protel is one of the few well-established hotel software providers that is moving comfortably in both worlds and, probably even more important at this moment, spanning the gap between those worlds with its Cloud hybrid solutions.
The following statements by Ingo Dignas, founding partner of Germany-based protel hotelsoftware, show why the “Cloud controversy” isn’t necessarily a controversy at all.
What do you call your Cloud solution and who can profit most from using it?
ID: Since 2009, protel has already been offering a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) solution called bookatonce to small hotels and inns. bookatonce is a nice example of the advantages Cloud computing has to offer. Most smaller businesses up till then simply could not afford a professional hotel management system, not to mention a sophisticated online booking solution. The idea of using software via an internet browser instead of installing it locally, which is costly and puts unnecessary strain on a hotel’s IT infrastructure, is also being increasingly acknowledged by larger hotels and hotel chains as an attractive alternative. Our feature-rich “bigger” Cloud hotel management system protel Air addresses full-service-hotels of all sizes. Larger hotels and hotel-chains profit mostly from the Cloud solution’s scalability.
For instance, it is no longer necessary to acquire hardware with enough headroom to handle maximum workloads just to cope with seasonal peak times such as Christmas or New Year – excess capacity that remains unused for the rest of the year, causing additional and unnecessary expenses. With a Cloud solution, the necessary infrastructure is provided by protel; its use only needs to be paid for on demand.
Our Cloud solutions are independent developments based on new technology. We do, however, make a point of attaining the best possible synergy between our server-supported solutions and our Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. In twenty years of software development for the hotel industry, the protel toolbox has grown to be a comprehensive catalog of core features, extensions, and add-ons – a wealth of proven software solutions that are also available for protel Air. protel interfaces combine the Cloud software with other systems used by the hotel from telephone systems to POS systems and booking portals. And of course there are mobile solutions and hotel apps for protel Air, as well.
From your perspective as manufacturer, what speaks for a Cloud solution?
ID: One could say that the Cloud is not only a technological innovation. In fact, the Cloud has changed our role as provider and the way we work with our clients. As manufacturer and service provider, we are directly connected to our clients in the Cloud and are always ready to react to the needs of the hotels. As a result, the quality of our cooperation has been raised to a higher level, enabling us to quickly and easily offer additional services in the future.
It all boils down to this: Cloud solutions make a lot of work easier not only for us as provider, but also for our clients. The maintenance of the software is noticeably reduced, especially when a hotel is using many interfaces. The need to reinstall and reconfigure the hotel software when changing servers is eliminated because the computer center always provides the newest hardware. Moreover, computing power can easily be added without even having to lay a finger on the client’s system.
The centralized update procedure is also an additional advantage for both parties. For example, we offer a weekly online update for protel Air. New and improved features, together with the respective online documentation are rolled out for all of our protel Air clients at the press of a button. It’s a win-win situation for everybody!
What are the benefits for a hotelier when using a Cloud solution?
ID: The increased proximity between provider and client has a direct effect on the further development of the system because of the feedback from many users using the functions from the same version.
What’s more, the change of the technological basis also offers very pragmatic advantages for our clients. Firstly, they will no longer have to worry about all of the hardware technology in the background because the computer center used for the Cloud solutions offers the exact computing, data storage, and network and software capacities as needed by the client. Even with regards to system stability and data safety, the computer center is better equipped than the individual environments. It would take the hotel a very large amount of effort to be able to guarantee an equal level of redundant servers, backups, virus protection programs, and maintenance by external experts. And even then it is not guaranteed that the computer room will stay dry with the next burst pipe…
Another important aspect is that most hotels work with a plethora of interfaces, e.g. to internet booking platforms (IDS/GDS), or SMS gateways and email servers, etc. All of these interfaces are centrally managed by protel in the computer center which means that the hotel will no longer have to worry about updating new versions or compiling protocols. On the contrary, because the systems are centrally integrated, it is now much easier for the hotelier to link-up to his business partners, transmit and receive real-time data, and quickly react to fluctuations in supply and demand. Even the communication between hotels in a region, between the hotel employees, and most importantly between the hotel and guest, is greatly simplified. We feel that streamlined communication is the most important prerequisite for a hotel’s success!
