Nearly 300 hotel technology and vendor executives from around the world have gathered in Atlanta, for the third annual Members' Meeting and Conference of Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG).
Highlights of the conference included updates from HTNG's five workgroups, the announcement of the first HTNG-certified products, an in-depth look at Service Oriented Architecture as it applies to hotel technology, and recognition of key individuals who have contributed to HTNG's success.Workgroup Accomplishments
Each of HTNG's five active workgroups presented their accomplishments and future direction. The HTNG Property Web Services workgroup now has seven separate efforts, two of which produced certifiable product definitions as part of the Property Web Services 2007a specifications that were released on February 20.
Two more teams have defined timelines to achieve them over coming months, and three additional ones are in the process of defining their deliverables. Three products had been certified to the new specifications in the two weeks since they were released.
- The Web Services Framework team has completed, and made available for certification, major portions of their version 2.0 specification, which specifies a standardized method, consistent with industry best practices, for any two systems to communicate with each other. It enables the creation of a Service Oriented Architecture, with loosely coupled systems cooperating to meet the needs of hotels.
- The Single Guest Itinerary Team has created and made available for certification an interface that enables information exchange between specialized systems that book guest appointments, such as spa, golf, concierge, dining, ski, and other activities to enable appointments to flow between various hotel systems and be consolidated and viewed by both staff and guests.
- The Digital Signage team is defining the interface and messaging between digital signage systems and various information systems such as sales/catering, property management, human resources, and internet media. It expects to be in testing in the second quarter and to release certifiable specifications by summer 2007.
- The Back Office Integration team is specifying a generic interface between the various hotel revenue capturing-systems (property management, point-of sale, spa, golf, and sales/catering), and financial accounting systems, and expects to complete its work and submit it for certification later this year.
- The Guest Self-Service team is outlining industry requirements for the next generation of technologies to enable hotel customers to perform various functions themselves, including booking and ordering services, using various devices, ideally of the customers' choice. Two tracks of deliverables are planned, one for food and beverage self-service, and the other to leverage the Single Guest Itinerary effort for self-service bookings for spa, golf, restaurants, etc.
- The Dashboard Team plans to develop specifications for a generic interface between various hotel or resort systems, and providers of dashboard products, to enable easy integration of operational information for hotel management.
- The Identity Compliance Team plans to define a solution for automating user accounts and roles, for setup and compliance audits between a human resources or "gold standard" system and all other systems housing user accounts. The solution will include account setup, comparison reporting, notifications, and alerts.
The HTNG Property/Distribution Solution
workgroup is achieving integration of the key systems that manage distribution for hotels, including property management systems, revenue management systems, and central reservations systems, which act as the repository for the inventory statusing of external distribution channels (GDS, Internet, and other), and intermediaries (switches, caches, representation companies, and the like). The workgroup utilizes specifications developed by the OpenTravel™ Alliance.
The workgroup's "2007a" specification was made available for certification on February 20, and two products had been certified at the time of the conference. The workgroup is now beginning to develop specifications for allotments (groups), inventory synchronization, shared reservations, multiple rate reservations, cancellation policies, room features, and amenities.
Scott Fiegehen, Corporate Director of Distribution and Product Management at Intrawest ULC, which operates 12 resorts with 7,500 rooms in North America, described to the audience how the work HTNG Property Distribution Workgroup specification dramatically increased his vendors' abilities to complete a complex interface quickly.
Describing his experience working with active HTNG members PAR Springer-Miller Systems (Intrawest's property management system) and Hotel Booking Solutions (its channel control system), Fiegehen said "I expected the vendors to be light-years apart in terms of technology and their ability to ‘talk the same language.' I was very pleasantly surprised to see that both vendors used the HTNG specification – up until this point, I didn't even know what that was! I quickly learned that the interface would be available to us MUCH faster than I ever expected and would allow us to gain the financial benefit of this sooner than anticipated."
The HTNG In-Room Technology
workgroup, which now includes 53 participating companies and 80 active individuals, described the five distinct team efforts it has chartered.
- The Applications & Device Integration team demonstrated several set-top boxes, from multiple manufacturers, designed to the specification proposed in a white paper released during 2006. It is also designing an auxiliary panel that would allow guests to plug in a variety of devices in the room. The auxiliary panel will connect to the set-top box using a single, industry-standard USB or HDMI cable, or a wireless USB connection.
- The Infrastructure team highlighted its recent work on Distributed Antenna System implementation and announced a plan to develop a hotel communications infrastructure "reference architecture," with educational materials suitable for both non-technical and technical audiences.
- The IP telephony team is focused on the development of a single, portable, cordless handset capable of meeting guest requirements and replacing the multiple corded and/or cordless handsets typically found in many hotel rooms today. It is also addressing standardized display of call billing rates to guests on IP phones, and a framework to make IP telephony applications portable across handset vendors.
- The In-Room Guest Controls Team will provide a roadmap and guidelines for "next generation" interoperability of in-room guest controls and devices among multiple vendors.
- The Media Content Team is developing a white paper that will outline and simplify the technical challenges and options that hoteliers face in selecting next generation entertainment content and related technology, such as flat-panel HDTV televisions.
