The ink is barely dry when you get the call that your hotel brand has just acquired a competing chain, and now your IT team needs to transition dozens of new properties to your communications technology. Fortunately, there is a proven way to ensure a smooth transition and simplify the integration of hundreds of properties: deploy unified communications (UC).
The hospitality industry has undergone a wave of mergers and acquisitions. In 2017, Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, acquired Starwood Hotels and Resorts, expanding its portfolio to 30 brands. Meanwhile, Hilton launched its 14th brand, the Tapestry Collection. And the Wyndham Hotel Group kicked off 2018 with its acquisition of La Quinta.
As hospitality companies add to their portfolios, their IT teams must integrate the new properties seamlessly and cost-effectively into the brand's existing operations. One of the major challenges they face is handling the often-incompatible communications technology or devices the acquired brand has in place.
To further complicate matters, many hotels still rely on legacy PBX systems, which are aging rapidly and difficult to maintain. In fact, according to Hospitality Technology's 2018 Lodging Technology Study*, the burden of supporting systems is the second biggest challenge hoteliers face. (A lack of a sufficient IT budget tops the list.) Even more troubling, legacy systems are often incapable of scaling across multiple devices and properties, reducing efficiency and leaving brands unable to take advantage of future technologies.
Let's take a closer look at how critical challenges can be addressed.
Challenge #1: Multiple properties, multiple systems
From the start, management needs to operate its new properties efficiently and at scale, while also maintaining each individual hotel's unique brand and guest experience. Unified communications makes this possible because it's designed to support multiple properties and brands on a single system. With APIs, for example, the IT team can integrate key applications, such as CRM and property management. This allows staff to greet guests in a brand-appropriate way, while housekeeping and maintenance can share tasks seamlessly across properties for greater efficiency.
In addition, hotel brands will spend less on physical, property-based hardware – networks, servers and more – because the entire system supports virtualization. With important infrastructure maintained in the cloud, they have more flexibility to grow and scale.
In fact, the 2018 Lodging Technology Study found that with the exception of POS and enterprise software, most hotel systems will be in the cloud by 2019. Hospitality firms that consider themselves technology innovators, however, claim all of their systems will be cloud-based by then.
Challenge #2: Interoperability
To make the switch seamless, interoperability is crucial. With every acquisition comes a wide diversity of legacy communications systems, phones and networks that vary widely both by age and by manufacturer. With unified communications, IT teams can bring everything under one umbrella.
IT can connect any type of phone or system to its unified communications platform, and each hotel's existing hardware will work with it. This flexibility offers an added benefit: Each property can take advantage of next-generation technology with little effort.
Challenge #3: Customer Experience
Hotel staffs must always be able to deliver a high-quality, consistent brand experience, and UC helps them achieve this cost-effectively. Unified communications systems can be easily customized, so when each property's CRM is integrated, reception and maintenance staff can personalize interactions with guests.
"Personalization is the next manifestation in the evolution of brands," says former Starwood CEO Frits van Paaschen. "The expectation of people of brands is you should know me and know what I want."
Unified communications simplifies the brand's ability to "remember" guest preferences, anticipate their needs and provide them with easy access to services and amenities. Most significantly, it enables management to provide a better and more consistent customer experience across all properties.
Challenge #4: Lower Total Cost of Ownership
As hotel brands grow their portfolios, the pressure to reduce operating costs increases. In the 2018 Lodging Technology Study, hoteliers reported that 35 percent of their IT budgets are devoted to software (8 percent more than hardware). Property management systems represent about a third of that, more than 10 percentage points above central reservations and point of sale systems. These allocations mean IT leaders must find greater efficiency in their communications budgets, which makes lowering the total cost of ownership a priority.
Because it eliminates the need to maintain hardware on-site at each property – and to make costly upgrades – UC lowers the total cost of ownership even as it provides superior reliability and greater functionality.
The advantage of unified communications is that it resolves many of the challenges a major acquisition represents. So, when that call comes, IT leaders can brush aside their concerns and initiate the process for getting the new hotels online, seamlessly.
*2018 Lodging Technology Study: Deconstructing Innovation, Hospitality Technology, December 18, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2018.