E911: 6 Things Every Hospitality Technology Professional Should Know

Recently, there have been stories hitting the news about the ability to call 911 from phones in hotels. Do you have to dial a 9 for an outside line first? Or can you just dial 911 straight away? These are questions that the public is asking hoteliers to answer.

nec---e911---hospitality---hitecThe ability to access emergency services by dialing 911 is a vital component of public safety and emergency preparedness. The history of 911 and VoIP phones is confusing at best. As legislation has started changing, Enhanced 911 (E911) capabilities have become standard on smart, modern VoIP systems.

Currently, only 17 states currently have E911 legislation enacted. Most states still do not require VoIP vendors, or businesses using VoIP services, to provide E911 dialing capabilities.

The legal confusion and the intricacies of programming have made adoption of certain kinds of VoIP technology difficult and a bit unpopular for hospitality organizations intending to provide easy access to emergency services for their customers. While hotels can currently nominate a single trunk to provide 911 dialing services, the growing adoption and the need for hospitality organizations to have hosted telephony solutions or managed services has brought the E911 discussion back into focus.

The success of an E911 implementation relies on your hotel’s technology professionals understanding of how E911 works. We’ve written this post to help you assess your current risk and build a budget that prepares you for installation, maintenance, or upgrade costs.

E911’s History with Public Safety

VoIP is a much more flexible telephony option than land line phone service. But the confusion around 911 dialing has, for a few years, aggravated hoteliers and customers, often leading to trepidation about upgrading to more modern systems. Dispelling the trepidation is key to successful adoption of VoIP in hospitality based industries, which is important because modern telephony systems provide many new technologies and features that hoteliers and customers will love.

If you look at VoIP history, you’ll find that initially, dialing a 9 before the complete telephone number was required to get an outside line on large PBX systems. So in the past, you had to dial 9 to get outside. The technology required it. So at that time the only option callers had was to dial a 9+911.

And on older phone systems, or on phone systems that haven’t been programmed properly, this could still be the case; a fact that has created tragedies in situations when the standard convention directs the user to dial 911 in an emergency.

Modern IP phones have been upgraded to include dialing capabilities for 911 and 9+911.

But they have to be programmed appropriately to be able to do it—which requires a qualified technician.

Assessing your Risk

The liabilities exposed by E911 are multi-faceted. All enterprises must evaluate their footprint in states with legislation and assess their tolerance for risk related to applicable legal liabilities. Additionally, the impetus for E911 legislation continues to build, with additional states passing E911 statutes each year. Enterprises need to continue to comply with statutes in each state, because non–compliance in these states could provide proof of negligence (negligence per se) in an exigent situation. Even in those states without such statutes, failure to implement E911 technology appropriately or at all may be hard to justify with the technology so readily available with modern IP systems.

Explaining to your workforce or other stakeholders why E911 has not been implemented properly after a catastrophic event could cause irreparable damage to workplace morale, productivity, and public perception.

The risk assessment process has two basic parts: technical assessment and policy/procedures assessment. Methods used to assess are:

  • Penetration Tests /Vulnerability Scans—tests your system security
  • Security Policy Compliance—tests  your organization’s compliance within its own security policy
  • Legal Compliance—assess your compliance with your state’s E911 laws
  • Best Practices Assessment—determines if your policies and technology are aligned with the best practices at comparable institutions

While internal security teams can perform a risk assessment, it’s often prudent to contract an independent party to conduct the evaluation. Outside auditors bring their breadth of knowledge and experience from working with other companies.

Building a Budget for E911

Building support inside your organization to implement an E911 initiative or even to get buy-in on a maintenance plan is an important task. There are multiple stakeholders within your organization that will be affected in some way by the E911 project, and it is important to explain everything to them, and identify how E911 will affect them.

