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Can hospitality integration hubs save our industry from legacy tech nightmares? – Hospitality Net

Many existing legacy technology installments in hospitality are closed systems they are reluctant to open up to third-party integrations, applications and solutions, depriving the property and its guests from some very innovative and much-needed applications and services.
In the near to mid-term, any full-service 3-4-5-star hotel will need over 100 plus APIs (application programming interface) with third-party tech applications and solutions to be able to function and meet the basic needs and wants of today’s tech-savvy travelers. These include mobile and contactless guest experience, mobile locks, issue resolution apps, guest messaging, virtual concierge, IoT devices and utility management, smart room technology, entertainment hubs, CRM programs, etc.
Until recently, this type of connectivity has been close to impossible or super expensive to achieve for properties with legacy technology installments of PMS,RMS, CRS, CRM and other components of the tech stack, which are hostile to any third-party interfaces by default.
Luckily for our industry, the future is already here in the form of two types of third-party technology integration platforms:
The question is, can the new integration hubs save our legacy tech-prone industry and elevate it to meet the demands of today’s tech-savvy travelers?
I’m a fan of the concept of a cloud PMS with an app store full of technologies you can simply ‘plug in’, and try out at will. However, the reality of building a tech stack where multiple technologies all play nicely with each other is not quite so straightforward.

In general, my preference is for direct integrations, for the simple reason that when something goes wrong (and it will), the less people involved in the conversation about whose fault it was that the thing went wrong, the quicker it will get fixed.

If a direct integration is not available, and an integration hub can get the job done, then I would choose the hub over building my own. The hub bears the responsibility of keeping the integration up to date, and you’re not tied into sticking with an outdated legacy system simply because you have invested so much in it that it doesn’t make financial sense to change.

Integrations are essential, but should always be approached with caution. Get them right, and you will streamline processes, improve service and remove tedious and repetitive tasks from your staff’s working day. Get them wrong, and you will end up with stress inducing, complicated work arounds that benefit no-one.

A few things to look out for:

‘Integration coming soon’. Translation: ‘We may or may not build an integration at some undetermined point in the future, depending on the level of demand’.

‘We have built an integration with x’. Translation: ‘We have built an integration with x, which will allow you to do all kinds of cool stuff, apart from that one essential thing that you need it to do’.

‘Free trial’. Translation: ‘Spend 2 weeks of your life configuring our system to see if it will do what you need it to do. If it does, great. If not, no hard feelings.’
I think they will help accelerate the industry forward on the short term, solving the issues of legacy providers. As hoteliers upgrade their technology stack to more modern solutions that have well built integration layers, the hubs might loose some of their importance. But I think they will keep a market in the long run. Specifically as some larger legacy vendors that move to cloud remain hostile to integrations – due to internal politics or just because they can – hubs like this will serve a purpose to over-come the politics and serve customers. 

Channel managers are a good example of how this can work from a business perspective. The issue with the hubs is that they’re dealing with mission critical systems that can’t wait 15 minutes to update. And that’s always a little scary when dealing with a workaround. 
I think this discussion is becoming redundant. It’s not a question of IF anymore, but of WHEN. I’ve said several times that we live in a transition period, at least on a technological level. This question will be utterly irrelevant in five years, as -by then- hoteliers will be forced to adapt their tech stack to meet today’s travelers’ demands, whether they like it or not. I am also skeptical that the solution will come from integration hubs. Simply put, there will be no need for hubs when the standard for hotel tech (and tech in general) will be the adoption of open APIs, microservice infrastructures, and -of course- cloud computing.
Despite the pressing need to provide a seamless guest journey, technology integrations facilitating such journeys continue to be a pain point for hospitality organisations. As more specialised software vendors emerged and guest needs diversified, third party integrations grew to be a more significant issue, especially when dealing with legacy systems.

The tech-savvy guests of today expect hospitality organisations to use the information they provide to create personalised experiences. However, a simple scenario that is still not handled in many properties is filling questionnaires regarding service feedback. Not only is this act a dated practice, but also the information gathered cannot be used to its maximum potential without interconnected operations.

While the gaps in PMS have created business opportunities for companies, most PMS of the past continue to work as independent silos. Eventually, software companies began developing APIs, opening doors to integrations. However, the process remained extremely time consuming and expensive.

