3 Mission-Critical Network Characteristics

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By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor - 10/12/2018

Today’s empowered consumers expect connected experiences wherever they go — connectivity for their own devices and access to real-time, personalized services that others deliver to them via robust wireless connections. That is why a fast, secure and powerful network has quickly become mission-critical for restaurants, hotels and other hospitality organizations.

While the need for speed and security is widely acknowledged, the more nebulous concept is what it truly means for a network to be powerful. A powerful network is one that enables operators the freedom to be innovative and technology-forward, without concern for technical limitations.

A robust network has become table stakes in hospitality and influences guest behavior. According to the Boston Retail Partner (BRP) 2018 Restaurant Research Report, 63% of Gen-Z consumers and 57% Gen-X rate guest WiFi as an important factor in determining where they want to eat. Hospitality Technology’s 2018 Customer Engagement Technology Study reveals that 85% of consumers are influenced to book a hotel if it offers free WiFi, and that more than half of hotel customers expect to be able to use WiFi to request service (53%), access mobile check-in/out (53%), schedule wake-up calls (55%) and control the guestroom (55%).

Unfortunately, many hospitality organizations are challenged to keep up with burgeoning consumer demands due to the limitations of current network architecture. Networks require a great deal of care and handling to enable the types of services guests expect, and restrain them from testing emerging capabilities like augmented/virtual reality that will set them apart and attract guests.

Deficient networks are a frequent cause for complaints across the industry and often result in lower guest satisfaction for visitors at restaurants, hotels and other hospitality organizations. There is also the possibility of lost business from those who hear about inadequate WiFi in peer reviews and never book or visit in the first place. The need to keep guest and operational data flowing across secure networks is also well-established. Steadily increasing security and privacy requirements, as well as continual innovation by hackers, are forcing hospitality organizations to devote a growing portion of IT budgets to ensuring active, expert management of network security.

The Role of Power
Network power often gets less attention than speed and security. According to the BRP 2018 Restaurant Research Report, 80% of restaurants believe they have adequate bandwidth available, but more than half (52%) admit they are inefficient at managing peak traffic. In addition, while 70% say it is easy to find additional capacity, 55% find it cost prohibitive to add that capacity.

A powerful network enables hospitality operators to stop focusing resources on squeezing more performance out of limited networks and to instead devote those resources to innovating with newfound capabilities. It does so through capabilities such as:

Software-Defined Wide-Area Networking (SD-WAN): Hardware-based networks require use of multiple network devices with defined capacity, which require active maintenance and management. SD-WAN reduces complexity, as well as integration and management tasks, by consolidating these into virtualized network services. That enables the organization to manage multiple networks centrally through the cloud, so operators can see what is happening across the business at any time. Instead of dispatching a team of people to physically interact with hardware in the field to troubleshoot and restore service, a single person or handful of tech support team members can quickly assess and address issues in a central location.

It also opens up new capabilities to collect, analyze and act on data in real time. SD-WAN works smarter and harder to generate the insights operators need to be flexible, agile and responsive to evolving guest needs.

Café Rio (www.caferio.com) uses SD-WAN to overcome network performance limitations that were impeding its ability to achieve omni-channel capabilities. With a VeloCloud (www.velocloud.com) SD-WAN in place, the fast casual chain can now offer a mobile app and online ordering without downtime, fast and easy in-store kiosks for self-ordering, line-buster tablets for queue management, and guest WiFi. They also tap the network for manager reporting tablets, phone calls without lag time, on-boarding and training new employees and providing access to corporate recipes by line chefs. Devices are all centrally managed via the cloud.

Generous Capacity: A robust network offers plenty of affordable bandwidth that frees hospitality operators from needing to throttle their network as needs fluctuate. Modern networking options provide more bandwidth at lower costs than hardware-based networks.

After installing 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) Ethernet Dedicated Internet from Comcast (https://business.comcast.com) across the hotel and conference center and 50 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) Business Class Internet at its golf course, Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center (www.normandyfarm.com) and Blue Bell Country Club  (www.bluebellcc.com) — both of which are owned by Hansen Properties — can now redirect network management resources to innovation. One new area of focus is virtual reality tours for potential meeting clients.

“It allows me to focus on some of the more important day-to-day aspects of the job rather than monitoring the network to make sure we are functioning properly,” says Stephen Ferraguti, director of IT, Hansen Properties. 

In fact, the vendor often spots and resolves many issues before Ferraguti is even aware of them.

Cloud Enablement: A powerful network enables hospitality operators to move more functionality to the cloud. This enables not only typical cloud benefits like predictable monthly costs and lower maintenance burden, but also the ability to add new services like real-time analytics to support personalized guest experiences that enhance engagement, incremental revenue and repeat visits. Managing inventory, guest data, guest location data, reservations, scheduling and so on in the cloud enables properties to maintain a single, real-time version of the truth to support streamlined operations and anywhere-access to needed data on demand.

Transforming Power into Bottom-Line Benefits
The ROI from investing in a powerful network is compelling. The BRP report also found that a restaurant operator with $500 million in annual revenue stands to gain about $100 million by delivering the digital dining experience guests expect. 