These stakeholders typically include:

  • Front Office
  • Housekeeping
  • Uniformed Services
  • Food and Beverage
  • Maintenance

Fortunately, there are E911 solutions for every budget. The best place to start is often basic research. Consider the size of your business and the complexity of your phone network. Remember the following when starting to plan for an implementation, upgrade, or maintenance:

  1. Take your time and include your team. A budget is not the forecast you put together on the weekend. It must be the result of coordinated input and effort by you and your management team.
  2. Don’t try to budget to the last penny. Accurately predicting actual results is not the objective. It’s all about giving your company a direction to use as a jumping off point, and then later for course corrections—providing details on the financial points that matter most.
  3. Make the tradeoffs when necessary. You have a finite amount of resources available to you. The same can be said for VoIP providers. All communications solutions have their strengths, but vendors cannot provide every single tool that’s available in the whole market. Prepare your budget with the knowledge that you might not have access to the tool you want, but can use that budget to finance a tool that maybe you didn’t plan for.  Most importantly, this discipline will keep you from overspending. But, it will also remind you to assess each vendor’s strengths as a whole—and not based on the one or two applications they cannot provide.

This approach ensures that you get the support you need, which is the key to the success of your project. Once you’ve budgeted, you can begin assessing vendors. We find that most hotels benefit most from highly redundant software solutions.

Next week we’ll be at the 2014 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC), most comprehensive showcase of hospitality technology in the world.

There we’ll be unveiling the second half of our post, which covers E911 programming and modern hospitality communications technologies.

If you’d like more information on becoming E911 capable, stop by booth 827 so that NEC Hospitality experts can answer your questions.

IT Convergence: Key Technology Trends that are driving Smart Enterprises to Modernize towards converged IT infrastructure

Modernizing IT infrastructure and becoming a Smarter Enterprise

nec-smart-enterprise-it-convergenceThe need for modernization among IT departments is a trend that is becoming increasingly relevant as IT departments are constantly faced with generational shifts in technology. The pressures of modern business require that IT departments close the gap between yesterday’s IT implementations and tomorrow’s demands.

Organizations that fail to modernize will rapidly lose their ability to respond to changing customer needs. They will weaken their competitive positions in the marketplace. And most importantly, the gap between where they are and need to be will only widen, leading to an expensive and uncertain future.

With most businesses facing incredibly tight or shrinking IT budgets, taking the appropriate steps toward modernization will seem expensive. With a modernized platform, however, organizations can add new capabilities and enhance overall employee performance while reducing their electronic footprint, leading to increased savings over time.

What is a Smart Enterprise?

Smart enterprises leverage more converged IT technologies to optimize business practices, drive workforce engagement, and create a competitive edge. Merely leveraging a converged IT framework in your IT department means that you are on your way to operating a smarter, more efficient business. IT organizations can utilize four key areas of value and then assess their plan against:

1: Business Agility

Today, most workforces are mobile. As such, your applications and enterprise architecture should empower these mobile workforces. Creating a more adaptive and more programmable infrastructure will enable IT to be more responsive to your organization. Businesses in today’s world are always on, and as a result, you need to consider how your most critical services can adapt more naturally and automatically to the mobile and always-on workforce.

2: Cloud Delivery

Modern businesses need to be incredibly efficient. Cloud delivery provides businesses with the opportunity to flexibly deploy services and software more consistently across converged premises, cloud, or hybrid infrastructures. An enterprise IT business plan should consider how and when to deploy certain services in the cloud, when to operate them on-premises, and when to purchase them as-a-service.

3: Collaborative Communities

Today’s growing workforce demands rich Internet-style applications that are easy to access from anywhere and work consistently from any device.  Organizations who have built collaborative communities by providing powerful tools that deliver consistent and intuitive user experiences, converged applications, and distributed architectures are able to adapt dynamically to change and empower employees to their fullest extent.

4: Assured Services

Securing business information—protecting your company’s intellectual properties and digital assets—falls squarely on the shoulders of IT.  Add security with the need to assure business continuity, and you get a business that must consider greater infrastructure planning, high availability at multiple layers, a consistent and aligned security credential methodology, and which must validate automated archival methods.

Steps to Modernization

Competing in today’s business environment is about meeting challenges, making decisions, and innovating rapidly—using the best and most current technologies, tools and information.

Cloud services, mobile integration, real-time collaboration, and high availability are becoming essential ingredients for the smart and secure enterprise. They are part of a rapidly evolving technology foundation by means of which the best solution providers enable new approaches to how your businesses IT services are delivered and managed, allowing you new opportunities for growth.

Want to know more about IT Modernization?

In an upcoming post we will discuss Enterprise IT Modernization Strategies and their benefits. And, if you’re going to Enterprise Connect this year, be sure to come see us.  Our solution experts will be happy to discuss how our IT solutions can help empower your smart enterprise.

