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Integrated Data in the Hospitality Business

  • March 01 2007, 1:00am EST

Think of your favorite hotel. What's the first thing that enters your mind? The accommodations? The food? The service? Several elements contribute to hotel excellence. The seamless delivery of outstanding lodging, catering, food and customer service is a hallmark of any great hotel.

Business Challenge

Great hotels consistently deliver excellence across the board and do so with apparent ease, style and grace. But ease is the farthest thing from the truth when it comes to providing customers with exemplary service.

Behind the scenes, numerous organizations and systems play a role in supporting customers, each relying on their own applications, processes and tools. They work together to optimize customer interaction, allowing customers to easily purchase any combination of food, lodging and catering at each property from multiple interfaces, such as a toll-free number, hotel Web site or travel Web site.

But the disparate systems and supporting organizations can splinter even the most unified hospitality landscape.

One corporate business manager for a major hotel aptly describes his organization. "I view us as one business, which provides the best lodging, food service and catering to the customer. My systems treat my business as separate, nonintegrated business units with disjointed booking, catering, accounting and billing systems. Our franchises may also use their own property management systems [PMS], making PMS disjointed, too." His plea: "I need an integrated, real-time view into my one business."

If he could wave a magic wand and instantly upgrade the hotel's ability to grow its business and fully satisfy current and future customer needs, this executive states, "I would receive a complete view of my business. Much of this I need in real time, not after overnight processing. If I had that, I could better service my customers, control costs and expand revenue."

Granting Hospitality Managers Their Greatest Wish

As usual, the business manager makes the solution sound simple. In reality, integrating numerous, disparate components is complex and problematic, and requires data management (DM) professionals to juggle issues surrounding low latency systems, near real-time integration and master data management.

Because they understand the data landscape, DM professionals should be able to develop a plan that will bring order to chaos while delivering incremental business value projects. Although real-time data integration poses the greatest demand, the DM professional must consider all aspects, understand the sequencing of the solution and recognize key predecessors. Adopting the "divide, conquer and absorb" approach will allow the DM professional to demonstrate business value and mitigate technical risk, as long as he/she applies division to the data lifecycle rather than the data source.

Analyzing Data Lifecycle

When you examine the business problem, you will likely encounter two major entities that pose the biggest business challenge: the customer and the transaction. I will address the customer-related challenge.

Entity lifecycle analysis represents one of the best tools available for integrated systems that must accommodate customer changes on the fly. In its simplest form, entity lifecycle analysis examines the different states of business entity progressing from beginning to end.

In hospitality, you should perform entity lifecycle analysis against logical entities without considering the number of physical files (although you will need to conduct the file analysis in subsequent phases). Consider the following customer example:

  1. A customer begins as a prospect by giving some information to the hotel but without necessarily booking a transaction.
  2. A customer becomes a booking customer by booking a room or catering event with the hotel. Although a transaction has not yet occurred, complex subtyping comes into play, e.g., does the room booking include a catering event?
  3. Eventually, the customer transacts business, becoming a transacting customer, which is also subject to subtyping.

Note: The actual entity lifecycle analysis will be more comprehensive and handle all states and subtypes within states.

Matching States to Systems (What are Gap States?)

Once you understand the various states, you individually map them to the appropriate systems and databases. In this example: the prospect is first mapped to the Web booking and call center systems; the booking customer is mapped to the booking, billing, call center and Web booking system; and the transacting customer is mapped to the booking, billing, call center, Web booking and billing systems.

With mapping in hand, the DM professional can address various lifecycle issues. In this example, a single state deals with multiple systems, so a master data management strategy would be advantageous. Also, the prospect can move from booking to transacting in real time, making a low-latency environment, such as enterprise application integration (EAI), preferable to a traditional lift-and-shift data warehouse. 

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