According to BRP, “Building the digital dining experience pays off in a variety of ways. It helps to win over customers from competitors, and grow existing customer spend by about 20%.”

Orchard Hotel (www.theorchardgardenhotel.com) and Orchard Garden Hotel (www.theorchardgardenhotel.com) in San Francisco used its network’s newfound power to eliminate guest complaints about internet connectivity, while also adding upgraded capabilities like voice-activated entertainment system controls and ordering of room service and housekeeping via voice, as well as guest access to their own streaming subscriptions, via a solution from Hotel Internet Services (HIS) (www.hotelwifi.com).

As San Francisco’s first new hotel in years, Hotel Via (www.hotelviasf.com) prioritized a robust network to attract tech-savvy travelers. Tapping a Passive Optical LAN (POL)-based Ethernet solution with a 5 Gbps service from Comcast Business, the property can offer a customized mobile concierge app; the ability to use a mobile phone as a room key; a 7-inch personal tablet for access to guest services, promotions and entertainment; and a guest messaging system to communicate directly to staff. 

“‘The way to your destination’ is the inspiration behind Hotel VIA, which requires us to not only meet the aesthetics of the South Beach neighborhood, but also make connectivity a top priority,” says Barbara Perzigian, general manager, Hotel VIA. “In turn, we needed a partner like Comcast Business that we could rely on to bring not only the comforts of home to our guests, but to support a range of new applications unmatched in the South Beach neighborhood.”

A powerful network also enables operational innovation. More properties are equipping staff with mobile technologies — even wearables, such as at Viceroy’s L’Ermitage Beverly Hills — to enable them to receive tasks, streamline communication and be more responsive to guests. Hospitality brands are increasingly leveraging AR/VR to offer training, virtual tours and entertainment experiences. Competing for meeting and conference business requires offering reliable, robust bandwidth as well as a large array of technologies including digital signage, video conferencing, video walls and advanced audio as well as access to off-premise content.

Newer technologies require not just speed and security, but the power of a well managed, flexible network capable of delivering what is needed without hands-on management and reconfiguration. Meeting organizers or impatient guests do not want to hear an ETA on a network repair; they want the services they anticipated on demand. By upgrading to a network that offers speed, security and powerful features, hospitality organizations ensure they not only keep up with consumer demand, but also exceed expectations.

Donna Cobb, executive director, enterprise marketing, Comcast Business

What does it mean to have a “powerful” hospitality network?

DONNA COBB: For too long technology has only powered the back of house: a reservation system, point of sale — things that, while they are important, don’t really impact guest experience. Without a powerful network, hotels and restaurants are constrained in their ability to innovate.

One example is loyalty apps. When you are free from network limitations, you open new opportunities to use the loyalty app to create stickiness. Imagine using the loyalty app from the airport lounge to order room service because you know you’re going to arrive late, and hungry. It's that kind of experience that a more powerful network will enable. You don't have to worry about having so much traffic going through the pipes that you can’t take on anything new.

How does this affect how hospitality companies manage networks?

COBB: A powerful network offers sufficient bandwidth, WiFi, and security, but also software-defined networking to see and manage what's happening across your networks at any given time. That frees up IT resources to focus on systems that add value and support the guest experience. They don’t have to worry about flexing the network up and down to meet shifting demands, or have 10 people all trying to troubleshoot one network problem. In the software-defined world  you can gain transparency down to the physical location and device level to quickly troubleshoot. That enables technology staff to support those more innovative ideas.

Why is a fast, powerful and secure network critical for supporting cloud-based applications such as real-time analytics?

COBB: I think in general companies have cracked the code on data gathering. Now they need the ability to access cloud-based analytics applications to make decisions based on that data and serve it back to hospitality staff. They can use that data to deliver personalized experiences based on history and preferences. How awesome would it be to walk into a hotel or restaurant and they know who I am and what my interests and needs are, and be able to personalize my experience? That requires a robust network where a powerful combination of speed, flexibility and intelligence are helping to drive new business opportunities.

What are some examples of how a more powerful network enables hotels and restaurants to deliver better guest experiences?

COBB: Guests expect some properties, especially at the luxury level, to provide a high-end video experience, such as Comcast’s X1 for hospitality with voice control. They want the ability to do online ordering from the room, a mobile app to open the door with a phone, and a fitness facility where they can stream video. Even lower tier property types are seeing heightened expectations for fast WiFi and new services.

On the operations side, many hotels require meeting rooms equipped with video conferencing, smart boards and large video screens. Another growing need is to stream on-demand training. If you have 100 housekeepers across shifts and you have a new procedure to train them on, how can you serve that up to them in a way that's efficient, trackable and have enough bandwidth to avoid bringing the rest of the hotel’s operations to their knees at a peak time? A robust, powerful network is quickly becoming table stakes to meeting these sorts of operational challenges and guests’ heightened expectations.

HT EXPLORER SERIES
Why today's networks must be fast, secure and powerful

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