One of the aspects of growing an accommodation chain by acquisition is that there is a 90% chance that none of the systems taken over are compatible with the brand’s own.
In no area is that more evident than in the IT systems. Rarely do PMS, telephone, Internet and guest facility communications tally with those used by the acquiring chain. Sunshine Coast-based Oaks Hotels & Resorts just may have found the answer.
Bryn Solly and his team have established an across-the-board structure for applying a cookie cutter module to convert an incoming property to the Oaks system, a process that Mr Solly boasts can be done in just two days (with a few days of additional staff training).
Though the system is still being developed, without doubt it is quite impressive. There have been 34 installations at Oaks properties over the past 18 months with the three New Zealand hotels to be installed this year, just leaving Dubai to go.
Mr Solly joined Oaks six years ago with no background in the accommodation industry per se but with huge IT experience after 15 years with IBM and seven more as IT manager for Brisbane’s Treasury casino.
Central to the new Oaks concept was the PMS system for each hotel. The individual systems for each hotel were out dated for the purposes of the Oaks group’s ongoing development. GuestCentrix CMS was selected as the most flexible and appropriate system for the new generation Oaks package and, importantly says Mr Solly, “the rate was great”. The important point of the new PMS platform is the entire operation is centralised. There are no individual servers at hotels – access is provided via a Citrix platform running at a data centre in Eight Miles Plains, South Brisbane. This also removes the need for individual user PCs, with most replaced by thin terminals with savings all round. A dedicated Telstra IP MAN link for each site supplies “99.999% uptime” and an integrated Next G link provides automatic failover in the rare event of an outage.
Naturally, linked in to all of this is a fully automated electronic reservations system. When 50% of your bookings come from the web, much of it from OTAs, an efficient reservation network integrated into the PMS is vital. Oaks is focused on increasing its online booking traffic and will shortly be implementing some extra security systems on this revenue stream via a Mykonos Web Intrusion Prevention System.
Complementing the new PMS is the addition of a Redmap document management storage system. All documents are scanned into the system by the individual properties and stored centrally so the need for paper storage ends there. The savings are formidable, but it doesn’t end there. The Redmap smartPayables component allows certain documents, like invoices, to be automatically processed and passed to other systems.
It means that the building managers are relieved of a substantial amount of work by being able to “delegate to the system” functions they would normally have to perform. For example, a building manager can raise an order easily via the online finance system where it can be approved and actioned. Later, when an invoice is received, they merely scan the invoice into the system. Redmap analyses and extracts the data from the invoice and sends it to the appropriate member of the centralised finance department for approval and automatically imports straight into the finance system ready for an electronic payment transfer.
Substantial savings on paper, labour and storage are a direct result.
All hotels will have broadband and wifi connections available to guests. Reivernet supply the wifi system on a “share profit” basis with Oaks that means no capital outlay for the plug-in infrastructure and 24/7 back-up staff by Reivernet… even more savings for Oaks.
Another exciting change coming soon is the migration to a new cloud-based sales and marketing system. Mr Solly says a new Salesforce.com service should go live this month replacing the current “clumsy, user unfriendly” program allowing their teams to be more dynamic and mobile. But, he insists, as a new technology it will be a “one-step-at-a-time” introduction to make sure it is stable and “works as expected”.
At the same time a new GuestCentrix point of sale system will be rolled out nationwide allowing close integration to the PMS and the use of generic brand terminals as opposed to proprietary (and often out-dated) hardware.
SiteMinder’s executive director, global sales and marketing, David Williams said SiteMinder helps Oaks Hotels and Resorts maximise bookings by extending its reach to more lucrative online markets. “Our partnership with Oaks has proved very successful with our high-yielding, cloud-based channel manager automating and streamlining their distribution process with two-way integration to the world’s top booking websites.”
And, down the track, Mr Solly is talking with kiosk suppliers to install check-in/check-out systems in some properties. “It makes sense, especially for corporate travellers. After they arrive they just scan their barcodes, pay with their credit card, collect their key card and can go straight to their rooms…”
Mr Solly is already looking further ahead, getting ready for the oncoming National Broadband Network, which he sees as the future for communications.
But nobody really likes change. Mr Solly maintains changes must be tested and must always add quality to help ease transition. For example “there are many VoIP solutions available for guest telephones that could potentially save us money but as yet, for the tests we have done, for us quality is just not there.”
That’s not to say they are opposed to VoIP. “With our SIP connection with Telstra we get high quality voice for our hotel lines through our own virtual private network… and we still make savings,” Mr Solly says.
The SIP solution delivers telephony over Oaks’ existing Telstra IP wide area network, replacing the existing ISDN phone lines but allowing each hotel to retain their existing advertised phone numbers. It brings together separate voice and data networks in an efficient way across the one smart data network allowing Oaks’ applications to run efficiently, utilising a feature known as Quality of Service, regardless of what the PABX is doing.
Oaks favours traditional PABX as it is very reliable and costs are fixed and known. IP phone systems, says Mr Solly, are very expensive and the “ongoing costs go on forever”. The SIP lines mean that communications between all hotels and head office are without charge and that, in itself, offers huge savings.
Brett Pointon, Oaks’ CEO, who took the company from one apartment hotel 20 years ago to be recognised as the most successful strata titled accommodation manager in Australia today, says, “Our vision is simple – to be the best. And to be the best you cannot follow, you must lead”.
