Hotel Data Strategy: Your Guide to Migrating Data and Documents to the Cloud
Data is the new gold, and hoteliers today can use deep analysis on their own business, coupled with new third-party data sources, to make more profitable decisions and drive an improved guest experience. The first step is centralizing your portfoliowide data, documents and reports in a secure cloud environment that is easily accessible by key stakeholders.
The Framework for Your Hotel Data Strategy Begins in the Cloud
To best understand where the hospitality industry stands in terms of its adoption of digital tools and cloud-based solutions, it’s important to step back and look quickly at the big picture.
First, as far away as it seems, remember that the internet itself wasn’t a widely popular tool until about 20 years ago. But it changed the game so quickly for consumers that businesses scrambled to adopt their operating models for a new age. As the internet paved the way for cloud storage and cloud computing, businesses within hospitality and other industries again took various approaches to leverage the incredible capabilities.
For two decades, hundreds of hospitality solutions providers have tackled individual challenges in their own unique ways, to the point where, frankly, it’s somewhat of a mess today. Many systems are built on legacy platforms that provide barriers to integration. Outside of that, getting disparate systems to talk to each other, share, and centralize data is costly and cumbersome.
But, remember, it has only been 20 years. We’ve made great strides, we’ve learned a ton, and we’ve identified the right path forward in many cases. Many companies are understanding the value of centralizing and sharing data for the collective benefit of helping owners and operators run a better business.
For hoteliers, there are three critical stages of hospitality data management to consider:
– Stage 1: Moving data storage and management into the cloud
– Stage 2: Extracting the right data to gain business wide intelligence
– Stage 3: Using data as a framework to build your commercial strategy
In this special report, we’ll identify why moving your tools and data into the cloud will help you build the framework for a long and successful data management strategy.
Increased Efficiency Through Automation
It’s no secret the hotel industry is facing an abundance of issues stemming from today’s labor shortage. And then if you can find team members to fill vacancies, labor costs have skyrocketed. Total labor costs are up 5% year to date, exceeding labor costs in 2019, with all departments reporting higher expenses, according to STR.
Let’s face it, there are probably fewer team members on staff today than there were a few years ago, but there’s more to do. Team members can’t spend an inordinate amount of time manually downloading files, exporting reports, shipping paper, etc. The back office teams need to get more done with fewer resources. Moving your critical documents and data into a secure cloud environment automates most of those processes.
In today’s travel landscape, every aspect of the guest experience is mediated through technology. Yet, the industry’s back-office functions are still fumbling with manual processes like printing and storing night audit paperwork or tirelessly inputting data into an Excel spreadsheet.
“Having everything digitized, [teams] don’t need to wait on the PDF – which oftentimes doesn’t show up because the GM was off or the night auditor forgot to do it.”
–Ankur Bhakta, VP of Insignia Hospitality Group
When processes aren’t automated, you run the risk of facing several challenges that can lead to a reduction to your bottom line. Those challenges include:
- Fragmented operations. When processes aren’t automated, you have to wait for humans to complete tasks. What if the night auditor called out sick that night? And many hoteliers have experienced reports simply not showing up in their inboxes when they need them. When you have a digital data management strategy, real-time data is right at your fingertips whenever you need it. Team members always have access to the data they need to do their jobs, saving everyone time.
- Outdated data. The pandemic taught us that things can change in a matter of minutes. Access to real-time data allows hoteliers to make quick, profitable business decisions.
- Lack of accuracy. When humans are inputting data into an Excel spreadsheet, you’ll always run the risk of error. Someone can easily type 1500 when they meant 150. That can mean you’re basing business decisions off incorrect data – something that can have a negative impact on your bottom line.
Case in Point: Centralizing Data to Make More Profitable Business Decisions
For forward-thinking Ankur Bhakta, VP of owner-operator Insignia Hospitality Group, digital data management has always been a top priority. The key was to find a solution that could centralize data, taking administrative tasks off the plates of property-level employees so they could focus on tasks that contributed to a better guest experience.
“We’re taking away a lot of responsibilities that used to be a general manager’s responsibility, and we’ve brought it into the administrative level at the corporate office,” Bhakta says. “That’s where myDigitalOffice (MDO) has really helped us out. We’re able to get all our administrative work started in the morning. The KPIs are populated, and you can see monthly trends easily on the dashboard.”