The lack of standardisations further complicated matters, bringing inconvenient delays to processes and creating friction between the parties. Surprisingly, integrations that worked with certain solutions in one geography did not automatically work similarly in other geographies!! In my opinion, those were ways of ring-fencing territories.

The interventions of HTNG were a welcome change since it introduced specific standards to the hospitality technology sphere, creating an “open” work environment. They offered workshops and documents, allowing faster and less resource-intensive integrations.

Once again, business opportunities were created for third-party integration hubs to fill the gaps left by legacy systems as well as by companies that did not provide their own integration hubs.

However, although these integration capabilities can increase the life of legacy systems and enhance their efficiency, it is merely a temporary fix to the problems brought in by legacy systems. Such dated systems remain costly and cumbersome to maintain and upgrade. A more efficient approach to accommodate the demands of today’s tech-savvy travellers would be to evaluate the total cost of a patchwork of solutions, in terms of interface, maintenance, and hardware costs, against all-in-one platforms.

Instead of cluttering the tech stack with more software, I feel that all property management system companies should have their own ready to use and price efficient integration hubs. After all, the objective of hospitality organisations is to cost-effectively provide exquisite guest experiences, not to resurrect outdated technology. 
NO, absolutely not! Integration platforms are the new marketing buzzword, but like with 99% of all marketing buzzwords, the real needs are different. Don’t take me wrong, connectivity hubs are helpful and needed to streamline processes and create more stable and easier data flows between systems, but they are not the heart of the matter. 

Today hotels have about 30 different profiles for the same guest along the Customer Journey with huge negative effects on all areas of the business. The implementation of a connectivity hub does not solve this problem.

What hotels really need is a Central Guest profile which has to be used everywhere. This is the prerequisite to benefit from Big Data and provide the level of individualization consumers expects today. 

Therefore the implementation of a guest centric IT-strategy is essential. Instead of focusing on processes hotels should start to put the guest at the heart of their businesses again. A connectivity hub can be a part of the solution but is not THE solution.

Hoteliers can’t afford to find out…

Pardon my Dutch directness, but any hoteliers who fail to take connectivity seriously will be in for a rude awakening in a few short years’ time. Your IT team must begin with a data-centric end in mind and craft an enterprise strategy (that also offers individual hotels flexibility) to respond to the inevitable trend: hyper-personalization and an ability to demonstrate you understand your customer are here to stay. Customer expectations clearly no longer differentiate between the lines of industry. The response must reckon with flexible system connectivity.

With today’s legacy systems – and without the ability to stitch and map otherwise siloed data together – hotels are left powerless to identify the unique needs and wants of each customer, let alone how they can actually address and execute to them. There is simply no way that existing legacy systems can, in their current state of isolation, parse together the insights required to meet ever-growing guest expectations. This is where a system architecture like Middleware comes in to not only integrate legacy systems, but also facilitate the abstraction required to drive new benefits still largely unrealized in our industry; essentially transforming raw data into actionable information.

For our industry to meet evolving expectations, we must lean into centralized connectivity: “The [connected] whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” With a Middleware:

The list goes on, with much of the realizable value heavily tied to an organization’s imagination and appetite to rely on newly possible system connectivity to address business challenges, both old and new. Put clearly, with Middleware the hospitality-specific business logic to enable the above examples, and so much more, are now possible. Before you attempt a wholesale replacement of your core systems – many of which still meet teams’ needs and may not actually create new value – consider that the potential of your organization can be unlocked by thoughtful integration platforms, like Middleware. Now more than ever is the time to reimagine the true potential of your tech ecosystem and guest experience through the lens of connectivity.
Hospitality integration or service hubs have been created to solve a pressing issue: PMS systems were built as closed all-in-one products regardless whether hosted or cloud based. Integrations even with APIs on top of the PMS are painful to develop and not scalable. The integration hub has done a decent job of offering some patchwork in legacy environment.
The problem is that the service hubs are only as good as the underlying software and APIs, and thereby they are limited to the use cases that are permitted by the PMS vendor. This is keeping our entire industry from innovation and digitalization. 
A true future-oriented platform is using a radically different approach based upon a MACH architecture. Standing for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless, this is a proven structured approach across industries and verticals. It opens up the freedom for any hotel group to put the ideal hotel tech stack together by selecting existing and new innovative apps, while also providing the unlimited opportunities for customization and developments by using this type of platform.
A MACH platform is a big opportunity for anybody in the hospitality space running an accommodation business to migrate from limiting all-in-one PMS environments, and any app company or developer can connect or develop quickly and without any interface cost whatsoever.
Current technologies provide numerous opportunities to automate repetitive and dull tasks to improve efficiency and save time. Cloud services and standardisation contribute significantly to the compatibility of technologies and their integration. The evolution of hospitality software has led to full coverage of guest life cycle activities and nowadays PMSs are more sophisticated than ever. Besides room inventory management, PMSs integrate also booking engines, channel managers, customer relationship management systems, revenue management tools and many more, thus creating a hub for the hotel managers that allows stronger control and transparency of employees’ work and responsibilities.
There are over 5,000 hotel tech vendors around the world working around the clock to develop new and innovative solutions to common problems or applications to elevate service delivery in hotel operations, guest communications, revenue management, marketing, etc.

