Making the Case for Cloud-based Plug-and-Play Back Office Solutions
“Hotels use legacy systems for their back-office operations and it often limits the efficiencies they can achieve” says Cognizant’s Vice President of Travel and Hospitality Joseph Rajadurai.
While it may be an undesirable observation, it is hardly a surprising one to hoteliers. Most are well aware of some of the more common problems that plague back office operations.
For example, many hotels still have their PMS and building management systems running on on-premise servers with limited remote tools to allow for 24/7 centralized management. Additionally, there usually is not a single source of truth for inventory, rates, or ad sales. Revenue management, budgeting, planning, and forecasting tend to be done via offline tools, and insufficient automated real-time monitoring and alerting mechanisms for inventory, housekeeping data, roster scheduling, etc. lead to manual errors, waste and operational delays. “The pandemic has exacerbated the problem,” Rajadurai explains. “Hotels are now operating with low occupancy, reduced cash flow, and a limited workforce.”
The Benefits of Plug-and-Play
For this reason, plug-and-play solutions are garnering a lot of attention at the moment. Why? Because they promise to be easy to use – from a staff perspective – and easy to implement. Integration with legacy systems, specifically, is key to a good plug-and-play solution.
There are other benefits as well, says Rajadurai. For instance, such solutions will make it easy to add new capabilities and have low implementation costs.
“Plug and play solutions are usable in a production scenario in a matter of weeks,” says Rajadurai. “Such rapid implementation avoids long review and validation cycles, thereby reducing costs of implementation. In addition, costs for training and adoption by a non-technical workforce, as found normally in hotels, are also minimized.”
Also, plug-and-play allows hotels with a number of franchisees and multiple brands to switch on and off solutions based on business strategy, direction in specific markets, geography or brands, Rajadurai adds. For example, some hotel chains may decide to roll out limited features of a health and hygiene solution for its budget properties while taking a different, more personalized approach for its premium properties.
And last, but not least, the philosophy of using a plug and play model facilitates innovation as it allows the hotel chain to integrate solutions from many vendors.
When Plug-and-Play Meets Cloud
Often, modern plug-and-play solutions work are built on a cloud architecture. This gives them greater flexibility and makes them easy to update and integrate. Additionally, “modernizing data platforms to cloud native architectures will allow hotels to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to their software solutions,” Rajadurai notes. “The end goal is to improve insights from customer data to realize better ROI on marketing spend and move towards hyper-personalization in guest engagement”
As lockdowns have lifted in various parts of the globe, traveler numbers have begun growing again very slowly. There remains the constant threat though, of the virus surging back again. Thus, one of the big priorities in healthy and safe operations is to reduce guest density in common areas, Rajadurai says. Enabling a contactless guest experience from arrival to checkout is key to achieving this. Cognizant has envisioned the guest journey under a “Direct to Room” (D2R) solution, which delivers key use cases for contactless guest arrival and stay, such as online check-in, choosing a room, digital validation, digital key generation, room directions, accessing room controls (such as Thermostat, TV, Lights) through a guest mobile app and other contactless channels (like web and kiosk). These solutions help hospitality staff run safe and smart operations (for both front and back office).
“One of the common challenges to overcome when building new capabilities for hotels is addressing legacy systems that are fragmented,” Rajadurai explains. “Enabling features such as D2R, require a lot of integration to legacy systems. However, Cognizant has conceptualized and developed an integration framework, “Guest Experience Engine (GEE)”, which enables back-end integration through industry standard interfaces to on-property and corporate systems. This enables the various use cases of D2R to be made into a reality.”
GEE is cloud-based and has a library of open, standardized APIs that will connect all guest-owned and guest-facing devices to underlying hotel, casino and resort management systems seamlessly. Plus, Cognizant’s smart buildings solution has an interface architecture that connects smart devices, sensors and remote connectivity. It comes with pre-built connectors to Property Management Systems (PMS), Building Management Systems (BMS), and enterprise systems – such as CRS, ERP and Analytics systems for real time monitoring and alerting.