[Column] Mandy Duncan: How data at the Edge can reshape Hospitality
20-09-2021 11:18:00 | by: Nixon Kanali | hits: 787 | Tags:

Despite the major advancements that have been made over the last 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic is still casting a long shadow of uncertainty within South Africa. Businesses in almost every sector have had to quickly adapt to a digital-first world and, as economies start to fully reopen, many are finding that the challenges faced so far were just the tip of the iceberg.

Hospitality organisations know this only too well – while some were able to adapt to online models to continue trading, others were forced to close their doors for 12+ months, leaving huge swathes of the industry – and its digital advancement – largely dormant. Now, property IT Managers and Asset Managers in the sector find themselves playing an urgent game of catch up in order to guarantee their long-term recovery.

Digital-first demands

For hospitality businesses to bounce back better they must quickly demonstrate they’re able to respond to the digital-first expectations that have emerged from/been strengthened by the pandemic – delivering safety-conscious contactless experiences, hyper-personalised engagement, and digital interactions. 

It’s a fine balance of automation and driving the innovation without losing the personal experience we have been accustomed to in the past. And this applies to guests of course, but also to back of house staff including front desk, room service, conference, kitchen, engineering, security and management who can use technology to improve the guest experience.  Investments in the back end will ultimately drive overall operational efficiencies. This could be anything from upgrading equipment to better allocation of shifts and resources.

Easier said than done? Not necessarily. The sector was already in a healthy place with its transformation pre-pandemic, bringing in new technologies and moving computing power to the Edge. Hospitality has always been a fast-paced environment that needs to stay at least two steps ahead of its daily challenges.

Avoiding slowdown

But why does it matter? As hospitality businesses accelerate their digital transformation, they also face an exponential uptick in data. While this presents exciting opportunities to create better, more differentiated customer experiences (to name just one benefit), that very same data can quickly become a hindrance if it’s not controlled, understood and utilised. 

And not only could that throw businesses into a major digital slowdown, but it could also really impact their ability to deliver a competitive advantage.

Harnessing data to maintain digital momentum

Establishing a network that gets a handle on all this data and allows hospitality to put it to good use is critical for continued digital momentum and long-term success – and we see this being a three-step process:

Step 1: Process data efficiently

To process data efficiently, organisations must follow it to the Edge of the network, capturing it in real-time at its source versus transferring it back to a centralised hub and causing unavoidable latency. This is especially true in hospitality where every millisecond counts, ensuring targeted promotions and smart venues can adapt based on immediate needs.

Step 2: Analyse data intelligently

Capturing data is one thing but acting on it is something else entirely. Enter AI and automation.

Developments in technology have played a fundamental role in the growth of the tourism and travel industry. Now with the impact of COVID-19, the use of digital solutions is ever more apparent. Digitalisation opens new frontiers and improves resource management efficiency. The deployment of AI chatbots that interact with and learn from people, enabling them to intricately understand customer preferences, respond with hyper-personalised services, and manage complaints. This is happening with the Hotel Sky in Johannesburg becoming the first African hotel to deploy robot staff members in the capacity this year.

But AI’s usage doesn’t stop at customer delight. It also has a role to play in network troubleshooting, instinctively acting on problems and freeing up time for teams to innovate and utilise data for further digital transformation.

Step 3: Storing data securely

The final step in the data process is security – customers must trust their data is secure, and businesses must feel confident in policing new levels of app and device usage. This requires a delicate balance of locking down data enough to reassure customers without freezing out further transformation.

A Zero Trust approach is part of the answer here, but network visibility and device identification also become key. By taking a centralised view of networks and giving IT teams the ability to grant differentiated levels of data access according to device or user group, hospitality organisations can strike the right balance as well as delivering differentiated guest experiences.

Conclusion

South Africa, like most countries, can’t afford for its hospitality industry to fail. With it would go thousands of businesses and millions of jobs. As hospitality’s doors finally swing open and footfall increases again, hoteliers must work fast to encourage on-premise interaction and achieve customer delight. But a huge part of this will be reliant on managing data at the Edge, which in turn requires having the right infrastructure and solutions in place to support next-generation technologies.

Done correctly, this has the potential to significantly (and positively) change the way hospitality services are delivered. Done wrong, however, or not done at all, and the results could be catastrophic.

Mandy Duncan is the Aruba Country Manager in South Africa.