Binu Mathews is President and COO of IDS NEXT, a software company which delivers enterprise property management solutions and total technology solutions for hotels. The company designs all the programs for a hotel to perform its functions including check in, check out, finding a hotel on internet, storing data of its guests, helping hotels remember their patterns to pre-empt guest expectations and deliver for them a great experience.
India Hospitality Review in an exclusive interview with Binu Mathews finds out the significance of IT solutions in the hospitality industry and how new trends in the sector are going to raise benchmarks and increase efficiency of hotels in the future.
In what capacity does IDS NEXT contribute to hospitality industry? What are your products and how do they contribute to hotels?
We have been in the hospitality space for 25 years now. We are one of the first companies to architect a hotel ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution which translates into a single database, a single server solution for the industry which is a huge difference from national providers who offer best of breed solutions which need multiple servers to work on. We have drastically brought down the cost of ownership of technology for the hospitality industry which has made a big impact. Besides bringing down the cost of technology for the hotel, we have made sure it is easier for them to leverage it to run their day to day operations.
We provide end to end technology required to run a hospitality property in any segment be it clubs, service apartments, hotels, restaurants, etc. We have the entire line of products, right from the moment you think about booking into a hotel – the ability to go to the internet, find a hotel, do a booking on that, checking into a hotel, allocation of room, making sure the housekeeping is maintaining the room, ensuring there is inventory, to make sure you have your food on time, making sure that service is monitored by quality management system, as well as managing vendors, so the entire technology net is integrated on one database to manage all hotel operations.
We have intelligence built into our solutions which automatically sends out reports or alerts in the form of sms's so that management, owner of the hotel, CEO knows what is the occupancy, how many guests are coming in, what is the percentage of increase etc.
Hospitality is all about human touch, people dealing with people. Talking about IT solutions, how do they help to enhance a hotel’s performance especially when dealing with guests?
In a hotel you have a huge count of manpower and you don’t have the same person manning your front office all the time, right. How do you make sure that the person at the front office interacting with the guest has enough information about the guest who came 4 or 5 years back. If he does not have that kind of information, the only thing front office can say is ‘Hello Sir, welcome back’.
But if hotel staff has information about the guest he could say ‘Hello Sir, welcome back, last time you were not happy with our spa, here is a free coupon.’ The ability to do that is by accessing the data in our system. That is what our system does for front office managers to ensure that they have information on their fingertips and offer personalised service to their guests.
That's an example of front office. But if I ask about housekeeping or operations, how do you think this will improve service on those areas?
With IDS NEXT's Hotel ERP, housekeeping would be able to understand the pattern of guest behaviour. For example housekeeping would know that this person is normally a coffee drinker, they will make sure that there is a coffee pot put in the room next time the guest checks in. That's one small example.
Now when you look at restaurants, our innovative mobility solution Envy Dine has artificial intelligence built-in, which will be able to recommend the most liked dish in the restaurant for somebody who has just walked in. It is something which a data analyst would be able to do. So if 75 per cent of people liked apple pie in that restaurant, the solution will recommend it to the guest. When you see this from the restaurant perspective, this is amazing, since this is something which enhances the guest experience and also educates the hotel staff to the likes of the customer.
How has the landscape changed in the industry when it comes to IT vis-à-vis earlier?
I would say hospitality has started embracing and investing in technology in a big way now. Initially the hotel sector used to make investments like working in the lobby, installing LCD TV’s, linen bed sheets for the guests – these were the major investments in the industry around five to seven years back. Now hotels understand that they will be able to respond faster to the guests, make decisions to improve room rates and to increase revenue according to the occupancy if they are adequately backed by technology.
Because of technology, hotels are now able to take decisions on how to run operations, be it from how they manage their rates or be it from how they want to manage their guest experiences. So the investments in technology I would say have improved considerably.
Tell us about the journey of IDS NEXT vis-à-vis its products for hotels and how they evolved over time.
The company was founded 25 years back by Suresh and Vissal, both of whom are actively involved even now in the company operations. It is a privately held company. We started with back office solutions but after several years we started creating complete enterprise solutions for hotels. Around 1990 or so we launched the front office module and telephone interface.
Around 2000 we ventured into several international locations. We expanded our presence in India, Africa, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and several other countries. We have also made our products much more useful to users.
Hospitality industry started investing in technology and we started investing in our products to increase their functionality. Now we have a complete enterprise solutions. And not only that, in the last one and half years, we have also brought in solutions like Identification systems, complete turn-key technology, we actually design, deploy and maintain technology for new properties beyond software and we have also added an energy management solution.
It has been a huge change from where we started as a software organisation some years back to now providing hotel technology solutions for the hospitality industry.
A number of senior hoteliers may not be computer savvy and have usability issues. How do you make your programs accessible and user friendly?
We are working on usability, we have a department which looks after UI design and makes sure that the usability of our programs are improved. So that is from a software perspective.
We are also part of the syllabus of hotel management institutes. We have given our solutions to all the IHMs and they have made our products part of the curriculum for their students. So we have made sure to catch them young and make sure they understand how to use the system so when they work in the hotel, they are familiar with our solutions.
What about CEO’s and VP’s who started working in hospitality 20-30 years back? They must now operate programs to monitor and enhance the overall performance of hotels. How do you make your programs accessible to them?
See there are different segments of hospitality. A certain person may want a very simple system only required for reservation, check in, check out and that's about it. So we give them products which suit their requirement.
Then the other side of the spectrum we have five star clients who need a completely different system and we have an enterprise solution for them.
Our mantra is to maintain simplicity and easy accessibility to all the solutions that we offer. We make sure that it’s not complex for a non IT person but still we deliver the best out of the system.
So how do we do it – we have different products for different kinds of usage. The other is we make sure that a real IT person is not required for doing the transactions on the system.
What are the latest technology trends coming up with reference to IT in hospitality industry?
I think mobility is something we should watch for. Transaction based mobility is gaining a large market share than internet. So I would advise all our friends in the hospitality space to watch out for mobility or mobile as a platform in the coming future.
By mobility do you mean people can check into hotels through their phones and Ipads?
All of these, or even find a hotel, or even look at a hotel, or even call for room service when the guest is inside, or even using their mobile phones to open a room rather than a key card.
What about products in the future with reference to operations?
In terms of operations, energy management is a big thing. There is a power shortage. There also have been cases of black outs in the country. So there will be a lot of focus from the government for hotels to have good energy management. The guest loyalty to a hotel could also depend on the energy management of a hotel. So that is something which we can see as a big change in hospitality.
What are the plans in the future both in terms of products and growth?
Our philosophy for our products is to increase revenue, reduce cost and improve guest experience. We have several products in the mobility space which are being developed.
In the future, IDS aims to become the partner for hotels in total technology solutions which includes software, hardware, wireless system, total technology integration, effective usage of technology to drive businesses etc. In the next five years we plan to be the number one vendors in total technology solutions for hospitality space.
What regions do you
have a presence in globally and what regions are you targeting in the future?
We will be concentrating on the emerging markets of Asia, Africa and Middle East. We already have a presence in these geographies and we hope to consolidate it.
We don’t see a lot of economic growth in Europe or US in the next couple of years. We would be concentrating on emerging markets and make sure that we increase our investments in our products.