A digital data management strategy is crucial for the Midland, Texas-based company, which counts 24 hotels in its portfolio. Sharing reports between properties and corporate is crucial for streamlined operations. By utilizing Paperless Night Audit from MDO, Insignia can now be confident that important reports are right at their fingertips whenever they need – something Bhakta says has ensured their administrative tasks are now consistent and everyone has the information they need to do their job. There’s no wasting time tracking down paper reports – or printing, scanning, and emailing reports to the corporate office.
“Before our MDO partnership, the property team used to pick the reports that our administrative offices needed. They would scan it, PDF it, and email it to whoever needed it. For example, it was looking at cash deposits for the previous nights and matching up whether the cash taken in the same amount as the reports are showing,” Bhakta says.
“Now having everything digitized, they don’t need to wait on the PDF – which oftentimes, previously the reports would never show up because the GM was off or the night auditor forgot to do it. Just the tactical things of everyday life at a hotel level, things just weren’t consistent. With MDO now, once audits run, our folks can log in, pull the reports they need and start their work. That’s helped out tremendously,” he adds.
Accuracy of data is another big win for Insignia. The company first partnered with MDO in 2016 when it had 14 hotels in its portfolio. At that time, leadership relied on Excel spreadsheets in their email inboxes every morning.
“There were a lot of errors. Someone might input something wrong because it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, and $250,000 easily becomes $2.5 million. It made you ask, ‘Do I have the right data?’” Bhakta says. “Now with MDO the data is populated and accurate, and you can see in real time how the properties are progressing.”
That real-time portion is another significant benefit for Bhakta and his team. “With the MDO platform’s dashboard, you can see forecasts and revenue on the books all pre-populated. The metrics portion is really the meat for what my team does. We can make profitable decisions because having that live data is super helpful,” he says. “Previously you’d have to extract the data and put it in an Excel spreadsheet, which takes time. And time is money. With this data live and at our fingertips, it’s truly been helpful.”
Additionally, Bhakta says the speed at which the data loads helps the team save more time than ever due to a user-friendly dashboard that allows the team to see trends and profit-and-loss statements in a clear and digestible way. “The data is faster, so I’m able to pinpoint trends quicker.”
Ensure Security and Compliance
For various reasons, hotel companies are compelled and required to keep an incredible amount of records about their daily business operations. The night audit pack alone – which includes daily documents such as a Transactions Report, Financial Report, Tax Report, Revenue Report, Departures Report, etc. – can be hundreds of pages.
Federal and state tax laws require hotels to keep these records on file, on location, for various amounts of time (typical retention period is seven years). More recent regulations, in fact, require storage in multiple locations to avoid a “single point of failure.” And having these records on hand is helpful: Should a guest call years after their stay to dispute a charge, for example, the hotel should have access to all related documents for verification.
For these reasons, believe it or not, many hotels still print these documents at the end of each day and file them away in a manilla envelope in a storage area, such as a closet, a back office or an attic. A growing number of hotels have adopted some type of digital storage – whether on a USB drive or a cloud-based shared drive, like Sharepoint or Google Docs – which is a step in the right direction but can create its own set of challenges.
Moving compliance documents into a secure cloud environment ensures delivery and approval in a timely manner. This increases accountability across your business and ensures you’ve got all the necessary documents easily accessible should you need to access key financial information. Today’s solution providers keep their environments up to date with the latest security patches and conduct regular vulnerability scans. Data should be stored separate from applications to safeguard from impacting data should a system server go down.
For those who haven’t adopted digital document management, the time is now. However, while moving your night audits and other accounting reports from paper to digital might seem like a no-brainer, there are right and wrong approaches. Choosing the wrong approach could lead to inefficient processes and leave your data open to intrusion.
There are two critical areas of focus to ensure you’re building the right document management strategy that will serve as the framework for future digital transformation.
1. Digital Doesn’t Always Mean Secure
One would think that any digital approach to storing confidential documents would be safer than printing and storing boxes of reports in a storage closet. But that’s not necessarily the case – adopting digital storage without the proper procedures in place can be equally dangerous.
First, storing documents on a USB drive opens up the likelihood that the device will be lost, and losing important documents is never good. Should an employee accidentally leave a USB drive at the coffee station, for example, someone who is not meant to have access to those files could potentially copy the contents of the drive and return it without anyone noticing. In the end, USB storage provides little more protection than lock-and-key.
Storing daily reports in a Google Drive or Sharepoint environment can be beneficial but has its drawbacks. First, login issues and the ability to share with email addresses outside the company often open up vulnerabilities. Also, cloud drives act only as storage units, and often documents will sit for long periods of time with no action. Should your documents need to go through approval and signature processes and ultimately delivered to a central location, there are more efficient tools available.
