HTNG on the Move

Hospitality Technology Next Generation, the lodging industry's technology solutions association, unveiled its branding and certification program at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference in Los Angeles in June. Formed at the 2002 HITEC, the association has about 200 members. Membership has been doubling every few months for the past 15 months, says Douglas Rice, executive director.

The program involves a “trademark license agreement and certification against specifications so vendors can take their products through it,” Rice says. Essentially, it's a lodging-industry technology version of Underwriters Laboratories, so a trademark that will go with it likely will be used in conjunction with the name of the particular specification involved, Rice says.

The program helps meet the interoperability goal of the self-funded, non-profit group, which was formed to facilitate technology choices for hoteliers and hotel companies. “Vendors will be able to claim and advertise compliance with an open specification and customers will be able to determine whether a vendor's product is certified,” Rice says. The certification programhas been completed, and The Open Group, a company dedicated to what it calls a Boundaryless Information Program and has developed similar programs for other industries, helped HTNG develop the finishing touches. A database hoteliers can access to determine whether and how products conform to HTNG specifications is part of the plan.

“There's still a lot of discussion because we have to adapt this to ourindustry,” Rice said this spring. At the time, the goal was to develop the big picture, along with “most of the details,” he said.

LOOKING FOR RESULTS

Meanwhile, HTNG is growing by leaps and bounds. In April, its first annual conference drew more than 160 hotel technology executives, technology vendors, consultants and others. Among the areas members plan to address in dedicated work groups:

  • Integration of building control systems with hotel systems and with each other

  • Joint support models for different vendors that provide interoperable products to hotels

  • Payment systems integration and security

  • Meeting room services

  • Project management, management and communications best practices for technology implementation

  • Assessment of guest value by tracking activities across multiple systems

  • Group billing reconciliation.

One of the reasons that HTNG has been growing so rapidly is “that our work groups have delivered results that people believe hold a lot of promise and can move the industry forward,” Rice says. “The more companies get involved and see what we're doing, the more they encourage their friends and trading partners to join as well.”

Corporate dues are $2,000 a year, with individual dues as low as $250. Roughly 195 companies are involved. “Most of the heavy work is done in work groups built around a particular set of issues,” Rice says. “You don't get work done in a meeting that has 25 or more people, so we try to break the groups into smaller chunks.”

In April, the HTNG board of directors elected Luke Mellors, CIO of British luxury hotel company The Dorchester Group, as its newest member. “The transformation of hotel technology to a business- and customer-centric approach has finally arrived,” Mellors told the board, according to the HTNG website. “HTNG is shaping and steering this far overdue, yet paradigm-shifting revolution… I hope to assist in this drive and be a spokesperson for both European interests as well as those of smaller growth companies whose reliance on appropriate technology is so great.”

How difficult is it to reconcile European and U.S. hotel technology standards? The hurdle isn't insurmountable. “There are different needs but I don't think there need to be different standards,” Rice says. “A good specification can incorporate the needs of different countries while still being true to a single approach. As regards the global nature of the issue, I think systems interoperability has always been a much more difficult issue for global hotel companies because they have to deal with local suppliers for many products in each of their markets. You can buy one property management system that will work everywhere but you can't buy many of the other systems that are used in hotels globally.”

Local accounting rules and local law enforcement regulations, customs, language and character sets make such purchases problematic. “With many types of products, you have to have somebody on the ground,” Rice says, “and if you want to buy that product in some secondary city in China you need a vendor who has an office in that city.”

HTNG is seeking to expand its focus beyond the hotel industry, Rice says. “Clubs, gaming, golf, resorts, cruises and restaurants-many of these use the same technologies and have some of the same problems,” he says. “We're looking to find solutions that are reusable and we have to look into adjacent industries and see what they have that we can use.”

For the first time in 2005, HTNG had a booth at HITEC. It was very well-attended, largely because a number of vendors worked “hard to create some interoperational capabilities to show at our booth and their booths,” according to Rice.

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