Saturday, June 20, 2015

HITEC 2015 Day 2 Diary and Wrap. My Glimpse of Tech in the Hospitality Industry

One of the greatest things about this show was that I didn't know anyone here. OK, so that's not entirely true.  You don't spend 10 years in the channel and not see a few familiar faces around, but overall, it was refreshing to be at a tradeshow where I didn't know who the big players were, why they were there, and what they offered. I honestly feel that viewing the show through these unbiased and fresh eyes gave me such a great advantage over everyone else. I was able to see the companies and products for what they were versus what everyone knew about them.

I enjoyed this experience so much that I would encourage everyone to step outside of your primary focus and attend a tradeshow where your industry is present, but it's not the main event. Not only did it renew my passion for what I do, but it let me see it from an angle I never had, opening up even more opportunities.

Incidentally, what it also did was cast a shadow on the players that take for granted their position in said industry and make them seem kinda rude. My advice, just because you know your big and you have market share, take the time to chat with someone who is genuinely interested in your products and services (especially when they're wearing a press badge) because you never know what might show up online a day or two later.

Before I dig in, a note of appreciation to HFTP and the HITEC crew for giving a little ol' blogger the opportunity to attend on a pass. It was wonderful to be there and I hope that I can get you to greenlight a ticket next year. I would love to attend again and offer some unique insight from a totally different perspective. Thank you so much, it is greatly appreciated.

Now the disclaimer, not everything that follows has something to do with wireless. I do realize that is my base, however my base is also people that wanna hear about cool stuff. With that in mind, here is the cool stuff I saw in the industry, because I think there are ways that our wireless tech can be applied to it.


Assa Abloy

Let's start with the whiz-bang feature that seemed to be the hallmark of innovative use at the show: the NFC and other key replacement technology.

A photo posted by Wireless Nerd (@wirelessnerd) on


If your company didn't have one of these tiny displays in your booth, it basically told me that you could do some neat stuff, but you couldn't do all the neat stuff. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Assa Abloy is the only player on the market, however from an outsider's perspective, and with a proud quote of "over 40,000 doors deployed using this solution" from one of their sales guys, it seems they are the, or at least one of the, main contenders in the space.

The fancy little demo door chunk above could be found in a number of booths, and as soon as I saw it, I knew they were at least working at a different level. So, kudos to the marketing team on that one, but, what does it do?


To get some insight, I was shown a few demos and given a testimonial about a recent stay using the Starwood Preferred Guest app. Let's see if I can run it down in a few lines:

  1. Book your Starwood Hotel using the app
  2. Get a notification that your check-in is here, ask for room keys to be delivered to your mobile.
  3. Show up and go straight to your room
  4. Use your iPhone, Apple Watch, or favorite NFC-enabled wearable to open your door.
  5. Checkout via app
  6. Never have to actually interact with humans.
It's simple, straight-forward, and totally effective. Some may not like the idea of getting straight to your room with no check-in, however, I bet there are WAY more that love it. 

BTW, technically, that brief overview was about wireless technology.

Monscierge

So now that you know you can rock NFC on your phone and get your keys delivered, what if you are looking for an overall, more comprehensive solution for a property? 

While there were many players at the show, one that stood out to me was Monscierge. Like concierge but with an m. Mobile concierge? Maybe a Jamaican thing? Not sure. Regardless of what you call it, call it awesome. 


Essentially this is a system that allows guests to tap into their own personalized concierge at any part of their stay. It delivers messaging, relevant local content, and data to screens throughout the property, including something the hotel might lend you, or even your own device. These guys have the localized networking thing down.



Restaurant recommendations, services, entertainment, and more, it's all relevant and all in your hand. This takes the mystery out of finding something to do for the kids who are always "bored", the wife who wants a romantic dinner, or the lonely business traveler who wants to find a concert to take up the evening.



A fun feature was the ability to send a postcard direct to someone or post it to a social media site right from the app / dashboard. What better way to engage someone's social network than giving them access to a quick and easy push out to their online friends?



To add another level of interaction, I saw a guest appearance of an Estimote beacon on their desk, allowing them the ability to not only tell you where to go, but how to get there. Combine that with delivering keys to your device, and this really, unlocks, a lot of potential. See what I did there?

OpenKey

So on the note of keyless entry, one of the more comfortable 10x10's I stepped into was that of OpenKey. Touting the ability to work with just about anyone on the market to provide the middleware to deliver keyless, um, keys, they were energetic, full of great information, and even allowed the talk to get into the "what if's".