Operators must ensure the right employees within their organization – on property and at headquarters – have easy access to these documents, but at the same time access is strictly restricted to outsiders. A Digital Document Management system can be integrated with your enterprise authentication solution, resulting in one secure login controlled by your enterprise controls. For example, when a General Manager logs in, his or her credentials can be verified in your system before access is granted. This allows leaders to grant function-based access; for example, the GM might be authorized to sign the signature pack but cannot delete files, and the night auditor can submit reports but not edit them.
“The overnight desk clerk pushes one button, that’s it, and they get one report with the night audit.”
-Travis Murray, President of McNeill Hotel Company, on going paperless and moving to a Digital Document Management system
2. Compliance is Key
Another reason public drives like Google and Sharepoint aren’t ideal for storing and sharing your daily reports: They’re lacking a compliance component.
Using a Digital Document Management solution ensures your files are indexed properly, with automated naming conventions and deep search functionality, to ensure they’re filed away in the right spot for easy retrieval. The learning algorithm recognizes and categorizes each document appropriately, with little human oversight. This eliminates human error, allowing Digital Document Management solutions to process hundreds of thousands of reports per day without users needing to open and save a single document.
Search functionality is essential. For example, should a guest call with a question about a charge on their folio, agents should be able to find specific details from the correlating daily report within a few clicks. This helps solve guest issues immediately, rather than taking their information, finding a solution, and returning their call in a clearly less efficient manner.
What is a Digital Document Management System?
At a high level, a Digital Document Management system is software that enables you to store and manage files, allowing operations to go completely paperless. A Digital Document Management system can be integrated with your enterprise authentication solution, resulting in one secure login controlled by your enterprise controls.
The learning algorithm recognizes and categorizes each document appropriately. This eliminates human error, allowing Digital Document Management solutions to process hundreds of thousands of reports per day without users needing to open and save a single document.
Case in Point: Less Paperwork, More Guest Attention
At Tennessee-based McNeill Hotel Company, an owner-operator of 24 branded hotels across the U.S., change management was already underway prior to COVID. Leadership had outlined a plan for centralization – moving many of the back-office operations away from the property level and under the purview of the centrally located leadership team based outside Memphis.
The goal was to remove the often tedious and manual accounting and financial tasks from employees at the hotel, freeing them up to focus their attention on providing an exemplary guest experience. Modern tools – specifically the ability to share data and reports across the entire portfolio in an easily accessible location – would assist in this transformation.
When COVID hit and demand plummeted, the need for leadership at central headquarters to take on more responsibility heightened.
“We have centralized so much. Pre-COVID, we moved Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable off property and into the central office. We want our managers to do more than just sit and do paperwork,” says Travis Murray, President of McNeill. “But COVID kicked it into gear. GMs were doing everything, including checking in guests, and they just didn’t have the time to be building and running reports. Meanwhile, we didn’t slow down in the corporate office.”
Prior to COVID, McNeill adopted MDO’s myDocs, a Digital Document Management Solution, to ensure critical reports were easily shareable and accessible, and to be better stewards of the environment. By 2021, hotels stopped printing night audits entirely and instead adopted digital storage and workflows.
“Now the overnight desk clerk pushes one button, that’s it, and they get one report with the night audit,” Murray says.
Having the documents indexed in a digital environment also came in handy when McNeill recently went through an audit process of its sales tax records. “It made it much easier because we just pulled up exactly what they needed through the digital night audit,” Murray says.
As COVID forced further centralization, the team adopted MDO’s suite of reporting and BI tools – adding myPlan, myPerspective and myRevenue – to extract the data and build real-time dashboards that unlock the insight into the business that they need.
“We looked at other systems, but when they pulled the data together, all the reports still looked different,” Murray says. “MDO provided a process that was much less manual and looks much more sleek and user friendly.”
Reduce Your Environmental Footprint
Smart companies today are prioritizing sustainability and building a better future. A sustainable hotel takes care of the planet by consuming fewer resources and avoiding toxic waste. A new generation of travelers wants to patronize properties that align with their values, and are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings. Many group rate RFPs often now include requests for information on sustainability practices. By adopting digital document management and removing the file storage room and paper transportation process, the environmental impact is effective and measurable.
A sustainable hotel helps care for the planet by consuming fewer resources and avoiding toxic waste. Hoteliers can tap into an online sustainability calculator and the MDO Sustainability Certification when they are ready to reduce their environmental footprint. The calculator allows any hotel company to enter information specific to their sustainable operating processes and apply for certification, which can be included in the organization’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) materials, including requests for event proposals.
