Big Data and Advanced Technologies: What Role for Frontline Staff?
By Adria Levtchenko CEO & Co-Founder, PurpleCloud Technologies | December 23, 2018
Call it a sign of maturation mixed with puzzlement. We are morphing quickly along a seemingly inevitable path from the Information Age to a Big Data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) one. As we do, more and more observers are expressing concern over how entities of all sizes will manage the incredible amounts and constant stream of data that are now made available to us - as frontline operators; as property and asset managers; as human resources and other administrators; and as owners and investors.
Privacy and security issues, aside, will we just drown in all this data? Will we over-analyze and under-achieve? Just how far must we go in keeping up with our competitors? The progression has been so swift, there's almost a feeling that we could fall right off some lofty data cliff if we aren't careful.
Clearly, many key hospitality executives, from an organization's IT administrator or revenue manager to financial analysts, are and will be excellent stewards of modern data and some of the advanced technologies and analyses that they fuel.
But what about the hotel front desk personnel, the concierge, maintenance personnel, a housekeeper, or a cook or a waiter in the restaurant? What is the technology "role" for our frontline staff as we move forward? How might the advance of technology impact hiring and training, job efficiency or job satisfaction? How can we best incorporate the entire hospitality team in what can be some exciting times and possibilities for our use of technology?
In this article, we will explore some of these issues and consider some guidelines for "confronting" data and technology in ways that make us more, not less, efficient; that don't pit the tech savvy against those less so; that enlighten, rather than confuse.
Operations. Keep it Practical
It is critical to make sure that the hospitality organization is kept broadly informed about what it is working in the technology sphere -and why.Then, it must further share selected data with frontline staff, so that they are part of the movement and the progress of what is being attempted and accomplished. Moreover, good honest communication will help quell, as appropriate, worries about what tech skills will be required going forward as part of job descriptions and performance evaluations or how increasing use of technology might impact staffing levels.
Examples of sharing "data" with staff might include reporting on trends for an individual or group of properties with respect to group sales, savings realized and percent increase in direct bookings upon investment in a new reservation system, reduced downtimes through a new maintenance protocol, improved times to clean or percent inspections passed as A+ in housekeeping, or comparative rankings in guest surveys. Presented well, clearly and without unreasonable expectations or strings attached, following the "numbers" can be fun for everyone involved.
When it comes to employing technology in specific, assigned duties, it may be helpful to consider the semantics of data versus information. Data is the raw material collected by our intelligence systems. Time and temperature reported for our climate control, numbers of guests each day, LIBOR interest rates, visitor counts to our host city, percent commission paid to an OTA to secure a given reservation or number of guest requests on given days are all examples of data.
Information is when we take raw data, apply a formatting, analysis, or operation to it, and use this to direct our activities or as a base for decisions. Making practical use of this information helps to keep things simple.
The presentation format for this information has increasingly utilized hotel task and team optimization software platforms. These systems generally have web and cloud-based interfaces integrated into tablet or smart phone devices. Most hospitality organizations have embraced these systems to varying extents, and their use will only grow in the months and years ahead. It's time to throw away the clipboards, sticky notes and hand-held walkie-talkies.
Design principles for these platforms include using quick to grasp presentation formats like icons or color-coding, and following time-tested "need to know" guidelines. Some of today's hotel team and task optimization platforms can also interface with a "two-way" language translation service like Google translate to improve communications and ease of use. This is especially useful in the hospitality industry as it employs many individuals in front line positions for whom English is not their first or native language.
Thus, while front desk personnel and managers will generally have access to all aspects of operations through task platforms and their dashboards, other disciplines only should see what they need for the task at hand: engineering has access to work orders; housekeepers their daily schedule and pending requests; or front desk and concierges a list of guest requests or "reminders" from the property's managers.
The next level is to set these tasks, as applicable, against benchmarks or scheduling updates. As an example, housekeepers might be shown the expected time to clean a given room. As the day goes on, the housekeeper would see a full listing of room completions and actual time versus projected time for each room. The system would also display pertinent updates, such as when guests with early sign-in privileges, i.e. a flight crew, are arriving, cancellations and changes in assigned rooms, or when another housekeeper needs assistance to stay on schedule.
Similar approaches apply to all hospitality teams whose tasks can be optimized through access to relevant, accurate and timely information, including engineering, security, front desk personnel, a concierge or on-property specialists. The latter could include dining and lounge staff, fitness trainer or business center monitor.
At a higher organizational level, on-site managers or corporate staff can access the bigger picture, seeing all the moving parts involved in completing, for example, a guest request. Moreover, in the future, hotel task optimization platforms will interface increasingly with guest facing systems and enhance our "touch points" with guests.
Staff Management and Evaluation
Our mastery of data also extends to staff hiring, training and evaluation. Once again, we will see increasing integration between team task platforms and an organization's human resources and other administrative functions. This is in the name of cost-savings and efficiencies for the implementation, startup training and ongoing use of investments in technology systems and their Big Data capabilities.
For example, hotel task platforms can be designed so newly hired staff can access and progress through mandated orientation and entry-level training, including for specific job descriptions. Progress is charted by the system. Once the team member has achieved mandated proficiency, the "training wheels" can come off. Moreover, the system can be programmed to issue refresher training as prompted by ongoing real-time performance. The same systems can also integrate with brand standards training and a multitude of human resources and career development programs.
This interaction between stored data, which itself is always being updated and verified, against the real-time input by both on-the-job and supervisory personnel is at the heart of impact and power of Big Data for entities in the hospitality arena. The subject of benchmarking is an exciting one in itself, which is left to future articles.
Not So Fringe Benefits
The next step, the logical progression from what has already been discussed, is to incorporate not just learning systems, but, also, staff motivation and reward systems into our technology platforms.
These can take many forms. For example, a housekeeper, building engineer or night auditor might earn real-time positive feedback for a job well done by way of a congratulations alert on her or his handheld device. Lagging behind? Maybe, a gentle reminder will help spur improvement.
Our systems collect and integrate the data from task completions and over time the system can generate a Leader Board; think of those golf or tennis tournaments. Pick your parameter: most tasks completed in a given time span; best average time to completion; fewest guest issues and so on. Once an individual has reached a certain number of credits for task achievements, staff will be able to claim prizes like a gift card or a modest vacation.
Building rewards into our tasks, made possible by advanced data collection, has many similarities to guest loyalty programs, which are becoming increasingly valuable from a strategic standpoint. Building points towards redemptions some time off in the future has value, but we also recognize that people crave immediate rewards.
It is only natural for people to want to know how they are doing compared to others. These approaches can enhance the work experience, mindful of keeping the competition friendly. Of course, we have the power to embrace the definition of "friendly" as we choose.
This discussion has highlighted that as the hospitality industry's immersion into the world of Big Data continues apace, we will continue to find new ways to take advantage of the power of information.
These uses range from brass tacks physical plant operation or asset and property management to employee onboarding, training and evaluation; from hotel task optimization platforms and ways to both monitor and reward staff performance to new modes of interacting with guests. Moreover, as discussed, we can actively involve frontline staff in this journey - to make their tasks less stressful; to at the same time add an element of fun to the work environment; and, most importantly, devise ways so that staff can see that they have "a voice in the data."
Eventually, these achievements become great recruiting tools in today's intense competition for staff. Competence and confidence are great motivators. At the end of the day, who doesn't want to work for an organization that is progressive and on the cutting edge of the modern hospitality industry?
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