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7 Reasons to Consider Cloud-based Unified Communications Services

nec-7-reasons-to-consider-hosted-uc1The productivity benefits of Unified Communications (UC) continue to be recognized as it moves into mainstream adoption. As organizations consider how best to deploy, there are a number of factors to consider.  This post focuses on the top reasons to consider Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).  UCaaS capabilities, also known as hosted or cloud-based UC, include the features found in premises-based IP telephony, as well as presence, integrated audio and web conferencing, mobility, collaboration, video solutions, and business application integration features all delivered as a service.

The benefits of UCaaS go above and beyond simply shifting costs from a capital expense to a predictable operating expense.  Here are our top 7 reasons to consider hosted UC solutions:

1.       Business Agility

Many IT organizations are stretched too thin and struggle to balance day-to-day operations with strategic projects.  One of the advantages of UCaaS is the speed of deployment.  Businesses have the flexibility to rollout UCaaS without the IT time and resource commitments associated with a legacy deployment model. Additionally, maintenance and support time is reduced as there is no longer the need to plan and implement system updates.  UCaaS offers quick updating through the cloud, so a business can choose to deploy new applications to all users or a single department as soon as they become available. This gives an IT department greater flexibility with their communications system, as upgrades can be rolled-out without any disruption to the system.

2.       Increased Efficiencies

Hosted UC services provide business customers with the communications they need without the associated capital costs of traditional on-premises systems and the costs associated with management and support. This increases both budgetary and IT resource efficiencies. With a lower budget barrier to entry, businesses can avoid the upfront capital outlay with UCaaS. Additionally, the predictable monthly expense allows businesses to plan more efficiently. A hosted UC solution can also increase IT efficiencies as there is no need to support and maintain a physical systems on-premises.  Eliminating a number of time consuming tasks for IT folks allows the organization to focus resources on core competencies and provide strategic value to grow the business.

Having your communications solution in the cloud helps avoid technology obsolescence and the time and resources associated with a large scale “technology refresh.” Why? Because cloud-based communications give you a system that scales quickly and is flexible enough to grow alongside your ever-changing business.

3.       Increased Reliability

Hosted UC providers power their UCaaS offerings via the cloud. The best providers have secure and resilient data centers that are redundantly configured and geographically separated to ensure continued service in the event of catastrophic events and Service Level Agreements that provide uptime guarantees. Each organization’s data and user settings are backed up and mirrored in multiple locations, creating a disaster-proof backbone for your business communications.  Hosted UC providers also offer 24×7 monitoring, as well as the latest encryption and security protocols, so you can rest assured that your data is safe and secure.

4.       Disaster Recovery

In the event of an emergency or disaster, a UCaaS service provider can easily adapt to your changed situation without additional expenses on your part.

Most companies have a Disaster Recovery Plan in place to ensure that data and records vital to the operation of the business are duplicated or protected in off-site storage repositories.  UCaaS now provides the ability to ensure that business communications are also protected in the event of an emergency and can be incorporated into the overall Disaster Recovery Plan.

5.       Greater Mobility

UCaaS is a strong enabler for the mobile worker, the BYOD explosion, and remote/home office worker.  It allows users access to all business communications features from any registered user device, including a smart phone, laptop, desktop and, of course, desk phone.  Organizations can enable users’ smart phones to transparently bridge calls from the company’s Wi-Fi networks to cellular networks and back again, keeping  “on-the-go” and “location agnostic” users connected.  Desktop client software can turn any networked PC into a virtual desktop phone and unified messaging terminal.  Users can travel with their extensions, use video conferencing, and access advanced call forwarding and web-browser dialing. IT organizations often struggle with managing application across numerous devices. With UCaaS, users download the device application from the app store and IT can easily manage their access.  An additional user benefit is that the experience is the same across all devices.

6.       Increased Collaboration

True collaboration means anywhere, anytime access on any device. UCaaS gives your users access to applications that will let them instantly chat, set up on-the-fly conferences/meetings (both video and voice), share and exchange documents, and engage customers in real-time dialog. This will not only improve your workforce’s ability to be nimble, but will also improve customer satisfaction.

7.       Better Customization

UCaaS combines enterprise-grade voice features with sophisticated Unified Communications and Collaboration applications and hosts them in the cloud. UCaaS gives you the flexibility to choose the deployment model and applications to fit your specific requirements. It also offers the flexibility to expand or contract as your business requirements change.

