By Michael K. McKean
When dealing with technology, the question is never “Will something go wrong.” The question is when—especially when it comes to software. Every tiny push of that Install button comes with its own headache, some more painful and long-lasting than others.
Hoteliers know all about IT issues. PMS, CRM, S&C, POS … each new system brings its own set of potential problems. The time has come for hotels to join the thousands of other businesses switching to the cloud. More than a technology trend, the cloud of browser-based software will soon be floating over all our heads.
What is cloud computing and Software as a Service?
These days it seems like everybody who’s anybody is talking about moving to the cloud. But what does that really mean? And how does SaaS fit in? Simply put, cloud computing is Internet-based computing. The way it works is similar to an electricity grid—providing users with access to software and information on demand. SaaS is provided through the cloud to subscribers, instead of through an onsite installation.
What does this mean in the real world? It means that all of your applications and databases are stored on dozens of highly advanced servers at mega data centers. These are facilities with state-of-the-art security the likes of which James Bond himself could not get past. It means multiple redundant backup systems stored on the same types of systems used by the New York Stock Exchange and the Department of Defense. It means highly trained network technicians are available to retune, repair or replace computers in a matter of minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. SaaS means your software is available to your people, anytime, anywhere they have a Web browser, without being limited by your own ability to store, maintain and secure the data.
The more you learn about cloud computing, the more you will begin to understand its value compared to traditional systems. SaaS will radically improve the way your hotel handles the security, maintenance, support and availability of the software you use every day. By taking advantage of SaaS, hotels can cure some of their biggest IT pressure points.
With traditional software, the application and all the data that goes with it are stored onsite. For larger brands, management or ownership companies, this is usually a small roomful of servers. At single-property hotels, this could mean a computer shoved under the desk of the director of sales. This setup can often make it difficult to properly protect all the contact, billing and other sensitive information hotels have on their clients.
Because SaaS applications and data are all hosted at highly secure data centers, this information is infinitely more protected. Data centers by some hosting providers can only be accessed by authorized personnel and are monitored by closed circuit televisions and around-the-clock onsite security teams. They are often further secured with military-grade passcard access and biometric finger-scan units. This is data protection you can rely on.
One of the biggest IT headaches for hotels is maintaining the infrastructure required for traditional software. Whether it’s your meeting management application or your customer relationship management program, all that data has to be stored somewhere. That server then has to be maintained by a networks administrator who backs up the systems, keeps all the service patches current, protects against viruses and memory loss, and troubleshoots any other problem that may arise.
With SaaS, the networks admin’s job all but disappears. IT services are all taken care of by the software provider—leaving you and your team free to focus on sales.
When using traditional applications, there are always those times when, for one reason or another, you can’t access the program—and it always seems to happen when you need it the most. Accessing the application offsite, whether from home or on the road, becomes a chore. Installing upgrades and patches cause long periods of downtime. One little setting gets unchecked and the whole thing freezes.
The beauty of SaaS is if you have the Internet, you have access. All it takes is a login and you can make use of the entire application from anywhere—at work, home or on your mobile phone. Upgrades and patches become a thing of the past because you always have instant access to the most recent version.
It’s been a long day so you decide to take your work home and finish up. You get all settled only to discover the application isn’t working. Since you need to finish before the weekend, you call IT support. When you finally get hold of an actual person, you’re informed of two choices: one, go back to your property to access your work network; or two, call back Monday morning. An all-too-familiar pain begins shooting through your head.
Finding useful IT support is considerably more complicated with traditional programs. Not only are you restricted to an invisible fence surrounding your property, but you’re limited to customer service that is unable to assist your issues and inquiries when you need it. With SaaS alternatives, you always have support at your fingertips. How-to-videos, online help docs, FAQs, even an online chat feature—it’s all there within the application to help you get where you need to go quickly and easily. The best part is you can utilize any of these features from any computer and any Internet server. Say so long to the ball and chain!
Hotel sales departments shouldn’t have to worry about server maintenance, protecting against hackers or being able to access the software they need when they need it. We all know there will always be IT issues. But the goal of SaaS is to minimize those problems and let someone else worry about them. That way hotel sales managers can focus on what they do best—picking up the phone and bringing in new business.
So next time your software has you reaching for Excedrin Migraine, think about making the switch to SaaS. It’s as easy as floating on a cloud.