Want Consumer Loyalty? Get Smart About Hospitality Innovation!

At the recent 2015 HITEC event, the hospitality industry got a taste for industry highlights and overviews of things to come, and the event certainly did not disappoint. Among some of the more innovative solutions were concierge-style robots that provide more basic services like room service delivery, and of course NEC’s own Kylie!

Always top of mind for hospitality is customer loyalty. How do you reward those who are loyal to your brand? And how do you keep them loyal? One way is to ensure they feel welcomed and valued, as demonstrated through NEC’s VIP facial recognition avatar, Kylie.

Using NeoFace® face recognition technology and pulling from the secure database your organization collects, Kylie greets visitors, provides them with information pertinent to their stay and helps them with everything from getting checked into a room to getting to their return flight information. She is always on, always friendly, and always ready to greet customers to ensure a strong customer experience.

It’s More than Bells and Whistles

Of course, greeting VIP customers helps ensure a positive experience, but it’s only the beginning. Also important is an overall customer experience that couples the desired convenience with the required security. NEC’s Smart Hospitality Solutions are designed to provide both enhanced guest experiences with increased efficiency of hotel operations.

NEC Smart Hospitality Solutions consist of key solutions related to hotel operations, including communications platforms, Unified Communications (UC) applications, Property Management Systems (PMS), facial recognition systems, digital signage and guest room management systems. As the solutions are based on a modular approach and can be tightly integrated, customer information and other data can be easily shared throughout the portfolio of applications. As a result of this seamless integration, hotel owners and operators can provide highly value-added guest service and improve the productivity of hotel staff.

For example, NEC’s facial recognition solution makes it possible to use cameras at hotel entrances to identify VIP guests in real-time using previously registered data in a PMS. This enables the provision of personalized services and greetings to coincide with the arrival of a VIP. The guest experience can also be enhanced by enabling hotel check-ins and check-outs and room service orders and other requests to be accessed from tablets or guests’ smartphones.

NEC plans to continually strengthen the NEC Smart Hospitality Solutions portfolio while promoting its “Hotel IT in a Box” approach, which offers hotel solutions consolidated into a single server platform. Based on this approach, NEC launched its Application Platform for Hotels, a vertically integrated solution platform optimized for the hospitality industry. Moving forward, NEC plans to further integrate new solutions such as PMS into the Application Platform for Hotels.

NEC Smart Hospitality Solutions

A Glimpse into the Future

Of course, no event would be complete without a demonstration of futuristic technology. During HITEC, NEC demonstrated its  Interactive Projection System. This easy-to-use touchpad device connects with customers’ cell phones and provides information of their choosing, including property maps, coupons, and entertainment information. Giving customers the opportunity to self-serve actually improves the experience with quick access to information that can be uploaded to their mobile devices for access at the exact time they want it, a big bonus for those people on the go.

Customer loyalty is critical in the highly competitive hospitality industry, and comes down to the experience. Utilizing innovative solutions such as Kylie or the Interactive Projection System will create a positive visitor experience. Couple this with solutions that improve productivity, and both the customer and the hospitality organization win.

For more information on the NEC Smart Hospitality Solutions, please visit our website.

How to Spot Interoperable Education Technologies at FETC 2015

nec_uc_educations_solutions_4-resized-600This week while preparing for FETC 2015, I thought back to an article that Education Week published in December on digital content delivery and interoperability. With E-Learning software topping most educator’s shopping lists this year, interoperability is bound to be one of the many hot discussion topics heard on the exhibit floors during the show. So, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the article here.

A handful of large school districts (like Houston Independent School District) have begun aggressively pushing big publishers of education-based digital content to begin revamping the way they deliver instructional materials—a movement which will upend the long-established purchasing patterns that typically keep educators from accessing materials from other vendors.

The movement is reminiscent of several interoperability debates in the IT/Tech world right now, and we’re seeing many school districts lead the charge in declaring that they will not do business with publishers who refuse to become interoperable.

It’s a huge step on the part of the school districts. A shift towards interoperability means many things. It can revolutionize how content-delivery systems interact with each other. It could also transform how schools purchase and consume digital content, allowing districts to procure small “chunks” of content (individual chapters, lessons or videos, for example) from multiple vendors, perhaps through licensing agreements, rather than rely on yearlong or grade-span textbook series from a single publisher.

Finding Interoperability

As FETC helps kick off trade show season and as school districts start moving into 2015, it may be time to begin evaluating content technologies that can easily manage both the interoperable content coming from publishers as well as any other content types/formats.

