20/20 Vision

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20/20 Vision

By Lisa Terry • Contributing Editor - 11/01/2006
Enterprise management system (EMS): (n.) a centrally-hosted application used to effectively use and administer a company's IT assets.

For the hospitality operator, enterprise management has often taken the form of a property management system. However, new, 21-century generations of centrally-hosted, true enterprise management applications offer even more cohesion and visibility into multiple aspects of the business. Since hospitality organizations often comprise multiple locations, EMS systems are invaluable for keeping every facet tied into a cohesive whole.

Managing assets
For Concord Hospitality Enterprises Co., a hotel acquirer, developer and management company headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., the transition from distributed to centralized systems was gradual, but deliberate. Concord's current portfolio of 45 properties across North America includes several Marriot, Hilton and Radisson branded properties, among others. The company's diverse mix now benefits greatly from the ability to remotely monitor and centrally manage properties and applications.

"We try to push our investment in IT asset management to maximize productivity and uptime and minimize IT staff and overhead, and decrease the likelihood of technology breakdown," says Brian Cornell, Concord's vice president of IT.

Concord's Internet-distributed enterprise system came about when the company implemented Webvue, an Internet-enabled data collection and reporting application from Aptech (aptech.com). "We saw that was a direction we wanted to take," notes Cornell. As broadband costs declined, and speed, Web and Virtual Private Network (VPN) quality improved, Concord's system expanded to include Aptech's Profitvue and Execuvue, a Cognos (cognos.com) business intelligence application, document management and an asset and patch management system.

Concord serves many applications remotely over networks from a centrally managed operations center, which provides a number of advantages, Cornell says. For one, IT staff can provide high availability of applications because they are maintained, backed up, repaired and updated locally. In addition, costly IT at each location is kept to a minimum.

"We're able to turn on remote sites quickly because there's not an abundance of technology to install," says Cornell. Remote access also opens up a more robust application set than smaller sites could afford individually, he adds.

Concord chose to outsource mission critical payroll hosting to gain increased redundancy. But as the robustness and security of its network increases, the company plans to transfer more applications to the Web, such as local area network (LAN) integration with its franchisees' property management systems (PMS). "In three to five years we will start seeing a push for those companies to host less and less," says Cornell. Next up are electronic payment, centralized time and attendance and labor management. Careful ISP (Internet service provider) selection has been essential to Concord's success, he informs.

Transformative effect
Centralizing applications had a profound effect for the 23 U.S.-based stores of Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery-café concept headquartered in Brussels.

Prior to implementing its enterprise management solution, the restaurant used Peachtree accounting and specialty production inventory software for an overall solution that was "in the stone age," according to Michael Castagnetti, Le Pain Quotidien's director of IT. "We would fax daily orders to the production center, all based on our gut feeling," he recalls. Processes included double or triple manual data entry into separate programs. Annual price adjustments on 30 to 40 items took a week to implement.

Le Pain Quotidien implemented Compeat (compeat.com) and a Micros (micros.com) enterprise management system. Remote sites access the applications via a VPN. Though Le Pain Quotidien implemented over the course of two years, the company saw quick benefits: data entered in one place is automatically reconciled elsewhere. The company now saves a week closing the books and sales are reported daily or sometimes hourly versus once a week. Le Pain Quotidien also measures table turns -- something the chain wants to extend, contrary to typical restaurant practices, due to its relaxed atmosphere and communal tables.

"It's helped with management decisions," apprises Castagnetti, such as scheduling staff by day-part according to each location's traffic, and providing regional managers with insight into operations issues. "We would not be where we are today without this as a tool," he notes. Le Pain Quotidien also uses the infrastructure to remotely support POS systems, dropping service contracts.

"The biggest impact is, it's allowed us to grow in a much more structured and faster way," says Castagnetti, since there is little technology to install locally. "It allows us to make decisions faster and more accurately," he adds.

Making service gains
When locations are remote, laying the required infrastructure can be a challenge. But making that happen has allowed Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts' 15 upscale properties -- some of them quite secluded -- to centralize customer relationship management, reporting, and Hyperion (hyperion.com) finance and budgeting.

The enterprise management system enables central reservations, e-marketing, guest history, and more, rolling data up into a central database for slicing and dicing by properties. "Our goal is to create a consistent level of service without commoditizing," says Fred Crespo, corporate director of technology for Rosewood. "Before, properties had never been able to benefit from another property's data." In addition to boosting customer service, properties can see how they compare to other Rosewood properties and competitors.

Collecting sales, RevPAR (revenue per room), yield management and other data to a central hub for daily reporting requires integration with disparate PMS, POS, sales and other systems, as well as with the backoffice Epicor accounting system (epi cor.com). The resulting key performance indicators are available via dashboard.

Going forward, Rosewood will move centralized sales and catering and campaign management applications to the network to better manage and track performance, continuing its migration to centralized systems as critical systems become Web-enabled.

The trend toward Web-enabling and centralizing applications "changes IT's role," says Crespo. "It's gone from making sure that transactions run on time to a more consultative role. No one understands the business processes better than IT."

Administrative dream
Valenti Management, the Tampa-based operator of 175 Chili's and Wendy's locations, started down the Web-enabled, centralized network path before there were many applications architected to accommodate it. Director of IT Pachy Torresola and his five-member staff deployed an inventory control system from Altametrics (eresta urantservices.com) and created their own labor scheduling and reporting applications, with a human resources database system underway. "By building in-house we're able to tie all systems together," and offer a similar look and feel, says Torresola.

The approach has had a dramatic effect. "The administrative time cut was immense," informs Torresola, going from 75 percent to 5 percent of IT's time spent administering individual systems. Automation of reporting also frees up time for IT. "We're able to maintain 175 sites and four remote offices with a staff of six." Updates are available instantly and patch and version management is greatly simplified.

Sharing sales data with all stores gives managers a big-picture view into the business. "It enables them to act as business people, not just managers," highlights Torresola. Centrally hosting and integrating inventory and accounting also helps Valenti manage contract pricing, and saving significant dollars by catching discrepancies.