Behind the Curtain: Design Thinking in Hotel Technology

April 6, 2016 Stefan Tweraser

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When you venture into the back-of-the-house in hotels, it’s surprising to encounter a battlefield of broken furniture, soiled linens, battered walls, and employees who look like they haven’t seen the light of day in years. 

Hotels spend millions designing lobbies and guestrooms to feel warm and welcoming to guests, but often neglect employee-facing areas. Why the double standard? Obviously, the guest experience is a top priority, but what about the employee experience? 

“If you look after your staff, they'll look after your customers,” says Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. If employees don’t feel valued, your guests won’t either. 

The same can be said about technology. Hotels invest heavily in guest-facing technologies like booking engines and mobile apps, but if you take a peek into the back office you might think you entered a time warp into the 1980s. 

good-design-sketch.jpgImage courtesy of Rob Enslin, www.flickr.com/photos/doos/

Whether it’s the PMS, POS, CRM or revenue management software, employees are using complex systems that, due to cumbersome design, can end up hampering productivity and even diminishing job satisfaction.

How many guests are kept waiting while employees navigate these systems in search of information that should be at their fingertips? How often are revenue managers late for meetings because they’re manually creating spreadsheets with hundreds of data points—even though you only need to look at the key metrics? These may sound like extreme cases, but they are unfortunately common occurences for many in our industry today. 





As hotel design becomes sleeker and more minimalist, hotel technology is lagging behind. Rather than invest in new technology, hotels lump new features and functionality on top of legacy systems, which end up making them slower, more onerous, and unsightly. Employees are left to navigate a labyrinth of options and menus to find information. Meanwhile, management wonders why staff are using only 10% of the system’s capabilities. 

When hotels do invest in new technology, they make decisions based on checklists of features and pricing, while usability and design are underrepresented by software developers, and thus under-considered by hotels. 

apple-google-design-vs-others-good-and-bad-design.jpegIn comparison, technology leaders like Apple, Google, and Netflix have conditioned consumers to expect sleek interfaces that are so engaging and unobtrusive they barely notice the design. As an example, Google strips away all distractions from its search box, guiding users to jump in and start searching right away.

Good design is inobtrusive. It naturally guides the user where they want to go. It anticipates the user's goals, while being flexible enough to solve a variety of different problems. In this manner, the program is designed for ease-of-use, plain and simple. This user-oriented philosophy is called design thinking. 

You can read our thoughts on good design in data here. 

Slowly, design thinking is catching on in the hospitality industry, too. Hoteliers are realizing that good, effective design leads to happy, engaged, and productive employees. Less time learning how to use soltware means your staff have more time to take care of guests. New solutions like Alice, CheckMate, Travel Tripper, and SnapShot feature elegant interfaces and visual navigation. We're proud to consider ourselves among those pushing hospitality technology into the future, in a way that will benefit both hotels and guests. 

But hospitality technology must be more than just a pretty interface. It needs to be frictionless and functional, guiding users to what’s important without oversimplifying, while integrating data from diverse sources without overcomplicating.

Today’s hospitality tech must appeal to a diverse group of users, from the operationally-minded to the analytical, from baby boomers who still use Excel to snake people who grew up using iPhones. And it must accommodate a range of situations, from operations staff serving the real-time needs of guests to revenue managers producing long-range forecasts. 

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During my time at Google, I learned that design must be an integral part of the product, not just a nice dress-up. And while it can’t save a bad product, it can certainly sink a good one. I also learned that design must be both strict and adaptive, providing guidance to the user as well as being responsive to the user’s needs.

When I moved into hospitality, I discovered an industry rich in guest and marketplace data but one that faces challenges when putting data to use in the form of revenue-driving analytics. At SnapShot, we want to provide no-nonsense design for a complex set of data points. When the right data is presented in the right way, it makes hotels easier to manage, so they can focus on what they do best: providing great experiences for their guests. 

 

Good design in business-to-business technology is no longer a luxury– it’s a necessity. When choosing new technology for your hotel, consider these features: 

  • User Experience (UX). Will employees enjoy using the system or avoid it? How quickly will they learn it? How much of its capability will they use?

  • User Interface (UI). Is the design complex and cluttered or simple and intuitive? Is the interface stripped down to the essentials, with additional information easily accessible?

  • Customizability. Can the system be modified to suit your hotel’s unique needs? How accessible and navigable is it from mobile, tablet, and desktop devices?

  • Integration. Does the system play well with other applications, allowing the integration of data from multiple sources? Will it maintain its ease-of-use as new features, applications, and data points are added over time?

  

To stay competitive, hotels must provide the tools and technology employees need to be efficient, resourceful, and agile. Hotels that don’t adapt to the new wave in design thinking will lose employees, guests, and eventually market share.  

So next time you take a peek behind the curtain at a hotel, let’s hope you’re impressed by the back-of-house conditions and the quality of employee-facing technology. 

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