Historically, to access these much-needed third-party solutions and applications required lengthy and expensive integrations that “had the effect of dissuading hoteliers from actively seeking out tools that would enhance their business and the guest experience, because they knew that even if they found a great solution, integrating it would feel like more trouble than it’s worth” as per Mews PMS CEO Matt Welle.

So what is the solution? I believe the PMS-centric tech stack will continue to dominate hotel technology in the future. This will not be your legacy, on-premises PMS, but the cloud PMS with Open API integration hub/marketplace/store. There has been a monumental shift in the PMS vendor community’s mindset: from closed system mentality to cloud PMS with Open API mentality that begun with cloud-first PMS pioneers like Mews and Cloudbeds.

Rohith Kori, VP Corporate and Product Strategy at Agilysys, summarized it best: “We are in the middle of a sea change and while no one can accurately predict every change, it will be constant in the near term. Hoteliers are tasked to do more with less and cannot afford to be system integrators. Cloud hospitality ecosystems with an open architecture based on API’s and micro services that allow for modular yet well integrated solutions are key to setup operators for flexibility and nimbleness.”

Low costs, efficiencies, higher productivity and data security aside, a cloud PMS with its Open API and integration hub instantly solves the problem of connecting to the myriad of third-party applications that are much needed for the mere existence of any property and demanded by tech-savvy customers. “One-click connect apps”, “Forever free integration to any new app” are only some of the appealing benefits promoted by the cloud PMS-related integration hubs.

This type of connectivity is impossible or super expensive to achieve with a legacy PMS, which is hostile to any third-party interfaces by default. A cloud PMS with its Open API and integration hub instantly solves this problem. Good examples: The new Oracle Hospitality Integration Platform (OHIP) with 3,000 API capabilities, StayNTouch Integration Hub with 1,100 APIs; Protel Air PMS Marketplace – 1,000 APIs, Cloudbeds PMS – 300 APIs, apaleo PMS Store, etc.

Recently Accor adopted Opera Cloud citing its OHIP platform as one of the main benefits of their decision. “OHIP is one of the reasons we moved to OPERA Cloud,” Bertrand Blacha, Accor’s vice president for global hotel technology, said. “We think it will offer so many possibilities with partners that was not possible (before) today.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the cloud PMS with Open API facilitating connectivity to hundreds and thousands of smart, innovative and much sought-after applications and solutions is the clear winner today and tomorrow.

But what to do with the over 700,000 hotels around the world with on-premises, legacy PMS around the world?

I see two options for these hotels to gain access to much-needed third-party solutions and applications:

One is switching to a cloud PMS. The sooner these hoteliers switch to a cloud PMS, the more excellent the guest experiences they provide will be, the more they will know about their guest preferences, the better they can communicate with their guests, the more loyal customers they can win thus generating more repeat business, the more they can empower their employees, the more automation and operational efficiencies they can implement, the faster they can improve the bottom line.