What technical requirements must the client fulfill?
ID: This question can be very quickly answered. Both Cloud systems can easily be operated with any internet browser, regardless of device or operating system.
What about data safety?
ID: Generally, it can be said that storing data externally at a professional computer center is safer than storing it on location. However, some aspects regarding computer and data security need to be considered. When storing data in a computer center, the data is stored on numerous servers so that when a server fails, there is not any interruption of business or loss of data. In addition to that, numerous backups are carried out on a daily basis. The data is also written to tape backups which are then stored safely outside of the computer center, always adhering to data and privacy safety measures. Real Cloud solutions transmit the data in encrypted form via the public Internet. When designing the software, guaranteeing maximum security was – and still is – of utmost importance.
Is the computer center running the application located in Germany, in another European country, or elsewhere?
ID: Some Cloud providers divide their customers’ data to various locations around the world, taking advantage of cheap computing and storage capacities. Although this can be practical from a technical point of view, the hotelier does not really know where his guests’ data is stored. The European Union data privacy laws only allow for the storage of data within the EU. We strictly adhere to these laws and have even decided to go a step further and store the data of our EU hotel clients here in Germany, because Germany has the strictest data privacy laws worldwide. This way, both we and our clients are always on the safe side.
If, for whatever reason, there should not be an internet connection available, can your clients continue using the software in offline mode?
ID: The client does not need to worry about a complete system failure, should the data line fail. The application remains unaffected and is available and running in the computer center as soon as the user logs on again. Even if the hotel’s computer fails or WiFi services are no longer functioning, the hotel is always up and ready for business. One simply needs an internet-enabled device, aside from the computer in the office or at home; this can be an iPad, iPhone or another type of smartphone linked to the Internet via a mobile communication network.
Where do you see the greatest challenges or reservations customers might have towards Cloud computing?
ID: Many users are worried about leaving their data with a provider and are afraid of perhaps not being able to retrieve them. We absolutely understand their worries, especially when we know how fast-paced the Cloud market is. Many new Cloud hotel software providers appear on the market and one is not sure if they have the necessary business experience or if they will still be around in a couple of years. We at protel, however, can boast with over 20 years of experience with more than 11,000 hotels around the world, 4,000 of which are already Cloud users. In addition to that, protel is a company with a solid financial foundation. I know that our customers completely trust protel and are absolutely convinced that their data is in good hands with our company.
What do you call your solution and which areas profit most from using it?
ID: The protel Single Property Edition (protel SPE) is our hotel management software for the medium sized hotel and for large individual hotels; the protel Multi Property Edition (protel MPE) can virtually transform even a global hotel chain into a single unit. All of the connected hotels access the same guest information from a central database; data and functions are available in real time for each property. Central data management means more flexibility and efficiency, especially for hotel chains and hotel groups. All of the hotels use the same guest information, resulting in clean data stock and smooth business procedures.
protel SPE and MPE are based on Microsoft technology, namely a native MS Windows client and an MS SQL Server used as a database server either locally in the hotel or hosted by a computer center externally. protel MPE supports multi-hotel installations with hundreds of user sessions on a central database. In order to also be able to offer the benefits of the Cloud to our on-premises clients, protel SPE and MPE are connected to our computer center where the same technology is utilized as for our Cloud product line.
From your perspective as manufacturer, what arguments are there for using this server based solution?
ID: The success of protel SPE and MPE lies in the fact that we have been fully supporting the Windows philosophy by having used it from the start in the early 90ies. Today our on-premises solutions are fully-developed and have gathered much application experience with an impressive scope of functionality throughout their 20 year history. They support all of a hotel’s work areas with modules in line with demand which have been developed within close cooperation between our clients and business partners around the world and are constantly being expanded and improved.
