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09/01/2022

Getting the Most Out of the Data Integration Trend

Learn how to improve your data so that it is more usable and scalable for third-party use.
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Hotel systems generate an enormous amount of data. This data is often the foundation on which new applications are built by emerging technology vendors. Significant tactical challenges in accessing this wealth of data arise due to privacy, security, or technology issues. As the hospitality industry has grown more comfortable with cloud applications, including their core operations, it has also grown more comfortable providing vendors with access to some or all their data to realize additional benefits such as streamlining processes or gaining access to data-driven insights.

To build a practical application on this wealth of data, however, that data needs to be clean to provide actionable insights. The cleaner the data, the better the resulting insights. While the data may be clean enough for the proper running of hotel operations, it may or may not be for applications beyond the initial design parameters. Several improvements could help optimize the data for use by third parties to make that data more usable and scalable across the organization.

The Rise of the Cloud-based API

For applications to talk to each other, one of the two will typically provide an API (Application Programming Interface) for access. This technology works seamlessly in the background and allows application developers, and their customers in the hospitality space, to better integrate their applications through the sharing of data. This ease of access has accelerated data sharing and collaboration among technology vendors.

While there has been much talk about the convergence of data, the collaboration among technology vendors is a process that many of us aren’t exposed to on a daily basis. Even though this technical divide has vastly improved, the data itself must be optimized and standardized to be effective.

Taking the Lead in the Optimization and Standardization of Your Data

For vendors providing insights and predictions, the cleaner and more complete the data is, the better the results. The best models in the world won’t produce good results if the data feeding them is subpar. Incomplete, incorrect, or missing data can skew the outcomes drastically.

This is where data field standardization comes into play. Applications like a PMS or a sales and catering system often give the hotel flexibility in how fields are defined and what data can go in them. This flexibility can be very beneficial to hotel operations and processes but can make life very difficult for vendors trying to leverage that data.

Examples of problematic data fields include:

  • Free form fields
  • User-defined fields
  • Lists that are incomplete, outdated, or difficult to understand
  • Lists that can be completely different from hotel to hotel
  • Too many fields, causing people to put the same type of data in different places

Recommendations before merging data:

  • Limit free-form fields and build and enforce processes around them to ensure data entry standardization.
  • Regular audits would help pick up misspellings or deviations from the approved processes.
  • User-defined fields should be limited to and, where possible, standardized across hotels.
  • Lists should be standardized across hotels where possible and reviewed for their accuracy and proper use.

The more standard the data and format are, the faster an integration will occur and the better the results will be. The vendors can then spend less time tailoring their applications to the differences in your data and more time developing new features.

Tips for Getting Data Ready for Sharing

Here are some essential data housekeeping tips you can implement before proceeding with a data convergence process.

Check on existing collaborations. Determine if your software vendors already integrate with each other. As mentioned, some newer vendors have already been working with legacy system vendors to develop or incorporate available APIs into their software. There is no shortage of software vendor partners who are working together to make this process as seamless as possible for you, but best to ask them before making any purchases or investing in custom development.

Clean up user accounts and profiles. While it might not matter as much for the day-to-day operations, ensuring that the information in your current software is standardized will be critical relative to future business. When looking for repeat business, check-in preferences, group patterns, etc., ensuring accounts are correctly joined together is vitally important. Typically, accounts are cleaner on the guest side due to applications such as loyalty programs. You don’t want to replicate out-of-date information across systems.

Standardize across the portfolio. When multiple hotels are involved, standardization applies not only within the hotel but across hotels as well. While making exceptions where it makes sense, most data can be standardized across hotels, including lost business codes, guest statuses, number and type of user-defined fields, lists, and other cross-over areas. The benefits here extend to configuration and comparisons between hotels.

Clean up acquisitions. With all the M&A activity that happens in the industry, even the best-laid plans of clean data are thrown a loop when previously separate systems get merged. The sooner suitable processes and standardizations can be implemented on the systems to be brought in or added from a transaction, the faster the other applications can provide better results with the newly integrated hotels.

Capture the entire sales cycle. When forecasting future individual or group behavior, it is essential to capture lost or “turned down” business. This may not be as important for normal operations within the hotel, but it should be. Hotels tend to focus mainly on the business they did capture. Therefore, if a sales opportunity fizzles, or if business was turned away because it wasn’t a good fit, it might not get logged into the proper system. This means the sales team can’t learn why they didn’t get business and without that information, applications won’t be able to help either.
 

Reaping the Benefits of Data Integration

Implementing these changes requires process creation and improvements, as well as a fair amount of work on internal systems in some cases. Success requires upper management involvement, buy-in, support, and direction. Without this, it’s unlikely any real improvements will be made. In an ideal world, the executive that can affect the change is also the executive involved in the purchasing process with a given vendor or set of vendors.

Hotels will often find many of these data optimization behaviors will also improve internal reporting and processing. The various departments within the hotel can all work across the set of cleansed data, making them more efficient and productive. In addition, when providing reports across a portfolio or set of hotels, a standardization of statuses, nomenclature, categories, etc., can all help compare apples to apples when reporting to upper management, owners, or whoever else might be involved in the management chain.

The dirty little secret of data integration is that the better the foundational data, the better the outcome. Optimizing your data through standardization will help applications do a better job and save you time and money as your property integrates technology stacks. That, in turn, creates a win-win for both your hotel and your vendor partners.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Landon leads the software development and IT efforts at Knowland with a focus on enhancing the role of AI and machine learning to drive predictive analytics for group data. He brings over 25 years of software industry experience across a range of operations from innovative startups to large enterprises. For the past decade, he has focused on software solutions to help hoteliers maximize their revenue in both the transient and group spaces. Rob has a BS in computer science from Louisiana State University and holds an MBA from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.