The economy was soft and the travel industry had never really recovered from 9/11. New project dollars were tough to come by and the level of innovation on display year over year at HITEC showed it.
Now, a couple of years later we’re seeing a proliferation of new start ups and companies moving into the hospitality space. Hospitality and travel are even popping up as viable subjects for venture capital, with mainstream VC’s like Ignition Partners taking a substantial position in Hipmunk.com and the creation of specialized travel and hospitality funds like Thayer Venture Partners.
In this new environment where the puppies are nipping at the heels of the establishment players, I thought I’d take a visit to a few of the old guard and see what — if anything — is new.
I’m going to state right here that I was blown away. The level of innovation coming from the historically (ahem) ponderous companies of hospitality is nothing short of amazing.
My first visit was to Micros Systems.
Let’s face it kids, some people think of Micros as the 800-pound dinosaur that left a footprint in the soap dish…or something like that. They hold lots of market and they know it. For a while, I think they thought they didn’t need to innovate.
Well, somebody ate their Wheaties, because Micros has come to play in the new reality that is ecommerce.
Put simply, Micros has bet big on the democratization of web and mobile ecommerce presence management. While you might not see the distinction at the booth this year, the company has formed an entirely new, related to hospitality but not necessarily hotel, ecommerce team.
Today I got to see the first version of what they’re calling Micros HCP, which anachronistically stands for Hotel Commerce Platform but is so much more. Think brand and content management on steroids, with a healthy dose of business logic and booking capability thrown in.
The entirely cloud based application predictably hooks to Micros branded applications, but Micros is thinking above the property, which means interacting with system from other vendors is a must. They’ve included spa, table and other reservation interfaces in the toolkit, and even include support for some of the more popular HTNG interfaces.
I think if I was a brand manager or otherwise responsible for my company’s public messaging I’d be pretty happy, but if I were a company that made my money creating web and mobile booking sites for resorts? Not so much.
To make sure this wasn’t just a fluke, I went and visited Infor, a brand I historically associate with growth through acquisition rather than innovation.
Infor too has clearly recognized that it needs to step up and has started putting some dollars to work on innovation. The results really show it.
Infor’s message going forward is about empowering their users, and they’ve developed a couple of key technologies to do just that.
Of primary interest to this old integrator was their Infor10 suite that wraps the incredible power of an Enterprise Service Bus in user-friendly packaging. With Infor10, the company makes available almost every conceivable tool and API needed to enable hoteliers to share and manage information themselves.
Data is bi-directionally available from branded products as you’d expect, but Infor have gone the extra mile and thoughtfully provided easy access and connect ability to literally any third party app or process.
Oh, and did I mention they’ve thrown in connectors for all manner of social media?
Infor seems to have really heard and heeded the call for open access to data, and responded brilliantly.
Finally, I had a chance to go and visit with the folks from Agilysys.
And what do you know…the story is the same. They’ve felt the nip on heels and decided to do something about it.
Agilysys, through their InfoGenesis brand, is biting hard on mobility.
Just coming out of beta, and today available for general release, is the InfoGenesis Mobile POS.
This new platform is all about giving operators the flexibility and capability to take and process orders remotely, far away from the constraints of power and hard-wired network connectivity.
I’ve never really worked a POS terminal professionally, but the system I got to play with worked just like I would think a “mobile” POS should. I was able to create orders, apply modifiers, including free form text (!) just like I was standing at a register.
Perhaps even easier, because the screens have been intuitively laid out in consideration of the smaller real estate available. The inner geek in me also loves that the solutions is built out on Android, which should make the bureaucracy of software distribution and updating that plagues other solutions just go away.
Just walking around the show floor today, I can see that these three big companies are not unique.
I’ll bet you could step into any of the “majors” at HITEC this year, and most would be demonstrating features and products that if not exactly innovative are certainly new and unexpected.
I think it’s a sign of the times and of the economy; all of these companies have seen the writing on the wall and elected to swing for the fences rather than be left behind, and that can only be good for us and our industry.
See? Maybe the elephants can innovate after all.
Disclosure Statement: I am a former employee of Micros Systems and have worked professionally with the teams from both Agilysys and Infor. That being said, I do not have a financial interest in or any current business dealing with any company or product discussed in this post.
Brad More is a former Naval Aviator who stumbled into hospitality technology and found a home. He is co-founder and president of Atri Leo, a new company focused on the practical application of technology to hospitality. Follow Brad on Twitter @brmore or e-mail him for more information.
Top photo courtesy of digitalART2’s Flickr photo stream.
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