generational technology. It's mandatory. Where improvements have come is in communication across distribution platforms, CRS, CRO, RMS, CRM and PMS integration and interfaces. Web based e-procurement solutions that consolidate purchasing into a single platform. Fewer hotel personnel are doing more than ever before. The speed in which we can access information and the sheer amount of data that is there is overwhelming. Data that in many cases is stored in various silos and not being shared across departments. This is where the rubber meets the road. How to combine data sources, analyze, react and or implement strategies is the key. Cross department utilization of the data is very important. Each area using collected stats from the other to improve communication with consumers so it is relevant and timely.

I certainly do not think that more data is what this industry needs. As I said, what we need is a more efficient way to handle the data. Then be able to put that data to work. This is also true for the consumer. The consumer now more than ever is making-buying decisions based on the information being collected from other consumers. Social networking is here to stay. Our industry is jumping in with both feet but it is still so new that I'm not real sure we really know how to work with it. What I see a lot of is participation but very little utilization. It will mature without a doubt. The cream will rise to the top.

Certainly, we cannot talk about next generation and not mention mobile devices and the potential they hold. Like the Internet ten years ago the use of mobile devices for making purchases is just in it's infancy in the US and Europe. The improvements of the browsing functionality of these devices coupled with faster download speed puts mobile into a place where it could actually move from Next Generation intrigue to actual practical use. We are just now starting to see what lies ahead in this arena.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.