Cloud-based services have been a staple at Winnipeg-based Lakeview Hospitality since 2005, and now the company is moving onward and upward.
Its first foray into the clouds was through its property management and central reservation services called RoomKey PMS, sourced from Vancouver’s RSI Group Inc. Since then, the hotel has interfaced it with a veritable smorgasbord of cloud services. “The big benefit is having a centralized database of our guest information,” says Jeannette M. Clarke, manager of Operations, Technical Support and Central Reservation Services, Lakeview Hospitality. “If anyone stays at any of our hotels across the system, we can make that reservation in 30 seconds. That’s a really big bonus for us.”
Operating through cloud technology offers a significant advantage when you’re managing multiple properties and constantly growing, and that’s because of the flexibility and scalability of the service, says Clarke. In fact, the number of properties that Lakeview manages has tripled from eight to 24 since it launched the initial RoomKey PMS.
With its 24th hotel opening this fall, Clarke believes cloud-based solutions are more valuable than ever. The manager welcomed the opportunity to work with a young company that was willing to collaborate to address the hotel company’s needs. “We were centralized before, but we just didn’t have the same sort of flexibility, since everyone had to have their own server on site, which was hugely expensive,” she explains. “That meant I had very limited access to each location’s system, so [I] still had to perform regular night-audit procedures, inserting tapes and doing backups.” Now, the cloud-based system eliminates the extra administrative work, and no servers are required except a main one at a secure remote location. “All each property needs is an up-to-date computer that can handle the program,” she adds.
So, Clarke is interested in exploring additional cloud opportunities. Not only has the original program evolved to allow for an increased number of reporting options, Lakeview continues to work closely with the provider to interface other cloud offerings that come its way. These additions include subscription-based services for monitoring and reporting telecommunication activity, in-room movie programs, sales, catering and spa services. “The sky’s the limit with what you can do,” she says.
While Lakeview may be well-entrenched in cloud technology, adoption, for the most part, has been fairly slow within the industry, especially for larger operations, says Christian Szpilfogel, chief architect for Mitel Networks in Kanata, Ont., and member of the Canadian Cloud Council, a Calgary-based national association, providing an educational forum for Canada’s cloud-computing community. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. “Hoteliers are familiar with the benefits, which is why we’re seeing the major flags making inquiries and putting out RFPs,” he says.
As cloud adoption grows, there is no end of possibilities, from property management, reservations and customer-relationship management to telecommunications, storage, security and messaging. “All of those can easily be moved to the cloud, economically. Yet, very few [large] hotels have gone to public cloud solution sets,” said Szpilfogel.
The security issues associated with cloud technology have been addressed, so Szpilfogel suspects there could be another reason for slow adaption of the service in the hospitality industry. He explains: “One of the things that happens with cloud [technology] is that you’re shifting a capital expense to an operating
expense. Certain accounting practices may create a bit of an impediment to adoption, and they’re still trying to figure out how to deal with that.” This holds especially true for larger brands or publicly held companies. “Independents are moving a bit quicker, as well as smaller franchises,” Szpilfogel says.
But, there are many drivers for cloud adoption. For one, cloud-based services typically run on a subscription basis, which ensures predictable costs. Since services are managed by the provider, there are no infrastructure investment requirements or maintenance charges. As web-based services, they also expand self-service capabilities, saving administrative time and overall costs.
The 276-room Brookstreet luxury hotel in Ottawa, for example, is one of the more nimble independents. According to Shari-Lynn Lawson, head of Conference Services and Events, Brookstreet has dipped its toes in the water with a unique set of self-service capabilities for on-site conference managers. The technology enhancement happened serendipitously, as Benbria, the provider of the mobile customer engagement service called Loop is located down the street. Loop is a hosted service easily accessed via smartphones, tablets or laptops. When a conference client arrives at the hotel, they are given a dedicated URL that allows them to retrieve emails, set up calls and instantly communicate with hotel staff with regard to any concerns that may arise during an event, from catering changes to climate control in meeting rooms. “I’m the first to admit that I was hesitant at first over removing the face-to-face element,” Lawson says. “But now I’ve realized it really improves our efficiency, since clients don’t need to leave a meeting room to communicate with staff. It’s all live, and they get a quick response.”
In the past, if there was a problem, managers would have to leave the meeting room to locate banquet staff, who in turn had to call maintenance, a process that could take 10 to 15 minutes. “With Loop, they can go straight to dispatch to communicate any changes they want to make without having to interrupt a meeting,” she says.
Having worked with the service for six months, Lawson says it’s in use for four to five events a week. Services are based on a fixed monthly rate.
The ability to track activity is a major advantage. It eliminates the possibility of last-minute changes to details such as conference food quantities and invoicing extras. Nothing is allowed to fall between the cracks. And, when it comes to concerns about losing face-to-face contact, it’s a non-issue. In fact, it’s much better, since staff can interact with clients on a more social level rather than a confrontational one. “It takes that stress and tension out of things, and it’s wowed our clients. Ultimately, we’re better equipped for success, because everything is right there for them.”
For Lakeview’s Clarke, the beauty of managing operations through the cloud is that she can access information from any location. “If I get a call about a tech issue, I can be sitting at home in my pajamas, jump onto the system to see what’s going on and make adjustments or point [my team] to the right report. I don’t understand why more hotels haven’t done it yet.”