The HTNG Architecture
workgroup is describing an applications architecture, data architecture, and integration architecture to support the HTNG vision. The architecture will provide guidance and direction to software vendors and hospitality companies alike in choosing and designing applications that support the vision. Key features of the HTNG vision include application integration, interoperability, stability, flexibility, scalability, and adaptability.
The Distribution Content Management
workgroup is developing an OTA-based message set to facilitate the collection, aggregation, management and distribution of descriptive and illustrative content to create a compelling user experience. Content is defined to include anything except rates, availability, and inventory types of information. It includes information that is descriptive or illustrative (text or visuals) and may come in a variety of formats, e.g. images, videos, text, or XML descriptionsFirst HTNG-Certified Products Announced
At the conference, the vendors and products that were the first to achieve "HTNG Ceritified" status were recognized.
As of March 7, three products have been certified on the Property Web Services 2007a specification:
- OpenCourse Solutions "OpenCourse Activity Suite 3.0"
- PAR Springer-Miller Systems "SpaSoft 3.0 with SMS|Diplomat 2.3"
- TAC GmbH's "Reservation Assistant 3.9"
Paul Armstrong, CTO of MICROS Systems, told the audience that MICROS has also implemented the specification within its Opera property management system, and intends to seek certification.
In addition, two products had achieved certification on the Property/Distribution Solution 2007a specification:
- Easy (EZ) Revenue Management Solutions Ltd.'s "EasyRMS Internet Product Suite ASP Version"
- PAR Springer-Miller's "SMS|Host V16.0 with SMS|Diplomat v2.3 and DipHost v2.3"
HTNG certification "is a tremendous leap in the right direction," said Duncan Bramwell, Vice-President of Distribution of the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel group with five hotels in Europe and North America, which completely overhauled their distribution technology last year. "As a client you are left to loiter in the "no man's land" between systems. We spent time, money and effort in working through the compatibility issues. In the future, I would certainly consider HTNG certified products more seriously than others." The Dorchester Collection utilizes the newly HTNG-certified EasyRMS product.Thought Leadership Program
HTNG's Thought Leadership Program focused on the application of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) in the hotel industry. SOA leaders from outside the hotel industry, including Bob Dye, head of research at the leading think-tank, The Research Board; Laurie Laning, the Chief Architect at Proctor and Gamble; and Sohrab Kakalia, Principal Architect at Infosys, provided cross-industry perspective. Marriott's Senior Vice President, Howard Melnick, and Neil Erickson from Starwood described their own companies' commitment and progress to SOA. Paul Armstrong, CTO of MICROS Systems, and Shawn McGowan, Vice President of Product Development at Newmarket International, gave a vendor perspective.
"Our board of directors and Thought Leadership Advisory Council believes that Service Oriented Architecture is the most important trend in the technology world today, and that it will have a profound impact on the way technology is delivered in the next five to fifteen years," said Douglas Rice, Executive Vice President & CEO of HTNG. "The program at this year's conference was designed to help companies who are grappling with SOA understand the issues better, and also to serve as a wake-up call for vendors and hotel technologists who are not yet starting to think about how they will compete in the SOA world that is surely coming."Awards
HTNG's Directors' Leadership Award for 2006 was presented to Yvette Vincent, Director of Applications at Delaware North Companies, for her leadership role in the HTNG Property Web Services workgroup, which she co-chairs. "This workgroup made tremendous progress in the last year, and Yvette has been instrumental in driving many of the new activities that are drawing in more and more active members," said Douglas Rice.
HTNG also presented leadership awards to nine individuals and one company who were voted by their workgroup peers as contributing the most to the success of their workgroups during 2006 – one hotelier and one vendor per workgroup. The awards were made to:
- Yvette Vincent, Delaware North Companies, Property Web Services – hotelier
- Thomas Gresham, MICROS Systems, Property Web Services – vendor
- Alex Lee, Global Hyatt Corporation, Property/Distribution Solution – hotelier
- Francesca Pasetti, TRUST.WIZCOM, Property/Distribution Solution – vendor
- Neil Schubert, Marriott International, In-Room Technology – hotelier
- Joseph Bartelo, Lorica Solutions, In-Room Technology – vendor
- Marriott International, Architecture – hotelier
- Stephen Burke, Hotel Booking Solutions, Architecture – vendor
- Melissa Montana, Hilton Hotels, Distribution Content Management – hotelier
- Pieter Hugo, who was with Pegasus Solutions when he earned the award, Distribution Content Management - vendor
During the conference, HTNG announced that Barry Shuler, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Marriott International, would succeed Nick Price as President of HTNG, a position Price has held for two consecutive years. Bob Bansfield, Vice President of Information Services at Hyatt, will fill the Vice President's role that Shuler has held for the past two years.
Nick Price was recognized at the conclusion of the conference for the visionary leadership he has provided HTNG during the past five years, first as one of the founders, then as one of the initial directors, then as chair of the highly successful In-Room Technology workgroup, and finally as President. Price intends to remain active in the In-Room Technology Workgroup and was named an Executive Advisor to the organization.
"This was a succession that we started planning last year," said Rice. "It's a tremendous demand on the time of our board members to serve as officers. We were very lucky to have Nick as President for two consecutive terms, and we are looking forward to his continued involvement in a new capacity. At the same time, there is no one more capable of filling his shoes than Barry Shuler, who has been an avid champion of the HTNG in the nearly three years since he first got involved.