There are the big, multi-year, transformational trends which continue to prevail in hospitality, including cloud computing, digital signage, and self-service. But in the trenches of everyday life for hospitality executives, a more urgent force is turning up the pressure: the fast-growing mobility and social networking space. Hospitality companies are being bombarded every day with new pitches from start-ups and established vendors alike, all warning that they must participate, or get left in the dust. Solution providers can play a critical role in helping hospitality operators navigate these waters by vetting offers from both a technical and business standpoint.
“The dealer is the last line of defense,” says Jeff Riley, CEO of Dinerware (www.dinerware.com). His advice: Talk to your ISV partners and find out their plans for offering and integrating third-party services. Then thoroughly test any offering internally, and then with a few customers. Dinerware is doing that right now with several services. “We give a free two-month trial with customers and they give us their feedback,” Riley says. “It’s a real opportunity to work with customers in an R&D and planning mode.”
Here are ten hot tech trends that hospitality customers are asking about right now:
1. Social Network Integration:
Guests are increasingly relying on social networks to influence their dining, entertainment, and travel plans. Hospitality venues not only must be on those sites; they increasingly need to integrate them with IT such
as POS. SNAP, a spin-off of pcAmerica (www.pcamerica.com), links desert purveyor Tasti D-Lite’s loyalty members with their social networks so when they make a purchase friends are notified and offered a coupon, and when guests check-in via Foursquare or Twitter, a point is automatically posted to their account toward free treats.
Sundrop Mobile (www.sundropmobile.com) uses phones instead of cards as guests’ loyalty credentials, accessible via an onscreen barcode. Sundrop also captures social media identity for additional promotion opportunity to guests’ friends, taking advantage of the prompt attention and higher redemption rates currently associated with text messages, says Lee Harville, VP, channel sales for Sundrop. Resellers earn recurring revenue for signing up merchants.
2. Cell Phone Door Keys: Hotel lock vendor ASSA ABLOY (www.assaabloy.com) launched a four-month pilot last November at the Clarion Hotel Stockholm that sends the hotel room key directly to guests’ near-field communication-enabled mobile phones before arrival. The program also facilitates services during the stay and at check-out. An alternative is OpenWays (www.openways.com), which pairs its Crypto Acoustic Credential technology for phones with a listening device installed on the lock. OpenWays can be used with any cell phone and all major lock technologies including mag stripe, smartcard, and RFID/PROX.
3. Guest Apps: The number of apps designed to ease guests’ enjoyment of hospitality venues is exploding. Hotels and restaurants are scrambling to determine which apps to align with while also creating their own branded apps for things like booking and managing reservations and itineraries. This will require integrators with development skill sets on phone operating systems, as well as leveraging APIs to integrate with backend applications. Also critical: a keen awareness of the PCI implications of enabling any application with entry into the network.
4. Daily Deal Promotions: Daily deal promotions such as Groupon are hot. What’s not so hot: tracking redemptions. That’s a problem solution providers can solve. When a customer revealed he was tracking redemptions for a daily deal service manually, Edina, Minn.-based solution provider Dakota Retail Technologies (www.dakretail.com) stepped up with an extension to Future POS (www.futurepos.com) software to import the customer award data as gift cards; the customer presents the number, and the transaction debits the award amount from the total check as if it were a gift card. “We had heard horror stories of restaurants that had sold 2,000 [cards] but they couldn’t track them—customers would redeem multiple times,” says Kory Lindersmith, owner of Dakota Retail.
5. Virtual Gift Cards: Gift cards are increasingly going virtual, giving hospitality operators the chance to issue gifts and promotions on the spot without the need for printed or embossed cards. Mercury Payment (www.mercurypay.com) resellers, for example, can offer MercuryGift on Demand, Giftango, and JunoWallet mobile and virtual gift card programs. Such promotions tend to offer higher return rates than email, says Michele Lawrence, senior product marketing manager for Mercury.
6. Front-of-House Tablets: Tablet and tablet apps are everywhere, both customer- and staff-facing. In hotels mobile check-in and concierge apps are emerging, says Tom Moore, director of hospitality solutions, North America, for Motorola, while restaurants use tablets for menus, wine lists, entertainment and sometimes, payment. Motorola will unveil a tablet and other new sleek-yet-more-rugged devices this year to satisfy demand. Even non-mobile companies are getting into the act; Logic Controls (www.logiccontrols.com) hints that the stationary device maker will develop mobile products, along with a new more user-friendly kitchen display system. “We do see more hardware companies that used to be specialized are branching out,” notes Nancy Szczudlik, VP of North American sales for Logic Controls.
