In our regular Shiji Buzz conversations, we explore various hot topics in hospitality technology with a panel of diverse experts from across the industry.
Most recently, we hosted a panel to discuss how cloud technology can improve many facets of hospitality operations, boosting efficiency, streamlining operations, and improving the guest experience. To explore the topic and share tips that hoteliers can apply in their own work, we brought together Tobias Koehler, Chief Commercial Officer, Big Mama Hotels, Florian Tinnus, Global Lead Travel & Hospitality Partners, Amazon Web Services, Travel & Hospitality, Anthony Hunt, VP Strategy/ Product, Shiji, and Jay Sherman, Director, Global Pre-Sales.
And if you missed our last Shiji Buzz webinar recap exploring the new era of hotel distribution, you can read it here.
Let’s jump in.
How can one better utilize cloud technology for hospitality purposes?
The conversation was kicked off by Florian Tinnus, Amazon Web Services’ Global Lead, Travel and Hospitality. He shared a great illustration of how to think about the cloud, “Think about the cloud as the Lego bricks to build every possible digital solution for every common use case in your industry.”
He also shared an anecdote about how far we have come in the industry, “The cloud brought a lot of enrichment to our business. I think back to the time when I started at a hotel in the mid-2000s and when I first entered the hotel I was given a tour. We came across a large room full of servers and two or three IT managers running the whole business. They explained how difficult it is, especially on the weekends when big groups arrive, and how everything sometimes crashes. If I look at our setup at the moment, where we basically switch on the computer from wherever we are, be it in Berlin, Leipzig, or on vacation in Hawaii, I can still see what’s happening in the hotel and do my business. So this has been a great way of how we can do things now. And looking at the customer side of it, there’s a lot of things that are possible now that well, people might have thought of 10 or 20 years ago, but now they’re actually capable of doing this.”
Changes in the industry
The conversation continued by looking at how the industry has changed and cloud technology for hospitality has changed alongside it.
Anthony Hunt, VP Strategy/ Product, Shiji, described how Shiji framed its approach to cloud computing back in the day. “The position that I’m coming from representing Shiji, what we were thinking six and a half years ago, when we looked at architecting a cloud hospitality solution, the objective was to have a global-reach-capable enterprise application that would deliver functionality to the business around the guest as a single global guest, which could be shared worldwide, with all the data points accessed by different consumers, whether they’re internal or external API providers.”
He continued to share what he’s seen in terms of changes from the provider side. “So we’re possibly already in the second generation of cloud where we go beyond storage and computing. We’re now moving up the stack. The next stage is stitching services together at a higher level so that as a customer, you don’t have to build it all yourself. And the second piece is to bring in partners who have the expertise, and who build into the cloud.”
Hunt went on, “The kitchen is a good example. We created what we call the five-by-five matrix. So we looked at the five top solution areas and five use cases. So five by five is 25 which really provide guidance across every possible use case. So you give me one: kitchen monitoring. The refrigerator temperature is an important thing for several use cases, including waste reduction, sustainability, also, the health guidance you have in the kitchen, what we can do is put a sensor in your kitchen with a partner, we provide data analytics and then we can add predictive maintenance to it. All of this is available in the cloud. So when you build that in the cloud, you go in, you pull a quick start, the architecture, the partner and you stitch it together in the cloud, and then you let it run and you pay for what you use. So we could do that basically, as a hobby this afternoon to be installed.”
What are the biggest challenges to move to cloud technology?
It’s not all sunshine and blue skies when it comes to cloud technology for hospitality, however. Like any technology there are challenges. Tobias Koehler, Big Mama Hotels’ Chief Commercial Officer shared his experience: “I was lucky enough to work at Ruby, where we worked with the Shiji Enterprise Platform. At Ruby and now also with Big Mama Hotels, there’s the cloud-first approach. We see the biggest advantage in having all the systems in the cloud is everything is basically device agnostic and place independent, whatever [our team] wants to do, they can do from wherever. That was the most important part for us.
