Sure, We Are Integrated! Why Not All "Clouds" Are Created Equal
The debate over whether to implement an on-premise system (a solution installed and running locally on your property's servers) or a cloud system (accessed and operated over the internet) is outdated. However, it is essential to understand that not all cloud systems are created equal, even though our industry's differences seem to be under-discussed (and we can understand the reasons, but that's another story...).
Sure, cloud computing has revolutionized the way businesses operate by providing a scalable and flexible infrastructure that allows for rapidly deploying applications, services, and resources. However, different cloud systems have unique strengths and weaknesses that need to be evaluated based on the needs of your business. Therefore, evaluating the quality and reliability of any cloud system before committing to a 5-year contract is crucial, as poorly designed or unreliable software can lead to disruptions and difficulties for your business, your staff, and, ultimately, your guests. While the decision between on-premise and cloud-native systems may no longer be applicable, it is essential to understand the differences between different systems and their unique strengths and weaknesses.
Ah, the API debate...
At HotelTime Solutions, we have learned firsthand the importance of constantly updating and rewriting our system to meet the changing needs not only of our clients but of our partners (and the industry) too. And here's where the API discussion gets into place. Let's start with the basics: APIs, or "application programming interfaces," are sets of protocols and definitions that allow software applications to communicate and integrate (more or less) seamlessly. They act as a "bridge" between different software (such as your PMS and your RMS, or your Channel Manager and your Booking Engine), allowing them to exchange data and functionality without needing to know the underlying details of each other's implementation. APIs are often compared to contracts, where the documentation is, de facto, an agreement between parties. When a remote request is structured in a particular way, an API defines how the receiving software will respond. In a nutshell, APIs simplify how developers integrate new application components into existing architecture, allowing different companies to link software components without tweaking the source code, facilitating the connection of other data streams, and sharing certain features or functionalities.
Open Vs. Closed is NOT the only thing to look for!
An open API is a publicly-available tool that enables external developers to interact with a company's proprietary service. While there are various methods for creating APIs, the primary objective is to make them user-friendly for a broad audience, avoiding proprietary protocols and data formats. In contrast, closed APIs are intended to keep development in-house, as they only permit the company's development team (and selected partners) to utilize the application services. As a result, the vendor has much more control over the types of applications that can be developed and the functions they can perform (and the fees they charge to "open" their APIs...). However, if you think that because now you know that "cloud" is better than "legacy" and "Open API" is better than "Closed," you have all you need to make an informed choice. Well, you may want to think again...
Of course, we're integrated! We have an API for that!
While the impact of APIs cannot be understated, not all APIs are created equal, and some vendors provide low-quality APIs that lack depth, only to claim that they have an integration with specific software, but in reality, the API quality is shallow, at best, making the integration almost useless. This is where the importance of creating high-quality APIs comes into play for companies and vendors to provide a seamless and efficient experience. Today, hotels need to access and exchange a ton of data to (fully) take advantage of a more connected tech ecosystem. As the travel and hospitality industry continues to evolve, using APIs has become imperative, as many software systems need to communicate, providing access to up-to-date information. Creating high-quality APIs is essential for companies that want to offer seamless integrations with their software. To achieve this, vendors must consider several factors. First, they must have a complete vision of their product, understand the wants and needs of their clients, and listen to feedback to enhance the API's quality. They should also have a vertical industry strategy to meet the specific needs of individual market segments, especially in an industry like ours. Furthermore, vendors should have a geographic plan that allows them to direct resources, skills, and offerings to meet the specific needs of geographies outside their home market.
What Does the Future Hold?
My take is that potential of APIs has not yet been fully realized, and companies (including mine) must continue to experiment with the benefits of a more open and integrated framework. In my personal experience, to ensure high-quality APIs in the PMS space, especially when building for deep-data-demanding software such as RMSs, we should prioritize the following aspects:
- Depth of Functionality: APIs should offer customers a wide range of functions and features. It does make a difference if you're only sending the overall occupancy rate to the RMS instead of the occupancy rate per room type or room occupancy, as this can lead to errors and approximations in the strategy;
- Integration Capabilities and personalization: APIs should offer flexibility and versatility to customers. Don't take for granted that if they're open, they're also flexible. It's all in the hands of the devs (and sales team... But don’t even get me started on that). APIs should personalize products and services according to the needs and wants of the target market, offering an intuitive and customized experience;
- Automation: APIs should automate processes, reducing manpower and operating costs while improving efficiency.
Companies prioritizing API quality over quantity are positioned to benefit from increased efficiency, improved automation, and higher levels of customer satisfaction. As the travel industry continues to evolve, there will likely be a need for integration with new, innovative software. Take ChatGPT, for instance, which has generated a lot of buzz lately. OpenAI allows developers to incorporate the bot's capabilities into their applications, paving the way for automating mundane hotel tasks, building travel-specific chatbots, and even taking a leap into the future by enabling AI-based avatars in metaverse's digital twins.
And, let's get this straight: none of this can be achieved with a simple "Sure, we are integrated!" response from your software provider...