7. SMB Analytics: SaaS models are putting powerful analytics within reach of SMBs. “The small mom and pops are seeing front-of-house efficiencies gained from POS,” says Dakota’s Lindersmith. “Now they’re looking for back-of-house. They have the numbers, but they want to see them in different ways,” including mobile device access to view real-time KPIs and even enact decisions, such as approving a void or sending staff home, no matter where they happen to be.
8. Tablets in the Kitchen: Restaurants are tapping the portability of tablets to perform back-of-house restaurant functions such as recipe, purchasing and inventory management. BirchStreet Systems’ (www.birchstreet.net) Recipe Pad, for example, enables users to browse, search and view photographs of preparation instructions as well as edit and ‘play’ with recipes to determine cost and profitability. Other emerging back-of-house tablet apps: inspections, procurement, inventory, food safety and kitchen display system-type functions. Hotels are also going tablet: hotel SystemsPro, (www.hotelsystemspro.com), for example, announced ServicePro, a web-based asset management solution for the Apple iPad and other mobile devices to optimize property operations.
9. Mobility: After years of light adoption, mobile apps such as order and pay at the table are finally taking off, thanks to the familiarity and low cost of smart phones and consumer-grade tablets combined with the increased customer satisfaction rates reported by early adopters. According to Hospitality Technology’s “POS Software 2011” survey, 39.2 percent of restaurant operators named tableside POS for ordering and/or payment to be the “most interesting” POS platform innovation for their company this year. Apple’s iPad, iPods and new Android tablets are getting the biggest buzz, but other solutions are also taking off. “I was shocked by the interest level in this product,” reports Craig Paritz, CEO of Touch Dynamic (www.touchdynamic.com), which recently began offering the POS-hardened WF35 Mobile POS, a $500 wireless PDA designed for hospitality, the first of what is likely a host of low-end commercial-grade devices hoping to compete with consumer grade.
10. Mobile Payment: Mobility comes with a giant caveat, however: The recent PCI decision to delist mobile payment applications and work to create security standards especially for mobile devices. That leaves any payment solution running wirelessly in a grey area until requirements are worked out. “Mobility is real, but when it comes to payments via mobility that’s more of a distance out,” says Barry Wise, senior marketing consultant, Epson America (pos.epson.com).
This obstacle appears to be on the radar screen of enterprise companies, but less so for SMBs. “I wish people were asking more about PCI,” says John Gerig, president of SIS, a Grand Rapids, Mich., Digital Dining solution provider. Another resource for mobile: Version 2.0 of the National Retail Mobile Blueprint: (www.nrf.com/mobile).
Compliance questions haven’t slowed the tide of new solutions designed to facilitate mobile payments, many of which tout their security. Among the best-known are Square (www.squareup.com), a tiny mag swipe device and service for the iPhone, Android, and other smart mobile devices, and TabbedOut (www.tabbedout.com). The guest downloads the free app and stores credit and debit card payment information on his or her phone, while the restaurant integrates a version into POS for a monthly fee. Once a tab is opened, users can review the details of their tabs, and then enter a tip and pay. Resellers share in the monthly revenue. TabbedOut is installed in 175
locations; the company is undertaking a market-by-market push, says Rick Orr, founder and CEO of ATX Innovation. A less infrastructure-intensive solution is CATS, from Bellatrix Systems (www.bellatrix.com), a small card swipe that stores the encrypted card number as the server walks from table to POS, where it’s transmitted via IrDA to the terminal in the same way as a keyboard wedge. The product represents “the emergence of a new segment between pay-at-the-table and manual,” says Bill Raven, senior VP, sales and marketing for Bellatrix, which is developing a reseller network.
NFC-based payment systems are enabling customers to touch and go by tapping microchips built in to phones, or via quarter-sized sticker attached to phones, such as Bling Nation’s (www.blingnation.com). The vendor has partnered with VeriFone (www.verifone.com) to offer PAYware Connect resellers an integrated payment platform for both traditional and alternative payments.
Operators will want to integrate third party mobile payment solutions with current infrastructure; Charge Anywhere (www.chargeanywhere.com) software, for example, provides APIs to enable solution providers to link its software with backend apps, according to Dmitriy Lerman, director of marketing.
Odds are good that for any given customer-facing technology in hospitality, as the commercial suggests, there’s an app for that. Easy-access, low-cost apps may seem like a no-brainer, but some can be a big deal for hospitality organizations, introducing the risks and opportunities that come with integrating new capabilities into carefully established backend systems. Solution providers have an important role to play in helping operators embrace the opportunities while guarding their critical systems.