Here are a few things to look for as you begin to evaluate new content distribution platforms:

“Create-ivity” and Customizability

Content distribution platforms (a.k.a. Learning Management Systems) traditionally employ a structured sequential learning method that drives students to move through class material in a predefined order. The best interoperable technologies are going to offer more by way of on-demand flexibility—letting teachers either create or select content relevant to each student’s learning experience, helping achieve the best possible results in the classroom.

A fully interoperable, flexible content management and distribution solution should give professors and students the option to employ either a traditional sequential learning model or the ability create a truly customized learning experience by accessing individual content pieces in multiple formats (video, presentation, documents, etc.) that the school has either licensed from multiple publishers or created on its own.

Collaboration and Interactivity

There is an increased focus on collaboration in higher education in order to prepare students for today’s collaborative and adaptive work environments. The right Learning Management System should provide the social interaction to which students have become accustomed, and should include tools that allow students and teachers to create discussion feeds and workgroups for classroom-based conversations and project-based learning.

Today’s Learning Management Systems should allow students to work collaboratively and efficiently together in real-time to complete class assignments and projects, and also include tools that allow interactive experiences with the course content,  including online components and hybrid learning strategies for flipped-classroom style learning.

“Integrate-ability” and Modernity

There are many challenges facing educators as classroom technology continues to advance.  That’s why a content distribution platform should be easy to use, should integrate existing educational resources, and should be integrate-able with your existing district technologies (think Unified Communications solutions, virtualized or cloud storage systems, or analytics technologies).

Collaborative Content Management

School districts like Houston’s are drawing lines in the sand—demanding more from the publishers creating K-12 content. The same demands will now need to be made of the technologists creating the distribution solutions.

That said, NEC is going to be at FETC this week demoing several of our education solutions—including our Collaborative Content Management solution, a cloud-based Learning Management System which is fully interoperable, flexible, and collaborative right out of the box.

If you’d like to learn more about NEC’s Collaborative Content Management before the show, check out our webinar below.

If you happen to be at FETC this week, stop by booth #1268 to chat with an NEC expert during normal Expo hours.


3 Tips for Avoiding Network Downtime in Hotels

nec-hospitality-uc-avoid-downtimeWith all the negative reporting around economic recoveries, it’s always nice to hear a little good news. Each year, hoteliers around the world see larger chunks of money spent on travel. In 2013, Americans spent 887.9 billion dollars on travel alone, with about 19% of that total going directly to lodging.

All of the money pouring into the travel industry means the hospitality market is changing. Increasing levels of competition should have hoteliers rethinking the business strategies that retain existing clientele, and fighting harder to capture the attention of potential new customers.

It’s important to note that, if you’re implementing new initiatives to improve customer loyalty, missteps, or ignoring customer demands altogether, can and will drive guests away from your business. Take Wi-Fi as an example. Studies are increasingly showing that most travelers demand free and fast Wi-Fi wherever they book a room, yet 1/3 of current U.S. hotels still do not offer free Wi-Fi access.

You don’t want to be the one hotel out there that doesn’t provide the expected service. Your customers will go to your competitors who are willing to offer what has become the standard.

From an IT and technology perspective, the “expected” service in most hotels is a network that’s always-on.

To stay with the times, you don’t need just to play catch up with your competitors; you need to stay ahead of the game. Here are three tips to help you avoid downtime and keep your network in tip-top shape.

Tip 1: Manage Goodwill

It isn’t enough that your hotel is equipped with top-of-the-line technologies and services if you can’t deliver them to your guests—which means you’ll have to keep your IT systems functioning 24 hours a day, seven days a week to maintain happy clientele.

What you may not know, though, is that every time your system goes down, you lose money—a lot of money. A study released by CA Technologies reveals that North American businesses, including those within the hospitality sector, collectively lose as much as $26.5 billion in revenue every year due to slow recovery from IT system downtime, equating a reduction in the average business’s ability to generate revenue by 29 percent.

While it’s true that you can’t always prevent service outages, you can manage goodwill by ensuring that:

  1. Unnecessary outages are avoided.
  2. And, the right plans are in place to improve the speed of recovery when outages do occur.

Tip 2: Be Proactive Against Downtime

In our globally-connected world, the expectation for reliable communications has never been greater. Dropped calls and limited access services can lead to poor reviews and a damaged reputation for most businesses. But for Hospitality-based businesses specifically who specialize in housing conferences and business meetings, where Wi-Fi, digital signage, automated services, and other guest amenities will be needed consistently, a dropped call or garbled voice mail can translate into a lot of lost business.

