Over the past few years, the centralized, digital control and oversight of building systems such as HVAC, lighting, and locks has evolved to the point where the hospitality industry is talking about “smart buildings”—not just smart guestrooms. By using a building management platform, staff can control these systems remotely and receive real-time reports on their performance. The resulting streamlined workflows and reduction of manual tasks has been especially valuable for hoteliers still contending with a labor shortage. For example, staff members can quickly verify the proper operation of equipment via the platform’s dashboard in lieu of a physical inspection. These advantages have led to more systems being managed via a single platform, a trend highlighted by Kevin Miller, VP of sales and marketing at Bodhi.
“The No. 1 thing that we’re providing right now is the ability to bring these many different system types into one platform,” he said. “For many years, [the situation was that] you had this system with this dashboard, and you had this other system with this other dashboard, etc. And property managers ended up with many different systems. Having it all combined into one is a big lifesaver for them operationally.” Bodhi, a cloud-based building management platform, exemplifies that centralization: From a single interface, the system can monitor, analyze, schedule, and control technologies such as lighting, air conditioning, water and electrical metering, and even guestroom audio and video.
John Srouji, chief operating officer, VDA Telkonet Americas, observed the same trend toward consolidation. “It’s been pretty exciting to watch these in-room technology systems evolve into a connected ecosystem that’s easy to install and operate,” he said.
Customized Data Presentation
Even though automation and connectivity are increasing, people are still at the core of a building management system. “As a designer and manufacturer, we keep people at the center of the experience,” said Srouji. “Whether you’re the hotel operator or the guest, [the focus is on] how you use the system, how you digest the data, and how it’s presented to you.”
Srouji added that while hotel operators benefit from access to the “immense amount of data” that building management systems collect, “it’s almost too much data if you don’t know what to do with it. So, we really simplify how the data is presented [and tailor it] to the specific user. For example, if you’re running a portfolio of hotels, you’re interested in high-level information about occupancy, energy consumption, carbon footprint, etc., and we even try to relate that to the number of trees that you’ve planted because of your carbon reduction,” he explained. “The next level down may be the person that’s running the hotel: they’re interested in what information is being compiled from their PMS system, and they can interrogate right down to the specific room: Is the guest in the room or out of the room? All those types of intelligence are provided.”
Return on Investment
Hotels without an energy management system (or with a subpar one) can expect an immediate monetary savings from the use of a platform like Bodhi or Telkonet’s Rhapsody—via the automated setting back of thermostats and lights in unoccupied rooms. Miller noted that up to 45 percent of total guestroom energy costs can be saved by this means, and the ROI on the platform thus develops quickly.
Another part of the ROI comes from the risk-mitigation features of these systems, namely problem detection for various types of equipment. Poorly performing equipment, such as HVAC that is excessively cooling, can adversely affect the bottom line. “When it comes to air conditioning, for example, we are checking the data on the exact setpoint of the HVAC systems versus the ambient temperature,” Miller explained. “We continually run reports to understand how the system is performing, and we’re comparing that to data on how it’s performed in the past. And so, we’re able to look at the trend analysis and let you know if it’s performing in a way that requires maintenance, e.g., it takes 30 minutes longer to do a two-degree cooling than it did last month.” Lighting is another example. “We can provide optics on what’s happening with certain circuits,” said Srouji. “If they’re not dimming properly, [the system] provides a heads-up to the operator. It mitigates a bad guest experience.”
Leak detection is also critical: Miller noted that 57 percent of insurance claims and 71 percent of dollar losses come from water damage. “Leak detection sensors placed strategically in areas that are more susceptible to water damage could save you catastrophic damage and [result] in major savings in the long run,” he said. Once a leak is detected, the Bodhi platform provides an immediate alert, creates a trouble ticket for maintenance, and can even trigger a water shut-off valve to actuate, stopping the flow of water in the area where the water is detected.
The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is impacting hotel operations along with numerous other industries, and accordingly, building management platforms will see more AI-driven automations. “Anything and everything that can be automated will become automated, and AI is going to be much more involved with that,” Miller predicted. For example, a conversational AI can be integrated to make recommendations to the operator based on the collected data. Srouji expected “next generation” systems to be intelligent enough to generate communications such as: “Sorry, you can’t check a guest into room 115. That room is now down and will be coming back up tomorrow.” Or: “You may want to think about moving the guest out of room 115 because we’re predicting that there’s going to be an equipment failure in the next 24 hours.” Srouji also expected “a push for simplification” in building management platforms. “I think they’re going to become even simpler to install and maintain, [as well as] more autonomous and simpler to use,” he said. Ultimately, the more self-sufficient these systems are, the more time is freed up for the user “to add value in a different way and to enable them to make better decisions for their guests and their portfolio of hotels,” he concluded.
Shopping for a System: Five Features to Look for in a Building Management Platform
Scalable | Ideally, a full spectrum of control features should be offered so that a hotelier can increase the system’s functionality according to evolving business needs, such as future hotel openings that will have different control requirements. “They need to find a platform that is scalable for whatever growth plan they have,” advised Kevin Miller, VP of sales and marketing, Bodhi. Energy management is the fundamental component, but additional guestroom automations such as audio and video control should also be available, as these contribute to an enhanced guest experience. By way of example, John Srouji, chief operating officer, VDA Telkonet Americas, said, “Sometimes the hotelier wants to start with energy management and do that for a couple years. And then they want to upgrade their hotel through a renovation and now they want to add lighting automation.”
Integrable | The product should work well with any operating systems and hardware the hotel already has in place, such as the property management system (PMS). “Some clients are interested in deploying Bodhi across the board, utilizing all our software and hardware services that we offer, while other properties will just add Bodhi to their existing systems to provide better monitoring, control, automation, and analytics of those systems,” Miller explained. When integrated with the PMS, guest profile and check-in information is fed into the building management system so that timely and personalized adjustments to room temperature can be made for each guest, for example.
Quality maintenance service | As with any piece of equipment that is essential to operations, “it’s important that the folks who are installing and maintaining the system have a good track record and an established client base, along with the ability to service locally,” Srouji advised.
Robust technical support | Users need to be comfortable with the dashboard and understand the datasets to make the appropriate decisions, and so the vendor should offer training for clients that request it. Srouji emphasized the value of both basic and advanced training options. “We provide a customer portal for training, and if that customer is really techie and wants to understand, for example, the API and software integrations, we also provide that level of training,” he related. “We also have a Certified Partner Network that is geographically deployed, and they provide training as well.”
Track record | While the hotel technology space is continually seeing new vendors and products, opting to partner with a more well-established supplier is generally advisable—assuming the product is a good fit. “It’s important that system that you’re choosing to implement has some longevity to it,” Srouji maintained. “Is the technology provider offering a proven track record and value proposition?”