The second option is partnering with third-party integration hubs like SiteMinder, Impala, IreconU, Hapi, Nonius Hub, Above Property Services (APS), etc. to solve their connectivity needs. 
We’ve witnessed a rapid evolution in consumer behaviour in the last 20 months. A boom in online commerce, driven by our elevated reliance on tech in day-to-day life, has created an expectation that hotels are as tech-enabled as the other businesses we’re dealing with daily. What this means is that hoteliers now not only need to excel at selling their rooms, as they always have – they’re being pushed by their guests to operate at a higher standard than ever before, too.
When equipping hoteliers with the technology they need to continue meeting the needs of their guests, SiteMinder has long believed in simplicity, open access and choice as guiding principles. And, in the realm of the specialist, best-of-breed applications now needed more than ever, breaking down the industry’s notorious integration barriers has been of particular importance.
Without question, open APIs and the seamless transfer of hotel data between any system underpin the future of our industry. However, to truly support all hoteliers in gaining access to a connected, sophisticated setup, and the rich guest insights it brings, a framework which allows for connectivity that’s both affordable and open to a wide range of tech providers is ideal. Many platforms claim to be open, but do their integrations and partnerships support those claims? And, how can an integration hub claim to be an industry saviour if they charge high fees which can act as a cost barrier to the smaller businesses that need them most?
Beyond integrations, what is as critical is collectively fostering an environment that’s encouraging and sensitive to the realities of trying new technology for the first time. As a hotelier trials an app that allows them to create a targeted pre-arrival upsell, for example, it’s important they can give the solution a go, without needing to commit to it long-term.
In enabling this, we can ensure that as an industry we are not only focusing on bettering our products and how they work together, but on getting these online commerce solutions into the hands of more hoteliers – where they really matter.
The change in approach to integrations by vendors has been brewing for many years but the pandemic has seen this come to the boil with a plethora of new integration capabilities on offer from traditional Property Management System providers as well as integration hubs. However, this myriad of options for hoteliers may be confusing, so much choice is unheard of, but the end result is that the guest benefits from better service and the hotel improves operational efficiency.

Firstly, integration hubs whether provided by the PMS vendor or an independent provider are the perfect remedy for hoteliers who previously had to deal with a multitude of vendors and routes to connect. The simplicity that integration hubs offer alleviates this and allows hoteliers to focus on service rather than connectivity issues.

Secondly, guests are now using their own devices to manage so much of their day-to-day life, such as online banking, grocery shopping, andchecking-in to flights, the expectation is that now all facets of their life can be managed on their own device. Hoteliers which are slow to adapt to these expectations will suffer, especially with Gen-Z guests who know nothing more than mobile devices. Technology providers can make this a reality for hoteliers, but to be able to utilise so many of these innovative services requires a leading edge cloud-based PMS solution. On-premises solutions from 10+ years ago cannot compete in this sphere unless a middleware “independent integration hub” is used – but with that comes the middleware costs and reduced capabilities.

If a hotel is truly to see the benefit of these integration hubs, they have to offer a good Return on Investment and also offer something new in terms of capabilities. Cost is probably the number one decision factor which determines the best route a hotelier should take. Many PMS providers, like Oracle Hospitality, don’t charge customers for integrations with their latest Cloud PMS and integration solutions such as the Oracle Hospitality Integration Platform (OHIP), which enable hoteliers to cut out the middleman by providing direct connectivity and therefore higher levels of capabilities but with significantly lower costs.

Use of an independent integration hub may offer a similar solution but it comes with a cost and a potential loss of capability. Whilst this may be a benefit for older on-premise solutions, it’s an unnecessary obstacle for hotels utilizing cloud-based PMS.
A short answer to a very large question is that interface hubs are a positive step in the right direction to address what is specifically a technology challenge.

Interface hub technology is not new and also not new to the industry. The companies mentioned in the question are the current market modern application of the core of this style of technology using the current technology environment. Products like Comtrol have long been used in the hospitality software ecosystem to achieve this result. The gaming hospitality industry adopted service bus technology in the noughties in an effort to streamline the movement of data between disparate systems.

Today we see multiple players leveraging the current technology in an effort to further streamline the movement of business information.

Generally this is a sound technical solution to the broader industry challenge.

With that said the point that needs to be clear for the casual reader is that these latest tools are the modern version of yesterdays interfaces. In the same way that the general view speaks toward software generally being in the cloud, connectivity between systems should also be on the current technology, leveraging modern service bus style architecture and ideally open Application Programming Interfaces.

They are still interfaces moving information between disparate and distributed systems, but more efficiently than one-to-one. Despite the common use of the marketing term they are not integrations. Integration means one. If there is one system interfaces are no longer required.