Additional Resources

To learn more about how Unified Communication as a Service can help you take advantage of the latest UC technology, easily connect mobile and remote users, and free up time for the other IT projects you need to get to, click below.

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Trends in Hospitality: HITEC 2013 Preview

nec-hospitality-unified-communications-hitecHITEC begins today, and our NEC hospitality team is looking forward to the trends that we will be seeing on the show floor. Here are some of our predictions:

Customer Compatibility
In my November blog post BYOD: Expanding to Hospitality, I referenced a Pew Research report that noted that more than half of all mobile phone users rely on their portable device to search for information on hotels. With mobility, you can get everything you want, where you want, plus gain positive benefits in revenue, guest experience and marketing. With the steadily increasing volume of mobile network users, what better time for a hospitality business to embrace the guest BYOD trend and get them more connected to your business than ever before.

Guest Experience
The bottom line of any investment decision is guest experience. Does it improve guest experience? Will this be guests’ expectations moving forward? Will this keep my guest satisfied? And will this help their decision to return? The right services, staff training and communications systems are essential in order to maximize guest satisfaction and return stays. When you see new and existing technologies on the show floor, think about what the trickle-down effect is. If, in the end, it does not improve the guest experience, you may want to reconsider your investments.

Unified Communications
Small to mid-sized properties make up the majority of all hotels in North America. NEC recognizes that hotel operators have increased pressure, in today’s tough economic times, to maintain superior guest services while improving staff efficiency and lowering overall operating costs. At HITEC, NEC will be demonstrating UNIVERGE 3C for Hospitality – an innovative, affordable unified communications solution specifically tailored for the burgeoning mid-sized hotel market and built on the proven, award winning UNIVERGE 3C software platform – a flexible, scalable, reliable and cost effective IP PBX.

During HITEC 2013, NEC will also demonstrate how its solutions help organizations provide the best guest experience possible by being and staying connected. It will showcase its latest UNIVERGE® UC&C and Cloud technologies, which are designed to help organizations be more mobile, connected, collaborative and productive. Additionally, NEC will be introducing biometrics solutions to help hospitality organizations improve customer engagement.

Stop by booth #907 to experience all of these solutions. Not going to HITEC 2013? Follow us on the floor at @NEC and use the official hashtag #HITEC. Check out the video below to see how NEC has helped hotels around the world recover missed revenue opportunities, increase customer service, and enhance the overall guest experience.

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Your ACUTA 2013 Social Media Guide

The Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA)

nec-acuta-2013-empowered-campusNEC is in full force at the second full day of the 42nd Annual ACUTA  conference and exhibition, which focuses on technology and communications in higher education. The show is taking place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, CA, until Wednesday.

We are here at Booth 513 showcasing our portfolio of integrated solutions for higher education, which includes mobility, unified communications and cloud-based communications. You can also get real-time updates and photos from the show on Twitter via @NEC_Channels.

After a successful first day at ACUTA 2013 yesterday, we learned a few tips and tricks on who’s who in the “Twitterverse.”

  • First off, if you’re not following the official ACUTA 2013 hash tag, you need to check it out – #acutaconference13. You’ll find ample content from show participants and vendors, session takeways and key conversations just waiting for your input. If you were unable to attend ACUTA 2013, following the official hash tag will help keep you updated on all of the happenings at the show. 
 
  • On the same note, the conference’s official Twitter page, @ACUTA, contains updated session and event information. 
 
  • ACUTA’s president for 2014, and an NEC customer, Mark Reynolds, is tweeting his personal ACUTA 2013 observations at @msreynolds55 (pictured below).

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  • Check out John Gallant, chief content officer of IDG, on Twitter @JohnGallant1. He moderated the conference keynote, “Envisioning the New IT Organization Through the Eyes of an Extraordinary CIO,” yesterday (pictured below).

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  • Another must-follow is Marty Parker and the great minds with @UCStrategies. There’s always something to learn from their unique insight on Unified Communications.
  • This year, ACUTA introduced a new social medium called Rockzi. Just visit www.acuta.org/rockzi to keep tabs of the latest industry news from ACUTA participants and vendors.

Are you following a participant or vendor at ACUTA 2013 that deserves a shoutout? Let us know by commenting below.