Developing Rapid Response Software to Manage Hotel Guest Requests
Calling down to the front desk and requesting additional towels for your hotel room is a common request and seems simple enough to fulfill. Now multiply that request by 600 guest rooms, a few VIP guest requests and try to coordinate these requests with dozens of hotel employees. You now have a logistical nightmare. It was that type of challenge that led Metromedia Software, Inc. to develop HotelEXPERT, which replaces a traditional pen and paper tracking system with a guest request tracking solution.
HotelEXPERT gives hotel managers and customer service staff the ability to enter and track guest requests from a single software application. Going far beyond the capabilities of the manual systems, the solution also allows hotel staff to track past guest experiences, generate automatic reports on customer service performance, monitor guest comments, and manage the preventative maintenance of hotel equipment.
When the HotelEXPERT developers needed a database to power the application, they turned to SQL Anywhere from Sybase. Selected for its ease of use and stable environment, SQL Anywhere also has the ability to scale as their customer base grows. The launch of HotelEXPERT introduced a new category of hotel software now popularly known as Rapid Response. Since its inception, HotelEXPERT has been adopted by 300 leading hotels worldwide, ranging from 60 to 6,000 rooms.
Given that a majority of hotel employees are now mobile, it was not long before the Metromedia Software team saw the value they could deliver with an easy-to-use mobile solution, allowing hotel staff to access information anywhere in the hotel and in real-time.
Developing HotelEXPERT for a Mobile World
Although cell phones and two-way radios allow for immediate communication between hotel employees, they also create disturbances for hotel guests given the noise they produce. "The devices also require extra time for updates to be keyed into the customer service software," says Val Reyes, HotelEXPERT president and CEO. . "This takes away time from personnel that may need to be servicing customers at the front desk.
When developing the HotelEXPERT mobile solution, Metromedia sought to use a mobile device that was used and understood by their customers. “Our technology allows hotels to deliver customer service at a much higher level. But if the technology is not easy to use, the staff will have to spend extra time using it, and may actually resist using it. We realized that to take our solution to the next level, we need to offer it on the leading, easy-to-use mobile device, the BlackBerry”, says Reyes.
Given that BlackBerry devices were already in use in many hotels, this allowed new customers to invest in their existing technology, decreasing the TCO and increasing the ROI of the HotelEXPERT solution. PocketHotelEXPERT, the mobile version of HotelEXPERT, is designed specifically for use on mobile devices. The relationship and success using Sybase’s SQL Anywhere database in HotelEXPERT made it an automatic decision to use UltraLiteJ for BlackBerry when developing the mobile application.
"Frankly, we did not consider another database partner," Reyes says. "Sybase database technology has worked so well for us over the course of many years that it allows us to focus on developing the features of our application. So while the database is a critical element of our solution, we don't have to worry about creating it."
Providing Hotels Uninterrupted Access to Data
PocketHotelEXPERT provides mobile customer relation management allowing hotel staff to respond rapidly to guest’s requests. Using UltraLiteJ for Blackberry devices allows hotel staff uninterrupted access to data on the device regardless of connectivity. UltraLiteJ provides a fully functional relational database that is stored locally on the BlackBerry. Leveraging UltraLiteJ’s built-in synchronization capabilities, in conjunction with the MobiLink data synchronization technology, allowed PocketHotelEXPERT to achieve seamless data flow between the device and the hotel communication centre.
For hotels that do not have on-site data centers, HotelEXPERT provides a cloud database hosting service. HotelEXPERT provides a data storage service, leveraging MobiLink data synchronization, allowing fast, secure synchronization between the hotel staff BlackBerry devices and the cloud. Given that all data is stored locally on the hotel staff devices, intermittent connectivity provides no interruption to the application. Synchronization can be configured to occur when connectivity is available, or in an on-demand fashion that enables longer battery life on the device.
A main challenge when developing the PocketHE application, as with any mobile application development, was providing a solution that was robust and continuously available. “UltraLiteJ ensures the data reliability and consistent performance of our PocketHotelEXPERT application” says Reyes. “This technology enables hotel customer service data to flow seamlessly and reliably between the application server and mobile devices. This means mobile staff and managers are always up-to-date on the latest customer request and the status of fulfilling outstanding requests.”