Bryn Solly and his team are certainly doing their bit to lead in creating an IT platform to integrate with Oaks very successful operational model. That model generates unrivalled investment returns to its owners.
With Oaks’ new alignment with Minor International it has now created a partnership to take this unique model to the rest of the world. And just maybe Bangkok could be the next place to see the Oaks logo on a hotel.
GuestCentrix – a natural fit
A detailed RFP issued by Oaks Hotels and Resorts gave CMS Hospitality a clear understanding of the current and future needs of this fast growing and profitable hotel group. While their existing system had served them well, it wasn’t the solution to allow them the continued growth expected.
With our experience at the likes of Scenic Group in NZ and Aurora Hotels in Australia in a centralised environment, coupled with a strong trust accounting solution, GuestCentrix seemed a natural fit for Oaks. Oaks has assisted with some great feedback to allow us to continually improve our solutions, which benefits our current and future clients.
GuestCentrix Trust Accounting solution was enhanced further ensuring all contractual obligations at any of their properties to unit owners are able to be configured and managed easily. More importantly, Oaks managing revenue and income is recorded accurately. Oaks reservations team has the ability to look up availability of rooms across the group using GuestCentrix Central Reservations and PMS. GuestCentrix Central Reporting means less time spent combining reports in spreadsheets, to gain group business information quickly and easily.
Online reservations are key to accommodation providers, with Oaks connecting TravelClick and other OTA-based web services direct to their hotel databases for seamless reservations.
A new feature in multiple hotel and/or application environments is Central Security. Oaks can create a single login and password per user, giving levels of access to multiple and selectable application. This feature is a part of our standard application where proprties need this functionality.
We look forward to a great future with Oaks Hotels and Resorts as it continues to grow.
Best of breed solution
IC Solutions works closely with Oaks Hotels & Resorts’ general manager of information technology, Bryn Solly, to design in collaboration with Telstra, provision and manage telephony services including fixed line, hardware, mobile phones, data and Internet services throughout their properties across Australasia.
Oaks Hotels & Resorts is an innovator, demanding a consistent service across the entire group, with head office relying on the connections between sites for real time reporting and communication.
To improve cost efficiency, Oaks required an integrated hybrid solution tailored to suit each site with flexibility and reliability that enabled each property to retain their existing phone number range and current PaBX systems.
In consultation with Telstra and Oaks, ICS is currently provisioning a best of breed solution, Telstra’s SIP Connect that delivers business-grade IP telephony across all sites, bringing together data and telephony over Telstra’s private wide area network with guaranteed Quality of Service, automated failover to ensure business continuity and free calls between sites while reducing guest call costs.
Oaks also operates a central inbound call centre in Brisbane to manage thousands of daily enquiries and bookings. In conjunction with Mitel Communications, ICS designed and implemented a call-centre solution that reports agent activities on a real time basis with Intelligent Queuing so prospective guests talk with knowledgeable agents.
ICSolutions is a preferred communication supplier to the hotel and resort industries, providing tailored telephony solutions and delivering 24/7 support for maintenance and repairs on most brands of PaBX.
That Quality of Service
The Oaks Hotels & Resorts’ Bryn Solly, general manager information technology, has been working closely with Telstra Business to design and implement a business-grade IP telephony platform across all offices and hotel sites nationally. The delivery of the new platform is an enabler for The Oaks Hotels & Resorts’ strategy to increase overall room occupancy by ensuring phone calls that are unable to be answered at the hotel are automatically diverted to the call centre.
Telstra’s SIP Connect solution delivers telephony over The Oaks Hotels & Resorts’ existing Telstra IP wide area network, replacing the existing ISDN phone lines but allowing each hotel to retain their existing advertised phone numbers.
Telstra’s SIP Connect solution brings together separate voice and data networks in an efficient way across the one smart data network that can allow The Oaks Hotels & Resorts’ applications to run more efficiently utilising a feature known as Quality of Service.
The design of this solution has provided increased flexibility and reliability, with support for different PABX systems The Oaks Hotels & Resorts has. Business Continuity Planning is also accommodated with automated failover without the need for manual re-configuration.
The introduction of the new platform provides cost efficiencies, removing monthly rental costs for local PSTN or ISDN services and adding the benefit of calls between sites on the network not charged.
Cloud-based channel management
More Oaks Hotels and Resorts rooms are now being sold on more booking sites around the world thanks to its partnership with international online distributor, SiteMinder.
Since January, 2011, thousands of rooms and rates at all of Oaks Hotels and Resorts in Australia have been distributed to major reservation websites around the world via SiteMinder’s two-way, flat-fee channel manager platform.
SiteMinder’s executive director, global sales and marketing, David Williams said SiteMinder was proud to help a major brand such as Oaks Hotels and Resorts maximise bookings by extending its reach to more lucrative online markets. “Our partnership with Oaks has proved very successful with our high-yielding, cloud-based channel manager automating and streamlining their distribution process with two-way integration to the world’s top booking websites,” Mr Williams said. “The connections we have established for the Oaks group dramatically reduce the time it takes to update live rates and availability and reduce the risk of over bookings via our unique pooled inventory model, which automatically adjusts Oaks’ hotel inventory each time a booking is taken on any online channel,” he said.
“The future for the accommodation industry is online but the web is an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace. Using our leading-edge technology, SiteMinder builds and expands the online footprint for Oaks and many other hotel groups around the world, with the result being more guests walking through their doors.”