How does the gastronome/hotelier profit from using your server-based solution?
ID: Here also, it is important to consider what is important for a specific client. An advantage for one hotel might be a disadvantage for another. It is therefore important to take a careful look at the individual needs and conditions of each hotel and consider how the solution could be optimally implemented to meet the needs of that particular hotel.
For a well-established company with an IT system that has grown together with the business over many years, it is perhaps more advisable to purchase a new server, than to replace all of the proprietary applications and the connected work procedures. What’s more: some of the applications that are critical for business are not yet available in the Cloud . The following rule applies: the more business applications are allocated to the Cloud, the sooner businesses will attempt to switch their entire IT systems from the classic Client/Server form to the Cloud.
Many of our clients highly value the adjustments specifically made for their hotel software and explicitly designed to meet their hotel’s individual needs. The practically unlimited possibilities for flexible adjustment and adaptation which is easier to achieve with a locally installed version, give protel SPE and MPE the cutting edge.
Last but not least: if a reliable internet connection cannot be guaranteed or if there is simply not enough band width available, a local solution is the only alternative anyway.
What technical client and server based requirements must be fulfilled by the client?
ID: The installation of the hotel software can greatly vary based on the hotel and its system landscape. Everything is possible, from the simple single unit system with a local backup to the use of hundreds of work stations (clients) running either on servers locally installed at the client or hosted at a computer center by an ASP (application service provider). When setting up a proprietary network, some background knowledge is necessary; we will of course assist our clients in planning and setting up the entire installation. Before even getting started with a new installation, we carefully inform our clients about the hardware and system requirements through workshops and extensive documentation. This way everyone can be sure that everything will run smoothly during the actual system setup.
By the way: Though some do mix up ASP (application service provider) hosted and Cloud solutions, they are not what we at protel call a true SaaS solution such as bookatonce or protel Air.
What about data safety, the setting up and updating of the software? Can you take over these tasks and offer support if your client requests it?
ID: protel provides technical and user support to our clients 365/24/7. Depending on the client’s location, a local protel dealer or the support team at the protel headquarters in Dortmund, Germany, is always available. Our support teams will also take over the installation and configuration of our software on our client’s computers and assist them with restoring lost data during an emergency. New versions of the software are available to our customers within the framework of the automatic internet update release. Each update comes with comprehensive documentation describing all of the new features.
Are you planning on introducing additional Cloud solutions in the future, and if yes, why (if not, why)?
ID: Today, protel is already in the favorable position of being able to provide both an innovative Cloud product, as well as an efficient on-premises solution which can be expanded into hybrid Cloud solutions using Cloud modules such as our Web Booking Engine (WBE) or the suite of communication modules comprising the “protel Guest Journey”. Thus, even hoteliers, who are not yet willing or able to go to the Cloud, can profit from many product functions which are already in the Cloud. For a few years now, most of protel’s new developments have been realized in the Cloud. Our wide range of Cloud-based module solutions is constantly expanding to meet the needs of our clients and of the hotel industry, as a whole.
Cloud computing offers cost advantages because a classical IT infrastructure with clients and with one or more servers is more complicated and expensive on the one hand, while a Cloud solution can be quickly and flexibly adapted to meet the actual needs of a client, on the other. How do you want to compensate for these cost advantages?
ID: I don’t think we should or can reduce this rather complex topic to a simple matter of cost. In most cases, Cloud solutions offer cost benefits and we also recommend our clients to use them whenever possible. If the system environment allows for it, the Cloud offers the most advantages. If not, the hotel still can effectively realize the maximal cost benefits of the Cloud using hybrid solutions and, at the same time, start a soft migration to the Cloud.
I am completely convinced that future developments will primarily occur in the form of new Cloud services. In the meantime, deciding for one solution does not necessarily mean deciding against the other. — Why not take advantage of the best of both worlds?