Recent advances in mobile computing have produced devices capable of more CPU-intensive processing and larger data storage than ever. These capabilities allowed Metromedia to integrate sophisticated business logic into the PocketHE application. “The complexity of our application exceeds the data capabilities included in the native device operating system,” Reyes says. “So we need a robust, secure, easily synchronized database, such as SQL Anywhere UltraLiteJ, to enable the same level of data integrity and manipulation that is available on PCs and servers.”
“We don’t have to worry about the database component of our solution,” Reyes says. “It simply performs as it should. This helps us meet the needs of our customers and allows developers to focus on developing front-end application features. The ability to focus only on our application leads to use building better application features.”
HotelEXPERT and PocketHE give hoteliers the capability of providing great guest experiences by allowing rapid, coordinated execution of hotel requests. SQL Anywhere consistent performance and uninterrupted data access provides all hotel staff with the tools they need to keep the hotel running smoothly. SQL Anywhere technology seamlessly moves data between mobile BlackBerry devices and hotel data centre while providing the capabilities of the necessary report to ensure the hotel functions to the highest standard. SQL Anywhere and HotelEXPERT allow hotel staff to look after their guests, by letting Sybase and Metromedia look after their data.
The Hotel Debut of PocketHotelEXPERT
PocketHotelEXPERT made its debut in January at the Andaz West Hollywood, a Hyatt hotel. A technology-friendly hotel, Andaz has implemented industry-firsts in the area of guest check-in. Using PC tablets, hotel hosts check guests in anywhere on the hotel property. This includes the lounge, parking lot, the lobby or even the restaurant. Hotel hosts can immediately input guest requests into their Blackberrys with PocketHotelEXPERT, eliminating intermediary steps related to their delivery.
The staff at the hotel uses the BlackBerry Curve and Bold models. PocketHE also lists in-house VIPs so managers can ensure the quick dispatch of any request. The Andaz goes a step further by providing Blackberrys to rank-and-file staff, including MiniBar and Room Service waiters, parking attendants, housekeepers and engineers.
Delivering value and reducing costs to hotels
While PocketHE delivers value to its customers, a key component of success is the easy-to-use functionality. "We have found the PocketHotelEXPERT screens easy-to-use, which means our staff does not need to remember task codes. We are able to filter any outstanding VIP work tickets to direct additional attention to them. But the main benefit is that PocketHE improves hotel culture by moving staff away from paper, email or voicemail for looking up or dispatching work tickets,” says Michel Morauw, General Manager of the Andaz West Hollywood.
Using PocketHE, hotels can now set response times to guest requests, which is difficult to do with a paper system. Fifteen minutes is the standard that most hotels running HotelExpert strive to achieve, then over time tasks are escalated to the hotel manager. Information flows in real-time from the entry of the request to the handheld device of the employee completing the request, streamlining the hotel’s guest request process and improving overall efficiency. PocketHE also provides hotel management visibility into operations via their BlackBerry device. This allows hotel management to immediately identify and address any inefficiency.
Metromedia’s highly effective rapid response solution for the hotel industry enables hotels to respond quickly to hotel guests’ requests. Increasing guest satisfaction with PocketHE and HotelEXPERT means hotels achieve high customer satisfaction ratings, ensuring return and recommendation business.
In addition to improved customer satisfaction and an increase in repeat guest visits, PocketHE also helps hotels save money by tracking guest patterns, identifying maintenance problems and proactively managing hotel operations. For example, a hotel maintenance manager was able to use the HotelExpert application to track the hotel’s air conditioning system maintenance to justify preventative maintenance that saved the hotel future replacement costs.
PocketHotelEXPERT was not only the first software solution of its kind; it has caused a positive cultural change at the world’s foremost hotels. By embracing a paperless, mobile solution, hotels are saving money, improving customer satisfaction and guaranteeing return guest visits. “We are looking forward to the future capabilities we can achieve with PocketHE. Our partnership with Sybase is important to us and we are confident that SQL Anywhere is the database that has the ability to support us moving forward,” summarizes Reyes. With Metromedia’s effective and accessible hotel solutions, guests, management, and staff can all sleep well at night.