For example, there was one idea where we were talking about– Why don’t we, since we know the flight number of the guests and we could easily track the delay of the flight, we might send the guests a message that if he’s delayed, his room will still be ready? Because apparently, one of the biggest concerns is that when they arrive after 6 pm their room will be gone. So we will send out a message and tell them, “We know your flight is delayed. Your room will be safe and warm and waiting for you.” To answer your question, Florian. It’s the old saying that if you have a bad process, and you put it into the cloud, [the bad process is] processed in the cloud.
On developing quickly
One of the key takeaways the panel seemed to agree on is the power of being able to develop, test, and iterate quickly by utilizing cloud technology for hospitality. Florian discussed AWS’s work with Big Mama as an example. “Big Mama likes to try out a lot of different things, right? They constantly try to improve the guest journey. And now they have got their kitchen in the cloud set up. So with infrastructure, the partner applications, their own applications, and everything in the cloud, the number one thing that they can do is to innovate faster, spin up a server, and try something out with lower operational overhead. So that’s kind of like the formula.”
Tobias continued, “The great thing about our industry is that we actually have our customers in-house. I can speak to them, I can ask, ‘Hey, how did you like that process? How did you like to check-in? How did you like our booking engine?’ We can do live A/B testing actually and with this cloud environment, it is easy for me to try things out to easily plug it in and plug it out and see what’s working and what’s not. I can only encourage our industry to do this more. And maybe also, to ask hotel tech providers to make this possible to have some kind of testing period available.
What does the rest of the industry think of the cloud?
While our panel was highly engaged with cloud computing in their work, how does the rest of hospitality feel? Tobias shared his observation. “I see a lot more people adopting cloud products who had the necessity of changing things because of the last two years when COVID struck our industry the hardest. We had to move from personal check-ins to virtual check-ins. And suddenly they realized, ‘Oh, my legacy product might not be able to help me with that properly. So let’s see what else is out there in the market.’ And slowly but steadily I think hoteliers already understood that it is important to challenge the status quo at some point. But I can also see that there’s still a generational change going on where maybe, senior hoteliers don’t really have the power or the will to change things anymore and maybe their children take care of it now and they see how they interact online with everybody and they think yeah, no, it’s easy.”
He added that it’s important to take an iterative approach. “You don’t have to go and say, ‘Oh, now we’re in the cloud. I know everything needs to work fine. Like how do we manage RevPAR? How are we going to manage conversion?’ It’s really to have that organizational change. And there’s a lot of training to be needed, and then try it out. But don’t try to fix it all.”
He wrapped it up with an interesting take that encouraging forward-thinking team members can be a great way to boost retention and employee satisfaction. “We can also see that our business or our industry is losing a lot of very talented people. And that’s where also this change management can help to give people within the company some job enrichment to tell them, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you do a very great job within the reservations department. And I see you do have ideas, why don’t you come into our next meeting with Shiji, for example, and tell them what’s really disturbing you and what would you like to do to help guests better?’ And that’s, that’s at least how we try to identify those who can make an impact. That’s something I also want to encourage our fellow hoteliers. Give people feedback. If you even have an idea of what else is necessary to do, I’ve seen a lot of things happening really fast, because we mentioned it.”
The future of the cloud
We’re in an exciting era for hospitality and cloud technology, but what does the future hold? Each panelist shared their take:
Florian: “We did a very recent study, and it says that 91% of 1000 Travel hospitality leaders we interviewed indicated that digital cloud transformation is essential for their business, yet only 29% indicated that their business is currently ahead of the curve… I’m privileged to work with hundreds or thousands of partners like you and others. And I see innovation comes if we don’t stop it if we don’t hold it captive in legacy systems of the past. So the whole idea of open APIs or making services available is everything that has been foundational to our business.”
Tobias: “I see a bright future ahead of us, especially when it comes to automation and making life easier for hoteliers.”
Anthony: “We will grow broader and wider. We are working on some great topics, and rewriting concepts, so that spa and golf will be part of the platform offering, for example. We have 1200 APIs. We will offer as much as we can, but we will be equally open, so the customer can choose. This is the next two, or three years of our journey. And we look forward to a wider and broader global reach offering.”