At HSMA 2022 in Munich, his first conference appearance in person since COVID-19 hit, Chief Architect at Shiji Group Michael Heinze talks about his own experience with technology in the Hospitality Industry and shares his view on what leadership means. Read on for highlights of the interview and watch the full video here.
How Michael Heinze Saw The Hotel Tech Stack Evolve
Michael Heinze began the talk by sharing some illuminating insight into his background. Michael was born into the hotel world. From the age of six, he helped at the front desk of his parents’ hotel in Kaprun-Zell Am See, in the Austrian Alps. As he got older, his interest in computers grew, starting with games and then branching into discovering how the machines worked and were programmed.
In parallel, he was taking on more responsibilities at the family’s hotel, combing through scores of manual guest entries in the books to find out which customers had a birthday coming up so that they would receive a birthday card. With simplification in mind, Michael built his own database of guest information, along with a template for the birthday cards, which showed him the potential of automating tasks at the Front Desk.
In the following years, he coded a program that displayed guest information, and automated invoices and was even capable of compiling room availability data to be sent to the local tourism board. His program was so successful that he sold it to two other hotels in the area, and by the age of fourteen, Michael had decided to move from hospitality into the software engineering world.
Michael’s Contributions to the Hotel Tech Stack
However, Michael’s move did not entirely remove him from hotels, but it rather served as the inspiration behind his next successful enterprises. Knowing the pain points of the industry, he built the first booking engine in Europe, which in 1996 recorded 1 million Austrian shillings in revenue for hotels in the Zell Am See region. Global expansion came with HBSI (formerly known as hobooBox), a pioneering Channel Management System for hotels, adopted first by properties in Las Vegas and today serving about 60,000 hotels worldwide.
Recalling the past, Michael talked about how the lack of connectivity available made single-function, hotel-based software necessary for tackling daily operational challenges. As more of these solutions sprung up, hotels kept piling on different products that, most of the time, did not interface, creating information silos and difficulties in making the most out of the automation generated.
Then along comes The Cloud, and technology begins to allow for the creation of decentralized software. Around the mid-00s, Michael developed Hetras, the first Service-as-a-Software combined Hotel Management System. Determined to find better alternatives to the PMS – a legacy system he believed is not built to share information and will therefore become obsolete – Michael recognized the power of the cloud for building systems that are more reliable and integrated.
Where Hotel Tech Could Be Headed
Looking forward, Michael sees legacy systems as well as legacy thinking as the biggest obstacles to the transformation of hotel technology and better service delivery. Both an organizational and a human challenge, companies have difficulty in overcoming this siloed mentality, making it harder to transform their tech stack and standing in the way of their teams’ ability to better serve the guest.
Michael also recognizes that companies are wary of becoming overly dependent on a single vendor, and highlights the importance of adopting an open stack strategy, focused on driving simplicity and reducing the number of systems needed as much as possible – such as using a central system for most tasks and “helper systems” to assist in some functions. When there’s a need for different systems, he sees separation by function as the way to go, where tools for each function should come from the same stack. For example, using software for all guest room functions, regardless if it’s room fulfillment, financial reporting, or daily housekeeping tasks, and another software for events-related needs, and so on.
After understanding the hotel’s most important USP, focusing on investments that enable its delivery and make it as frictionless as possible allows each touchpoint of the guest experience to be simplified.
As the last topic, Michael shared his view of leadership today. To him, it involves leading employees to do their best, but it also means leading the way to building trust with guests. Leaders should define themselves by what they want to achieve, by living and breathing what they believe in. Staying true to oneself and one’s beliefs, being attuned to basic human needs such as how they want to be treated, and displaying empathy, will make people feel like part of a team and give them the incentive to work towards achieving common goals.