A photo posted by Wireless Nerd (@wirelessnerd) on


OpenKey works by providing the flexibility to properties to deploy their keyless solution, while providing the software to integrate into their booking, delivery, and functionality of the program. By taking this vendor agnostic approach, they hope to latch onto the independently owned hotel chains and give them the ability to do the same thing as the big guys.

Where it got weird is when I asked, "well, if you are open to everyone, then why not start a campaign with AirBNB or VRBO to have the property owners switch out there locks to keyless and start collecting the data?" We dropped into the rabbit hole for a little while on that one, however it was definitely fun to visit them. Thanks for the selfie stick!

Navis

On the note of collecting door clicks and analyzing visitor data, I paid a visit to Navis to see what they did. A nice, semi-ominous booth that gave no real hint of what they were about, gave way to an eager an exciting gentlemen who had no problem answering me when I asked "Why?" and "How?" repeatedly.


It appears that the hospitality industry is on the cusp of dealing with the fact that they have access to an absolutely incredible and endless amount of data that can be used for .... something. Trying to get through all of those bits and bytes is becoming seemingly more difficult, with no killer app to be able to dissect the information and deliver results.

While tools like Domo (shout out for being at the show!) are present to allow you to sift through that data and create charts, graphs, and great visualizations, putting that into action is where everyone seems to need help. This is not just a hospitality problem by the way, however, they process an insane amount of data per property, making it more difficult to get the results they want, but when they do .. it's magic.

So, what does Navis do? Well, they help you combine all that big data, analyze it with their teams, mix in some magic, and then present you with a plan to help take advantage of what their analysts have learned through the data. When to run promotions, when to set rates high, when to set them low, what to offer and when, and most importantly how to market to the best of your ability and more.

One phrase I heard a few times was micro-segmentation: Breaking the data up into tiny parts and drilling all the way down into each user and their interactions so that you can understand them and market directly to them. This seems to be the hospitality holy-grail that everyone is looking for.

So, after knowing nothing about the industry, but understanding this, I too went in search of a unicorn...



Flip.To

First, a thought: When you're trying to find your way out of a forest and you follow path after path until you eventually reach a main road, you feel this sense of accomplishment. However, when you get to the road and you look back to see that there are many, many, other larger roads surrounding the patch of trees that you were in, you feel kinda lame.


If I would've just looked at who is on the technology board for the hotels, who has had success in the market, and who was innovating in the space, I would have come across the company and the name Ed St. Onge a few times already. But I didn't know any better, so I went to the "Investing in Technology" Super Session. I figured a panel of tech investors would be a great place to start looking for what is defining the industry.

I stood up from the back of the room and belted out, what I realize now was an impossible question: "What do you all see as the most innovative technology that the industry is excited about right now?"

The panel threw it back and forth, but I zeroed in when Mr. St. Onge responded "Augmented reality." After a few Holodeck jokes and the closing of the session, I bee-lined it to the panel to thank them for answering my question. When picking up the conversation later in the Flip.To booth with Ed, we laughed about how short-sighted my question was and he proceeded to layout what Flip.To does.



Everything that I had learned at the show so far prepared me to understand what was unique about this company's approach. While everyone was crunching together big data to figure out how to use it to market to people and capture their attention and make them feel special, Flip.To focused in a different area: the personal network.


As I was walked through the way that the platform presented information to the end-user, it became clear that this system was meant to leverage the emotional and social psychological impact a series of great events can have on someone.

If you can tap into the happiness of a great vacation, figure out a way to get your guests to share those amazing feelings with their friends and family, and then reward them for the spectacular time they had, that's just about what Flip.to does, except it does more. It converts those feelings to room bookings and resort stays.



By allowing every guest to celebrate their trip and the best parts of your establishment while personally endorsing and advocating your brand, you turn a guest into a friend. And their friends into your friends. And your new friends into customers, which in turn make them feel like better friends, who introduce you to their friends. It's impressive, it's simple, and it seems to be working.



Again, I have no idea what this has to do with wireless, but holy cow was I impressed. This was not only measuring and using every metric that the other systems were (generating profiles, what each guest likes, what they don't like, when they visit, etc.) but it was giving the properties actionable items that they could easily take advantage of, and taking the guesswork out of it.