The solution here is to begin employing high-availability communications solutions. Modern communications systems give your guests the instant access they need to internal and external services. But, the advantages recouped from UC are tenfold for hotel personnel. For your employees, UC means enhanced voice, video, and web collaboration, and access to colleagues anytime from anywhere on any mobile-enabled device.

Tip 3: Employ Remote Monitoring

Running high-availability, always-on IT solutions can be stressful for any organization—regardless of size. Employing the staff needed to keep things functioning during normal periods, and the cost of hiring onsite maintenance technicians during emergencies can be costly, especially for hospitality-based businesses that often have hotels in multiple locations.

Remote management services can be financially beneficial for organizations with distributed properties but centralized IT. Remote management can help reduce onsite IT visits by as much as 80 percent and virtually eliminating the need to hire expensive onsite IT staff during emergencies. But the biggest benefit of remote monitoring is both the ultimate decrease in your system’s outages and downtime, and faster recovery when the system does go down.

Why? Because the third party staff, equipment, and application monitoring that comes with most remote monitoring services are available on a 24/7 basis and are capable of detecting things like compromised voice quality or availability issues as soon as they occur, well before your guests report them to you. This means there’s no overlap between the time the system goes down and the time someone discovers that the system has gone down—maintenance can be started and your most important guest services can be restored almost immediately.

Upgrading Your Communications Solution

Giving your guests highly available, reliable, always-on IT services does not have to be as stressful or costly as it may seem right now. It is worth noting that, with the increasing demand to replace outdated communications, there’s a chance that the bulk of your problems  and potential risk lie within your old outdated hardware.

Take a look at your network system and consider these tips. If you have a problem that hasn’t been solved here, give us a call. It may be time for an upgrade to a more reliable Unified Communications Hospitality oriented communications system.


Digital Disruption: Colleges and Schools as Publishers

7k0a0879Digital Publishing is a contentious subject among educators. The transition between paper and digital has created gray areas and thoughts/opinions on the transformation to digital range widely and evolve consistently. With the kick-off of the 2014 EDUCAUSE Conference under way it’s a good time to take a look at the arguments presented. Do we burn the textbook? Does digital serve a higher purpose?

Digital vs. Print Publishing

Until November 2007 when Amazon introduced the Kindle, the only viable means of book distribution was paper. Any author who wanted to reach a mass audience needed a paper distribution partner. Any author could hire his or her own editor and his or her own cover design artist; he or she could even hire a printing press to create the actual books. The one service he or she couldn’t hire out was distribution. And publishers didn’t offer distribution as an a-la-carte service. The package service was always the best value, and there was no viable alternative otherwise.

In textbook publishing, there has been little alternative to buying a traditional book from the publishers—particularly in Higher Education. Each professor expects their students to have access to the required text. Knowing that professors require specific texts, publishers are able to control the market (in an effort to stop borrowing and downloading illegal versions, etc.). They do this by publishing “updated” editions to their texts fairly frequently. It’s an effort on their part to “force” students to buy new textbooks—whether the content needs refreshing or not.

Textbook costs increased an average of 186 percent from 1986 to 2005—a jump that saw several students dropping out of college simply because they couldn’t afford the books they needed for classes. Digital publishing clearly posed a solution to the issue and has pushed the industry ever-closer to its tipping point.

Major publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years buying up software companies and building new digital divisions, betting that the future will bring an expanded role for digital publishers in higher education.

So far, publishers are only producing a limited number of titles in these born-digital formats, and the number of professors assigning them is relatively small. Only about 2 percent of textbooks sold at college bookstores are fully digital titles, according to a survey of 940 bookstores run by Follett Higher Education Group.

As these new kinds of textbooks catch on, they raise questions about how much control publishers have over curriculum and the teaching process. It seems that the time has come for a different publishing model, and with it, real disruption.

Colleges as Publishers

Publishers shouldn’t be the only organizations building these new textbooks. In fact, the most qualified organizations to be writing said texts are colleges themselves.

Modern digital content management technologies can help universities not only transition from print to digital, but can also help the transition into self-publishing as well. Implementation is always key when it comes to new technology and, particularly with digital publishing, rash or jumpy behavior can kill the vision before it’s realized.

Preparing appropriate digital initiatives, trainings, and continued professional development are all essential to creating buy-in and getting users to feel comfortable using the content management technology to begin creating digitally powered course curricula.  But the payoff is definitely worth it.

Self-publishing is great for universities and students alike. With universities as publishers, Higher Ed institutions start regaining control of the content used in their courses. Additional benefits include new revenue streams and the ability to provide students much better rates for books than students were able to get on their own, even for used textbooks.

