One of the best illustrations of the challenges hotels face when it comes to information technology is what we like to call The Spaghetti Chart (also known as the Picasso Chart, for it's disjointed, surrealist display of jumbled logic and disorganization). The chart, seen below, was sketched out by Darja Gogunova, our Head of Product, and Anton Hell, a consultant and frequent collaborator of SnapShot's, when working with a client to map out their I.T. infrastructure. What they quickly discovered was the complicated, confusing, and delicately patchworked network of various interlinked hospitality software and tools affectionately known as "The Spaghetti Chart."
Even more shocking is that this tangle of a system is quite common in the hospitality industry. Just looking at the chart, the various problems that poorly managed hotel I.T. can create are obvious. Yet even though much of the industry operates with this patchwork infrastructure, it doesn't have to be this way. A more hollistic approach to I.T. planning and management, and modern user-oriented software can make a far more powerful and agile I.T. system for your hotel.
I spoke with Darja and Anton to better understand how they created this chart and what they learned from it.
Anton Hell and Darja Gogunova
Anton: Darja and I were on the client’s site in Croatia. We went to a customer- 40,000 units, the market leader in their market, highly organized, highly profitiable. Their sheer business numbers are incredible. They asked us to help them consider changing their Property Management System.
Darja: We would normally go in and have interviews with different departments, asking them what they do, what kind of objectives they have, what kind of systems they work with, and what kind of system flows. Then as a procedure we would just draw this I.T. landscape as they tell us this story. Then you realize that's why it has so many lines and crosslines, because everyone has a different understanding of how the systems are connected or not. And when you start asking “Do you have an interface between the two or do you create an export, an Excel file and then upload it somewhere else?”
Anton: Like with any other client, they were not aware of how interconnected these systems are. You might pick out a software, say, “This looks nice!” and buy it. The problem starts when you start implementing and you’re not away of all the relationships you have with other systems. With that particular client, through interviews, we established a system landscape- the famous Picasso chart. The reason to do that was in order for us to understand these dependencies, to know where to focus. But as we drew that picture over the course of three days, it helped us all realize how very complex it is. Everyone who looks at the chart realizes that this can’t be the answer. This can’t be state-of-the-art I.T. in 2016.
Darja: A lot of I.T. people in hotels don’t have a strategic position; they’re very operational. So it’s up to every single department to decide what kind of technology the way to use. They have their budgets approved every year. Depending on how much money they have, they can get a fully-integrated system, a partially-integrated system, or not integrated at all.
Anton: On top of that, until recently, most of the business applications for hotels have been horrible. They do a very bad job at being intelligent at delivering information. Business owners wait for some bloke to tweak the system and the explain it to the colleague, and that works but in 2016 that’s not the way things should be done. I don’t want a software, I want information. Either your product delivers something really tangible for my business or go away.
Darja: If we talk about hotel chains, often these interface decisions are taken at the head office level, sometimes not. Usually if they buy new technology, they tend to implement it in most of their hotels. But since I.T. is not a strategic role in hotels, the projects are being implemented by the Director of Marketing or the Director of Revenue Managing who sometimes lack the understanding of the bigger picture of I.T. or they know what’s going on in their department but they don’t know what’s going on in the other departments.
Anton: And to make it more complicated, the problem with that is it’s very hard to change software components because they’re so interrelated, not by design, but because people simply don’t know where the data is coming from. The systems are patched together. Later on, no one can say what’s mission critical and what has surpassed their relevance, so everything is kept alive and if you start changing things, you’re in for a surprise.
Darja: There are a lot of things that can be automated. Like what we have with the Google Play Store or the App Store, where you can go to the app store, and all you need to do is click on an icon and it integrates with your phone. That’s very much not the case yet within hospitality. There are creative hotels like citizenM who are investigating how to make this process more automated, for instance, their check-in is a self-check-in process.
A lot of hotels are trying to do similar things in order to collect more customer data. Here's a cool story for example: The Robinson, a resort-club-hotel, wanted to increase their data quality, because they were investing a lot of money in Customer Relationship Management. They were also faced with the challenge that they wanted to increase the number of email addresses and profile information from their guests. So to solve these issues they sent out a pre-check-in form to their guests and asked them to fill out their profile information, and if they did that they would get a beach bag sent to them. It didn’t cost them anything because those beach bags were cheap for them, but it had tremendous success. Almost everyone filled out those cards. So you really just have to be creative!
Anton: I think it’s hard advice to give to anyone who are in love with their hotel, their product. They are very good as long as they can see the guest, but if the guest is not in the house– My advice would be to view your business from the perspective of the guest and the guest is not necessarily booking your hotel, the hotel booking is part of a greater journey. Your chance to really shine is by asking yourself how you can integrate yourself into this whole journey. The chance to influence this experience or leave an impression extends beyond the booking itself.
Darja: Try to map out your current IT landscape, just to have the awareness of what’s going on in their current system. And once you have that picture, it’s very obvious which things are not working efficiently. Oftentimes another benefit is that departments talk more with each other because they realize, “Wow, I didn’t know you were doing that, that would be so helpful for me as well.” So that would be a really good exercise, I would recommend anybody to do that. You can use bubbles, or post-its, it doesn’t have to be any crazy business process mapping tool. It’s just about understanding how people and systems work with each other.
Anton: With any technology you buy today, the first question should be “How do I get the data out of this system?” If there is no adequate answer, stay away from those solutions. There are legacy systems deployed where it’s very hard to get the raw data. Hotels battle with that and that would be the first thing I’d be looking for: “How do I get to my data?”
The second piece of advice: Clearly separate transactional data — data that powers my operation — and information. Data that is taken to the next level is transformed into information because it’s combined and reshaped to answer business questions or even to allow you to start discovering patterns that you wouldn’t be able to discover if you're looking at just one part of the data.
Those are the two pieces you need to consider today.