In a world of interface hubs we still have a wealth of traditional interfaces being regularly deployed in the industry. This is because the business of building connections between disparate systems is costly and time consuming and requires a significant development capability. The latest technology has streamlined the process and improved the speed and efficiency. But make no mistake that it is still time consuming to produce.

A term often heard is, “it’s OK because we have an API or an open API for that..”. The next step is actually getting the work done between the two parties or one party in the case of the interface hub, provided that the second system is already a connection. We are still hearing dialogue about, “we don’t have an interface to that. We could do it, but perhaps you could look at another solution we already have a connection too…”.

These companies are definitely moving things in the right direction. Although as the question refers to 100’s we are moving from an environment where the most connected systems in industry had multiple thousands of third party system connections. Still much work to be done to bridge the gap.

It beggars the question does the future see hotels with multiple interface hubs? As a result of different interface hubs supporting different partners. Or even in the various lines of business having their own interface hub. Currently this is a reality in our industry as we continue operate along the same pillars of business – rooms, dining, lifestyle, events, retail. Our business oriented view of how we think we should work as compared to the customers view of the entire product.

The better option generally is to aim to remove the need for interfaces and consolidate operational capability. Therefore information into single or less customer facing (guests and staff) applications to improve workforce and job design, synergize operations and optimize the staff experience when curating customer experiences. How many manager reports does a hotel General Manager usually desire every day? One. Imagine if it wasn’t just consolidated data, but consolidated functionality along with it.

I digress.
Most start up vendors focus first on a PMS that gives the the biggest market reach, so many will begin with building an integration to the market leaders such as Oracle, Infor and Protel. The unfortunate thing is that most integration hubs do the exact same thing. The future of the integration hub would in my opinion be more bright if they would also offer right out of the bet integrations to tier 2 PMSs. A 2nd issue with the hubs is that they normalize features and functionality, and as such not always giving a start up what it really needs. In theory hubs can help innovation and start ups, but lot’s of work is left to do. 

What really helps innovation and providing service for the tech savvy traveler is the initiative of many PMS vendors to eliminate or heavily reduce the cost of integration for a hotel. Today with many PMSs the hotel no longer has to pay a hefty interface fee to try a new innovation. Now hotels can truly take advantage of the free trials many new Cloud Hospitality startups offer. The new PMS market places also enable easy and quick activation and with today’s API technology the effort of coding an initial interface us also much reduced, enabling a more affordable integration project for startups. Innovation has a clear future with this new trend!
In my view, the new integration hubs definitely play an important role in saving our legacy tech-prone industry, especially as there’s no viable alternative today that enables smooth, secure and seamless integrations.

The more technology advances, the bigger the need to integrate with a hotel’s existing technology stack, most notably the PMS, to enable innovation that meets the demand of today’s tech-savvy travellers.

Companies like Hapi, Impala and Ireckonu have done a great job in tackling this legacy tech nightmare in hospitality and have been driving industry innovation. They have made integrations easier, faster and more straightforward, but they don’t necessarily save vendors that much money compared to the traditional integration route, yet.

Besides the new integration hubs, there are companies entering the market that offer a fully open API and are free to integrate, such as Mews Hospitality Cloud, which is a very different approach from the more traditionally closed legacy systems that charge for integrations or traffic, which have slowed down innovation.

With the rise in IoT devices, voice assistants and other guest-facing technologies coming to market, the need for efficient and cost-effective integrations are becoming even more imminent. 
Whilst I completely agree with the description of the problem, I take issue with the solutions offered by the author as being both simplistic and incomplete. 
TigerTMS (I feel I may refer to my company as the author has referenced several others) has been developing interface software for over 40 years – thousands of hotel properties worldwide use our software because it provides the middleware between disparate applications. An “Open API” is still a proprietary API that, whilst enabling connectivity to multiple other solutions, also re-enforces the PMS position at the centre of the software stack. Better to employ a middleware layer that allows hoteliers the freedom of choice to pick and choose best of breed applications with one single connection to the PMS not several.
Second, there is a distinct difference between types of “independent integration hubs” aka middleware. The purpose of many is to collect information from hotel systems and re-present this back to the hotelier in the form of a control panel, thereby optimising operational efficiencies. Others however – such as ours – are real-time, bi-directional interfaces that, put simply, make things work. The software oil that lubricates the machine. 
So the answer to the question posed is “Yes” – but first let’s get a thorough understanding of the different options together with their implications. 
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