When people speak of ecosystems, they’re usually discussing animals, plants, and the overall environment. On a hot afternoon in Phoenix, Ariz., Kristin Intress, CEO of InnLink, a maker of central reservation system (CRS) technology in Hendersonville, Tenn., is discussing “ecosystems” in an entirely different manner. While at The Lodging Conference at the Arizona Biltmore, Intress is rehashing how she and her company became involved with the LINQ360 Innovation Lab in Las Vegas, Nev.
LINQ360 is a coalition of technology suppliers that is creating a different way of utilizing the many technologies applied in the hospitality industry so they can more seamlessly work together. “When we started meeting we said, ‘What does an ecosystem look like?’ We wanted to get all of those technologies in a room and interfacing and integrating, making it easier for the customer,” Intress says. “That led to the discussion of creating an innovation lab.”
With the help of Scott Garrison, who is not a technology provider himself but serves as president and central organizer of the effort, the group of vendors, including InnLink, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Crestron, to name a few, established the lab to figure out how to make hospitality technology work hand-in-hand in this age of integrated technology.
There are 17 different technology companies represented in the lab. The technologies range from in-room experiences, such as temperature controls, to room locks to property management systems (PMS). “There’s anything that’s part of the experience of a hotel,” Intress says. The idea of the lab is to ease the process for hoteliers in the acquisition of technology to enhance their hotels.
“It really simulates checking into a hotel,” Intress says of the lab. “From the minute you walk in, you have a front desk, with all of the pieces of technology, and how it would interface, whether it be customer-facing or behind the scenes.
“When you walk into the lab everyone has their area with a touchscreen that tells them what we do,” she continues. “The objective is let customers choose a la carte or find that everything they need to run from A to Z is in this complex. It really simulates a large environment of 1,000-plus rooms.”
Intress’ company, InnLink, serves as the CRS provider for the lab. All of the technologies in the lab are designed for the new age of technology, in particular, “the cloud.” Every technology in the lab must be in the cloud and be written in the .NET platform.
Up until now, the majority of integrated technology issues in the lodging industry ended up falling on the shoulders of hoteliers. For example, large casino-hotels often employ vast IT teams to ensure that up to 150 interfaces continue to work together. “No one has sat down as a group and wondered why we keep doing that,” Intress says. “What ends up happening is people point fingers and say it’s not their interface, it’s someone else’s. The hotel ends up suffering. We thought it’s time for us to make this easier for them.”
The lab hosts groups of hoteliers from all over the world who fly into Las Vegas to look at the entire “ecosystem” of technology in one place, making it easier from a purchasing standpoint. “You also know that everyone is playing nice together so it creates a more symbiotic environment,” Intress says. “It allows all of those vendors to work together, work with the hoteliers together, and to show them what the hotel of the future looks like.”
InnLink became involved with the group because it was the first CRS maker to rewrite its code in .NET and to be in the cloud. That means the technology is not server-based as many CRS systems are at this point. “A lot of brands have systems that are very archaic, built several years ago. So the change is very difficult to adapt to,” Intress says. “Rewriting in .NET was key. Because it’s in a much more agile environment, it’s easier to work with all of the other technology players. And, we all have to be in the cloud.”
She says that reservations are done in a virtual capacity. “It’s not just about InnLink and being in a reservation system,” she says. “It’s about being part of that ecosystem. You want to buy an ecosystem because the technologies in that system integrate, not just interface.”
Why is being part of an “ecosystem” important? It is important for different reasons for different types of hotels. Intress uses Mandarin-Oriental as an example. “Let’s say you’re Mandarin and you announce publicly that you’re going into the cloud. Now you have to go and find people that are in the cloud. And, then you say, ‘I need a new c-res or a new PMS. This allows you to do that,” she says.
Another example, Intress says, is, “If you’re a group from China and you’re going to build four new properties and you have nothing, you can come into the lab and say this is all good, just turn it on.”
As a CRS developer, Intress says the vendors in the lab benefit from the relationship with each other. “I develop CRS, but any hotel I have using my technology also needs all of those other components,” she says.
The need for integrated technology is becoming an increasingly important part of hotel operations. It’s something hoteliers must address from a cost and compatibility standpoint. And, in the Red Rock area of Las Vegas, hoteliers can find it all in a one-stop shop.