By: Carl Weldon, HFTP COO Europe
It was a balmy evening at the Cavendish Hotel in London’s West End, where a diverse group of UK and European hospitality finance and technology executives collected together for a special “Dinner and Debate,” hosted by HFTP and kindly sponsored by Infor. After a superb dinner catered by Paragon Hospitality, we all settled down to debate a current topic of concern to those in the room: how can hospitality finance and technology professionals help the industry in a time of rapid inflation and staffing challenges that have arisen post-pandemic?
The debate was kicked off by Paul Nisbett, CFO of Valor Hospitality Europe, who issued a challenge of interest to the group: the industry must focus on removing or minimizing repetitive (and often mundane) jobs and processes by using effective machine learning.
Recent increasing costs in utilities (soon to be “energy, waste and water” or “EW&W”) mean that we must focus on our buildings (all agreed that not many have the opportunity to build sleek new hotels) and how they are using energy and when. Also, how do our buildings help (or hinder) the operational workflows for our staff?
Nisbett pointed out that Microsoft has a reputation of closing out their monthly accounting for the whole company in a mere eight hours — but we know that hotels typically take much longer than that just to effectively record history. These days, our focus should be less historical and more forward-looking, on the key measurements that drive our business, especially in the heavy-middle part of the profit and loss statement (P&L). Data must also seamlessly, intuitively move from one system to another in order to enable a clear view of the future.
He ended with a challenge that effectively said to the technologists in the room: “the door is open more than it has ever been. Please help us examine these key areas and find solutions.”
Attendees in the room were well-engaged during the near-hour of debate. Here are some of the points they made:
- There are so many entrenched ways of “doing finance” in hotels that are outdated and thus need to be re-examined — from payroll processing to websites, time and attendance, PMS, EPOS, clubs and golf. There is a need to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete processes and improve the interfaces being used.
- Solutions do not have to be capital resources; they can be software-as-a-service (SaaS). Some companies felt this was not always the case in their particular environment, and so became a barrier to finding solutions.
- We need to take away the “mundane” so we can concentrate on being “exceptional.”
- There was a general frustration with interfaces and/or APIs that just do not work — and that sometimes manual work-arounds must be created to fix a problem that only add time and difficulty to a process. (“You don’t make your own soup for lunch — get the specialists in to fix these things.”) An additional challenge in our industry is that there can be over 100 interfaces in each region of the world to deal with.
- “Data lakes” were discussed as one way around interfacing challenges, as all the data from all the systems can be transferred into an independent “lake of data” to be accessed by the relevant departments for their own tracking and forecasting. This is preferable over needing IT/finance specialists to understand the intricacies of, say, all the moving parts of golf revenue.
- Simplification of offerings and rates can often have a tremendous impact on the business and its processes. This idea came up when another attendee pointed out that in the past, a well-known airline reduced their fare structure by over 80 percent so that everyone could better understand their offers.
- More people are needed who have actual data training education and experience. This is an area our industry needs to address as we become more digital, with data at the center of understanding our business and industry trends.
At the conclusion of the evening, all attendees agreed that we as an industry must come together more, in small groups such as this, to better understand what others are doing, and what is working. We also need to put pressure on our technology solution providers to better meet the needs of the industry, especially when it comes to system integration. This, of course, is one of the key benefits of joining an association like HFTP, where you can always find someone who has done what you are thinking of doing — or where you can help someone else who may be considering something you have already implemented. “It was great to support an industry and HFTP event where people could debate the issues facing the industry and network with each other,” said Calum McIndoe of Infor following the event. A huge thanks to Calum and Amanda Brown of Infor for sponsoring the event, as well as Joe Vargas and Andrew Newman of Sun Systems for joining us.