The Consumerization of Hotel Software

hotel appAll around us software and hardware is making giant leaps forward, making tasks easier and more accessible for the average user than ever before. So why is most hotel software still stuck in the dark ages? Why is the staff behind the front desk still frantically poking away in applications designed for a different generation? Come to think of it, why is there a front desk at all?

The answer is hidden in the question. Most legacy hotel software was, of course, written for a previous generation of hotels. Even new hotel software is heavily derived from the products of a previous generation. But hotels – and chains in particular – did not get any simpler over the years. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. To meet the diverse needs of hotels and chains, software vendors continued to add features and functions – at the expense of speed, reliability and ease of use. But with enough bending, squeezing, and working around, these products could be made – more or less – to fit most of the changing requirements of hotels and chains. Or is it the chains that have to bend to fit the software?

The same hotel managers and IT professionals who suffer through their legacy hotel software during the day go home to the latest, coolest apps on their smartphones and tablets and watch how their pre-school kids navigate through complex games even before they learn to read.

So why can’t hotel applications be as easy to use as consumer apps?

Well, they can be. But not if hotel software vendors continue on their current path.

Hotel software does have inherent complexities that Angry Birds will never have. There is no truly simple way to model and store the fundamental building blocks such as rates, policies, rules, groups, guest accounting, interfaces and all the other peculiarities of the hotel business. However a well designed system can separate this complexity from the end-user. And what better way to separate it by putting the end-user functionality into an app?

This is easier said than done. Most hotel software is built so that there is no way to cleanly separate the business logic and the user interface. But software designed from the ground up with this separation is ideally suited for “appification”. The apps talk to the rest of the product via a technology known as web services. Rather than trying to fit all hotel functionality into one app, many smaller apps could be designed. For example: a check-in app, a housekeeping app, a rate management app and a guest-facing app.

But that’s not all. The ideal check-in app, for example, would be different in Hliton, citizenM or Scandic. Rather than once again making a complex one-size-fits-all app, the software vendor can create a few different check-in apps. Now the hotel chain has different flavors to choose from depending on their own operations. They don’t even have to choose just one. The front desk supervisor can use a different app from the trainee clerk. We all know how easy it is to download and use a new app and switch back and forth between them. And thus the consumerization of hotel software.

The really cool part is that the software vendor could provide third party developers with the specifications of their web services. This means that other developers and even hotel chains themselves could build and design their own apps.

Don’t look for this type of flexibility in your existing vendor or you will probably be disappointed. Only a select number of vendors had the foresight to design their architecture and build a base to allow for these kinds of apps. However, by the end of 2013, you will see the first consumerized hotel software running live.

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