Plus, with the right technology, those who wanted to read the textbook on paper could print out the electronic version or pay an additional fee to buy an old-fashioned copy—a book.

Communication, Collaboration, and Reciprocity

In readying myself for the conference, I had the opportunity to read The Other End of the Scale: Re-Thinking the Digital Experience in Higher Education on the EDUCAUSE Review. The article is full of conversation-starters, but one key message stood out.

“It is time to rethink the digital experience in higher education: we have a chance not only to reimagine our encounters with the large scale but also to embrace our opportunities at the other end of the scale.”

The move to digital learning has been defined by the “rhetoric of openness,” meaning the success or failure of any digital movement in higher-education is going to depend on collaboration—between faculty, students, and IT professionals. The same can be said of digital publishing. Failure on the part of textbook publishers to advance digital publishing could be attributed to the lack of collaboration between the publishers and the institutions, as well as the institutions and the students in order to determine which digital texts work properly and which don’t.

Improved communications are often a key factor in facilitating this type of collaboration. Continuing to ask “what kind of engagement do we want from our students,” and simultaneously, “how are they engaging with us now,” can help create the communicative foundation universities need to be able to collaborate properly with students.

As the landscape of learning continues to grow and change, and more of our communications become mobile, institutions will need to be able to provide easy, immediate access to all forms of communication on all devices.

Rather than using an old communications system that requires University IT departments to support each device individually, wouldn’t it make sense to employ an agnostic system—something that can be tailored to different users, and one that can be re-used repeatedly?

A Unified Communications-enabled solution can be that device agnostic system for which you’re looking. Not only can it effectively tie professors, students, and faculty together across devices, it can also simultaneously create a recurring revenue model for your institution—licenses can “rented” and then easily re-used as students graduate.

The technologies that will be most successful, however, are those that can combine the collaboration and digital publishing features to provide one, self-sustaining, self-informing communications solution. A collaborative content management system can centralize all processes  and give universities one location from which students can get all requisite information and content,  can access university-oriented social sharing/collaboration tools, and can be directly connected with faculty and professors through advanced UC functionality.

A collaborative content management system can effectively tie everything together, giving universities total control so students and teachers can continue making the same sort of epistemological advances that are today, made in the traditional classroom with the traditional textbook.

To learn more about Collaborative Content Management, check out our webinar and demo recording below. If you happen to be at EDUCAUSE this week, stop by booth 709 to chat with an NEC expert during normal Expo hours.


BYOD and BYOA: The State of Mobility Adoption

BYOD and BYOA: How Devices and Apps Function Together to Improve Business Productivity and Employee Efficiency

nec_byod_employeesMobile devices are completely ingrained in our daily lives. They entertain, remind, socialize, and manage us. They are our personal authentication key to the world around us. They are an extension of ourselves. Handheld mobile devices are just extremely personal, more so than any other device we interact with during the day. When asked, most people will say that they’ll give up food or sleep before they’re deprived of their mobile device, and for most there is a discernable level of anxiety when their device isn’t actively with them.

BYOD: The Device is King

nec_byod_mobilityThe personal dynamics of mobile devices and, in turn, mobile device management, has made adoption of mobile technology a tricky business across the board. For most organizations, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies are still complex and perceived as risky. But, with the global workforce’s rapid adoption of the mobile work style, integration of BYOD policies have been necessary for most organizations to maintain the high levels of productivity needed to sustain business success. In fact, only businesses with high-level security concerns and strict privacy needs—like financial organizations—can succeed in today’s marketplace without some form of acceptance of BYOD in their mobile policies.

Originally, the largest motivation for BYOD was the desire to get rid of the traditional corporate device and its restrictive user experience which contrasted sharply against the newer, smarter consumer devices providing more personal experiences. The result for many early BYOD adopters was the increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and improved competitive advantage that they were searching for.

We’ve talked about BYOD for what seems like too long, but it continues to be a hot topic as employers allow employees to utilize their own devices at the office. But, as many of us know, giving employee-owned devices access to the corporate network increases risk and is difficult for businesses to manage. Many IT departments don’t have the time to deal with the challenges inherent with BYOD; the co-existence of personal and business data, multiple operating systems, and problems with backup, recovery, security, and compliance.

In fact, the 2014 Executive Enterprise Mobility Report released by Apperian and conducted by CITO Research, helps shed some light on how important the issues are that executives at a range of companies embracing these mobility strategies face.

For example, 77% of the respondents highlighted security as a major concern with mobile device management—not much of a shocking discovery if you’ve ever dealt with mobility in the past. What is shocking? That 70% of respondents are still unable to detect data or device loss, which highlights a starteling lack of mobile security initiative in today’s businesses despite security being a key concern.

