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March 2008

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The Next Generation of Hotel Technology
Tech Talk 4
by Carolyn Ford and Jim Sermersheim

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My favorite hotel is in Seattle, discovered years ago during one of my many business trips. It isn’t my favorite because it has gold gilded toilet seats or anything like that; it is my favorite because of their attention to detail, such as Mathew, the front desk guy, makes sure there is bottled water and strawberries—my favorite, waiting in my room for me when I arrive. This personal touch I associate with hotels in general is the reason I found it slightly odd when I first heard of Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG), the hotel industry standards group. I found this amusing because, as usual, I was thinking of the hotel business as it revolves around ME. I like to believe that “personal touch” is just for me and applied to me because I am so memorable not because information about me is kept in a cold database somewhere.

My rose-colored glasses recently got a bit of a polishing while attending the HTNG Conference in Seattle. While there, I was surprised to realize hotels have “systems,” not just “Mathews.” And hotels face the same challenges as every other organization. They have, disparate systems, sometimes as many as 100, all with different management interfaces, all required to meet compliance mandates such as PCI and Sarbanes Oxley.

Hotels have systems such as payment, heating and cooling, phones, and that magical channel on the TV that always knows my name. I always envisioned someone going to my room prior to my arrival and manually programming my TV for that extra special touch. After listening to some sessions at the HTNG conference, I think I was not far off, manually programming my TV may be just the tip of the iceberg as far as manual processes go for hotels.

Wouldn’t it be cool for my favorite hotel if, when I make a reservation, details for my comfort are set into motion? All my personal favorites transmitted to all those disparate systems, right down to what temperature I like my room and it just magically happens?

Imagine, I make my reservation online, my TV welcomes me by name, with information relevant to my stay, such as upselling the hotel’s services and the surrounding area’s offerings. The billing system prepares an estimate of my stay for me. Mathew gets an e-mail alert regarding my arrival date so my room can be prepared with fresh linens that smell like an ocean breeze and a nice Pinot Grigio with strawberries and cheese. Everything is orchestrated, waiting for my arrival. Ahhh, just thinking of it reminds me of my childhood nickname “Queenie.” Of course, now I prefer “Queen Carolyn.”

It may sound a little George Jetson, but system-wide integration with an identity management solution, creating a common administrative interface could make all this happen. Not only that, it would also make it possible to actually monitor systems and ensure everything is within business policy and meeting government regulations. The problem is, many of those systems are just plain old and weren’t engineered to

interface with anything. They require high overhead manual administration and have been impossible to keep current with business policy and government mandates. Some of them are simply unreachable.

That is, until now. The Novell Bandit team has proven these systems are NOT unreachable. Using open source, Bandit developers created reference code that builds on existing HTNG standards, extending them with an open message set for identity compliance. This code cost-effectively connects disparate systems to streamline administration, comply with regulatory requirements and, most significantly MY DESIRES!

The code bridges various systems and platforms in an enterprise, including legacy systems, with commercially available identity management software. The first implementation of the code is currently being initiated by Delaware North Companies, a global hospitality and food service provider. In short, the manual processes that have been a royal pain for hotels, and companies in general, can be automated through integration with an identity management solution, making me (OK, all customers) royalty!

Some might argue that “this is only four little pieces of code” and I am making a bigger deal of it than it is. But, allow me to remind you, it was only five little letters Helen Keller finally understood to spell “water”—just one word. One word that opened up a whole world to her, one word gave a, once “unreachable” little girl the power to communicate. Four pieces of code did precisely the same thing for deaf and dumb legacy systems.

I admit: the Helen Keller comparison may be a little dramatic, but you get the idea. The Bandit code makes it possible for these once unreachable systems to integrate with a central identity management solution; that code is the on-ramp to identity! They are the on-ramp to making my hotel stay that much more delightful. I have been focusing on hotels because Delaware North is the first company to use the open source code this way; but the truth is, every company faces similar challenges. They either have legacy or home-grown systems that have to be managed manually that have been considered a burden necessary to bare.

Using open source creates a foundation that is vendor- and to a great extent, system-agnostic. This code can be leveraged by any company with legacy system challenges, by a simple download. The code Bandit developed for Delaware North probably won’t be an exact fit for your company’s challenges, but the really cool thing about open source is that it has a massive community that is eager to make the code a perfect fit for whatever need you have. And, of course, that need will be to make my experience with your company, hotel, bank, or whatever that much better! I like dark chocolate and pink Champaign.



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