11.03.2013 OnWindows Speak Magazine – Autumn 2013

Hotels are being challenged to increase the quality of service and deliver new revenue opportunities while still keeping the cost of operations down. There are three key areas where Microsoft and its partners are working to enable hospitality organizations to do this: guest experience, staff enablement and driving operational efficiency.

Microsoft’s Matt Muta explains how the company’s technology can help hotels provide superior service, build customer loyalty and improve revenue.
Guest Experience
Disconnected IT systems have long stood in the way of a hotel’s ability to provide a consistent and personalized guest experience. Too many guests encounter a different experience depending on the channel with which they choose to interact with the hotel, and then when they arrive at their hotel, the staff have no idea of who they are. But providing a consistent, relevant and contextual experience across all touchpoints – mobile devices, online, social media or on-property kiosks – is difficult when systems are not able to share information seamlessly. Hotels need to break down the silos and optimize and integrate each channel or touchpoint. This enables them to extend their use of technology across the property to areas such as reception, VIP lounges, fitness suites and spas. These touchpoints can provide relevant information and offers such as breakfast times and facilities, but also tourism and travel information, through Microsoft technologies such as Xbox, Kinect and MSN. This can then extend to putting devices such as Windows 8 tablets or Windows Phone 8 smartphones into guest rooms.
“Standing at the front desk of a hotel waiting your turn to check in could be a thing of the past if hotels adopt new mobile technology,” says James Newby, compliance and risk director at Servebase. “Enabling in-room check in through tablets and mobile devices is all about convenience and making life easier, as guests don’t have to wait to pay. The new citizenM hotels, for example, don’t even have a front desk; you book yourself in online, register with them – in the same way you would with an Amazon account – and they issue a luggage tag with your welcome pack, which serves as your identity in any of their hotels. Once you arrive in your room, your preferences will set automatically, for example mood lighting and shower temperature. They don’t make you pay for wi-fi or films, it’s all included. It’s the ultimate in convenience.”
Mobile technology also enables hotels to connect with their customers across their whole journey – pre, during and post visit. Before guests begin their journey, the hotel can proactively provide relevant offers to valued customers based on previous behavior. For example, if a customer books a hotel room in Hong Kong every year, then the offers can be tailored according to hotels there, rather than just a blanket offer. During the trip, the only interaction a guest has with the hotel is when they check in or make a complaint. The property is becoming the dark channel, as it is often a mystery to the hotel what you are doing when you stay there. The hotel needs to make better use of on-property solutions to engage better with the guest during their stay. After, hotels need to work out the best way to communicate with guests to encourage loyalty and return visits.
Staff Enablement 
Traditionally, engagement on mobile devices has been focused on consumers, but hotels are starting to see the value of providing up-to-date information to their staff via mobile devices too. These devices can remove the barrier between staff and customers, enabling better engagement and service. They can be extended beyond just service to presence and location awareness. For example, if the receptionist needs help greeting guests or more staff are required to help at a conference, they can be used to find the nearest available member of staff.
CRM and staff portal offerings are also allowing hotels to differentiate themselves in terms of staff enablement. These solutions can deliver connected insight to provide real-time, role-specific information that will help staff to exceed guest expectations and to boost the bottom line. They provide individuals, teams and organizations with a comprehensive view of all guest information – such as preferences, behavior and customer satisfaction data – in a format that supports timely and effective decisions and actions. A variety of Microsoft technologies can help here: Windows 8 – both as a tablet operating system and through the value of presenting information directly through live tiles – as well as staff portals and company intranets through SharePoint and Office. Then Dynamics CRM enables hotels to collect customer information and derive actionable insight through the solution.
Operational Efficiency 
Back-office systems, such as property management solutions, have historically been monolithic and on premise, and incapable of integrating seamlessly with front-office technology. With Microsoft’s operational platform – involving technologies such as Windows Server and Windows Azure – hotels can reduce the cost of technology, drive integration and improve the speed of information. Microsoft allows hotels to connect their property management systems to front-office solutions and the systems at headquarters using familiar, flexible, scalable, and cost effective solutions.
Through Microsoft’s big data offering delivered through SQL Server 2012, hotels can turn the guest and operational data they collect into profitable insights and actions. Aligning the company with customers through this data makes it easier to eliminate silos and more easily integrate and share data and information company wide. Incorporating data from a variety of sources – both internal and external – can provide a complete view of operations and streamline processes to do things like analyzing staff working patterns and tracking trends, and using this information to boost business performance.
For example, Super 8 Hotels (China) deployed SQL Server 2012 to gain a powerful and highly available data- processing foundation, easy-to-use business intelligence tools and the ability to scale into cloud environments. With the new solution, hotel managers cananalyse the performance of individual properties and the Chinese business as a whole, and also determine the best growth opportunities. By using SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn availability groups, Super 8 China can ensure high availability of business systems. And with SQL Server 2012 support for cloud computing, the hotel chain can run its databases on premises, or in a private or public cloud environment, to meet the changing needs of the business.
In addition, Choice Hotels International wanted to ensure the availability of its online property management system and give employees better business intelligence tools. To improve insight and up-time, the company implemented SQL Server 2012 with the AlwaysOn feature and new business solution capabilities.
Microsoft’s solutions for guest experience, staff enablement and operational efficiency help provide a common infrastructure that unifies previously disparate systems. This will enable hotels to deliver personalized services to guests and empower employees to work more efficiently and effectively through streamlined systems and processes. It will also increase revenue through targeted marketing and promotions delivered via new technologies, touchpoints and channels.