What is clear, is that companies understand the inherent risk surrounding BYOD and many are still struggling with how best to address their concerns.

Some of the challenges of managing BYOD programs have re-invigorated a “bring-your-own” trend that dates back to the 1980s—Bring Your Own Apps (BYOA). BYOA can be used as a way to preserve the productivity benefits of BYOD while reducing the capital costs associated with managing a BYOD program.

BYOA: The App is Queen

The BYOA trend centers on employees’ use of third-party applications in the workplace. But BYOA is really the key driver of a much larger trend that’s growing in popularity; IT consumerization. Why? Because BYOA and its associated benefits for employees include greater engagement and satisfaction, and improved productivity, the chief cornerstone of the IT Consumerization movement.

Since BYOA employees choose their own applications, each employee can use the apps that he or she is most comfortable with. Not only does this improve productivity by allowing employees to have more control over the software they use, it also enhances efficiency by letting each individual person use the tool that best matches their work style. This gives you the opportunity to provide more software and business process features to your team than you could logically provide while employing a BYOD or other corporate mobility strategy. IT Consumerization essentially allows businesses to create endless opportunities with multiple new ways to get work done—which would likely have a positive effect in terms of employee morale and efficacy.

But the greatest strengths of the BYOA policy are also its greatest weaknesses.

Most consumer apps being used in the enterprise are cloud-based in order to allow user access from multiple devices, laptops included. Many organizations are finding that the combination of cloud-based document sharing and cloud-based business process solutions are meeting a growing number of their business requirements.

As employees are increasingly under pressure to do more with less in terms of budget and IT resources, they often turn to BYOA to get the job done. While this can be rationalized as a means of reducing the capital expenditures and licensing costs associated with using corporate-issued file storage, document sharing, and business process software, all budgetary benefits that come from reducing capital costs are often negated because of one thing—sacrificed security. Your prized corporate data is now sitting in someone else’s cloud.

There is no ace in the hole when it comes to security policies. The simple fact is that SMBs must absorb certain types of risk out of necessity when competing with large enterprises—which is why you’re likely to see higher BYOA adoption among SMBs than enterprises.

But for those who can’t absorb that risk, or simply don’t want to, there’s good news—that risk can be managed.

Security and Mobility: Striking Common Ground

nec_byod_securityThe key challenges for businesses of all sizes adopting cloud and mobility applications is finding the right balance between usability and data security. In an ideal world, users would like to have one-click access to an increasing number of apps without needing 12 digit passwords for each app. Since users are bringing in their own devices, and these devices are the primary means to app access, they must be “trusted” within the organization and secured.

“Perimeter Security” no longer exists in the enterprise. Network boundaries are slowly disappearing—and many IT departments are still trying to control all facets of off-premises application access from roaming mobile endpoints. But this is, quite simply, impossible to do. And so a shift in the way we think about security may be in order.

Protecting data directly, not the device, guards your data at the source rather than the endpoint, ensuring the safety of your businesses’ information regardless of your employee’s location. Information Rights Management and other such technologies directly embed access rules into documents by way of cryptography. With this method, the rules are applicable to documents regardless of location or device, allowing effective security measures for multi-device environments.

This pattern also allows for “detecting, logging, and blocking” data that leaves enterprise premises. Having the capability to follow the transmission of sensitive data solves part of the problem that has become apparent in Apperian’s Mobility report—understanding where, when, and how users are transferring information out of the corporate network.

Secondly, the drive to demand better security from consumer app providers needs to be spearheaded by SMB and enterprise businesses. Since most businesses are embracing some form of BYOD/BYOA, and most of us spend at least 40 hours a week in the workplace, the burden of changing app security—and consequently cloud stability—really falls on businesses, not consumers.

Finally, securing critical business communications can solve a lot of data leakage from the start. Unified Communications (UC) can help keep your company keep its contacts and other data safe and secure when an employee’s device is lost or stolen.

With the right UC app, your IT administrator can secure data loss easily. Unified Communications lets employees bring their own devices while still maintaining high levels of corporate security. The best UC platforms let you support multiple devices through one single approved UC app, meaning your employees can have access to their favorite communications tools without your IT department having to support each device individually.

In regard to other security issues, many organizations that have started implementing consumerization policies are establishing acceptable use standards for use of consumer technologies in the workplace. Acceptable use policies (AUP) stipulate requirements that must be followed to be granted network access.

To learn more about how BYOD policies empower smart enterprises, along with other trends impacting the workforce, download the Smart Enterprise Trends eBook.