The back-end dashboard allows the property to select which photos they like from the guests that have submitted, rate and rank it, and then with the click of a button share the photo and quote with the hotel's social media platforms. No one to hire to combine it and do it for you, but an easy and straightforward dashboard to let a novice take control of their brand.

I saw a ton of stuff at the show, and this was definitely worth the time I spent learning about it.

Fuel


I stopped to answer a few texts on my phone and catch-up on email, but found myself in front a booth so I quickly moved. The person in the booth told me to feel free to take up the space and was rather nice considering I was nose down to my iPhone. When I popped my head back up I glanced at the displays in the booth and was instantly engaged. "So wait, you do what?" I asked.

A photo posted by Wireless Nerd (@wirelessnerd) on

The first thing that caught my eye was a dashboard that was clean, uncluttered and loaded with data; a Facebook ranking, a TripAdvisor ranking, how many mentions the brand had today, etc. But above that, listing how many guests were in-house, how many new vs returning customers were there, and how many converted interactions to customers seemed to provide a pretty decent wealth of information. "What does something like this cost?" was met with a shocking "It's free when you purchase one of our platforms." The hook was set, "what are you other platforms?"

I was merely putty in the hands of the sales guy at that point. Now granted, I wasn't going to buy a single thing from him as I do not own a hotel, however I did text a few pics of the platform to a friend who is in the industry with a message that said something like "Dude, have you seen this?!?!"



There are WAY to many things that these guys do for me to break it down and mention, but I will say that it was all clean intuitive, and absolutely effective looking.

UniGuest


Now, on to one of my favorite stories of the show. Again, I do realize that I jumped the shark on wireless a few paragraphs ago, but I honestly feel these stories need be told. These products are innovative, encouraging, and just plain fun to a geek like me.

Of all the stories I was able to listen to, one that stands out is UniGuest. Dropping a press release as soon as the expo hall kicked off with a title like "Uniguest and Google Announce Partnership to Deploy Google Chrome Devices in Hotels Worldwide" was a sure fire way to grab some attention. Honestly, at first I wasn't too eager to follow-up on it thinking that the booth and personnel would be swarmed. Which they were. However, I set a meeting (thanks Press Pass!) to see what the message was, and I was blown away.



The partnership with Google was about being able to deliver cost-effective devices to their existing clients while opening up the ability to serve properties of all shapes and sizes the same experience. The business center at the Hilton is no longer on the other side of the pendulum as the business center at the Ramada Limited. The ability to setup impromptu conferences using full-screen web-based conferencing platforms is no longer restricted to those that can afford the conference rooms outfitted like a tech command center.



Leveling the playing field for everyone gives UniGuest the opportunity to gain more customers for their secured and meticulously cleaned guest service workstations. Breaking the cost barrier entices even the most cost-conscious property with the ability to take advantage of tablets to hand out at check-in, managed services, and their extremely effective drop-in replacement support that has helped define their company.

While there are distinct technology benefits to this play, the ease of use and flexibility to grow their customer base is the real key here. But that is not what makes this exciting to me. Equalization of technology access benefits everyone, and that is something that I love. I do appreciate the business case for moving to Chromebase with these properties, but I also applaud the gutsy move to do it using a platform that is not as common as some of the others.



If more companies took the lead of figuring out how to deliver more technology to areas that previously didn't have access to it, for whatever reason (even to dare I say increase profit margins), that would raise the overall attainment level of everyone it touches. A kid who's family can't afford to stay in a fancy hotel now has the same ability to use great tech. Simple things like that can be just enough to impact someone's future, and the more companies that do it, the better we will all be.

Wrapping up..

That pretty much sums up my 1st experience at HITEC. I got to learn about the technology that drives the industry from my perspective, from others perspectives, and from an outsiders perspective.

I saw how technology can change the way you interact with a hotel, the way it interacts with you, and more importantly how simple decisions in technology can change your lives. From turning you into an advocate for a brand with the click of a button to providing you with on-property capabilities, regardless of where you're staying, it's fascinating.

What brings this home is that all of it requires some type of connectivity to function or be used. So much of this rides across the radio waves that we in the wireless industry put our focus on and it is amazing to see what applications use the networks we design. There is a great future for our services in this industry as those applications require more and more throughput and connectivity. Every inch of every property will eventually need coverage, and that;s something that we can do.

Thanks for reading. It's been a pleasure to share my thoughts.

-d


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