“By adopting digital document management and removing the file storage room and paper transportation process, hotel companies can have an effective and measurable impact on the environment,” says Ali Moloo, Co-Founder and CEO of MDO. “With MDO’s sustainability calculator and certification process, hotels and hotel companies can get a better understanding of their business’s direct impact on the environment. Companies focusing on reducing their footprint will receive a certificate to display as an appreciation and assurance of their efforts.”
Several companies that have adopted Paperless Night Audit processes through MDO’s myDocs software have already received certification for their measurable impacts on reducing the number of byproducts created in the printing of nightly property-level reports and documents. Certified companies receive a personalized landing page with real-time sustainability data and a badge to use in communications and materials.
First Call Hospitality saved:
“For us to go paperless, the change management process had to happen, and the COVID pandemic became a real catalyst,” says Heidi Wilcox, owner and CEO at First Call Hospitality. “All of our GMs are now on board and we’ve learned that, when we bring a new hotel into our portfolio, we start training on digital document management right away.”
McNeill Hotel Company saved:
“As with all hoteliers, ESG efforts at McNeill Hotel Company are evolving to meet the demands of today’s travelers and, frankly, the demand of future generations,” says Travis Murray, president at McNeill. “Adopting digital document management alongside MDO is one step we are taking as a company to reduce our impact on the environment, and we’re proud of the measurable results highlighted in MDO’s Sustainability Certification.”
MDO and its collective customers saved:
MDO’s sustainability calculator was built on data and principles from The National Forest Foundation and Tree Canada. In addition to their sustainability results, calculations show that a company with ten hotels that adopts a Paperless Night Audit process averages $8,220 in cost savings in the first year. To see what your company could be saving by adopting digital document management, interact with the MDO Sustainability Calculator.
MDO Sustainability Facts And Verifications
– On average, a tree can produce 17 reams of paper but takes about 100 years to grow (Source: Paperless Productivity)
– Trees release oxygen and absorb greenhouse gasses, meaning saving trees leads to purifying the air.
– Many air pollutants are produced by the paper and print industry. The paper and pulp industry is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses among U.S. manufacturing industries (Source: Science Direct and Pulp and Paper Canada)
– The paper industry is responsible for 9% of the total emissions of carbon dioxide from manufacturing industries (Source: Two Sides)
– The production of 17 reams of paper releases 110 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Sources: Paperless Productivity and Kibart)
– Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in North America and is the fifth largest consumer of energy (Source: EfileCabinet)
– A paper manufacturing plant would use about 3 gallons of non-recycled water to produce one sheet of copy paper (Sources: The World Counts and Illinois Library)
– Paper makes up 26% of landfills and degradation produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide (Source: EPA)
– Landfills are the source of 34% of methane released and the single largest source in the U.S. Not printing saves cubic yards of landfill space. (Source: NPR)
– Paper manufacturing and transport involves burning of gasoline to power. (Source: U.S. Energy Information Association)
– Paper produced in one part of the country needs shipped using train and trucks that consume gasoline.
– Pulp and paper production is the fifth largest consumer of energy in North America. (Sources: Green America and Canada Energy Regulator)
– The energy required to produce 10 sheets of paper can be used to run a refrigerator for 143 days.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Heidi Wilcox, owner and CEO of First Call Hospitality, a management company with 14 hotels in its portfolio, realized it was time to get serious about going paperless. Technology became all the more crucial for the team to effectively communicate amid a rapidly changing world. Corporate needed to be nimble in communicating with on-property staff, and vice versa. Operations needed to be streamlined fast for the company’s portfolio of mostly branded select-service and extended-stay hotels representing nine different ownership groups.
That’s why, although First Call implemented Paperless Night Audit processes through myDocs software from myDigitalOffice (MDO) in 2017, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that leadership knew change management was critical to see the portfolio through and past the COVID crisis.
“For us to go paperless, the change management process had to happen, and the COVID pandemic became a real catalyst,” says Wilcox. “Once COVID hit, we didn’t have any problems getting GMs to adopt the Paperless Night Audit process.”
Getting the team to buy into saying goodbye to paper proved to be a challenge, however. The team ran into several issues, including training challenges amid staffing shortages and lack of accommodation from franchises. “We had to help the franchises prepare some of the reporting so that we could do the Paperless Night Audit process,” Wilcox says.
But the reward was worth the effort, she notes. “We are always looking to centrally accomplish tasks. We want to make sure the hotels are concentrated on the staff, the assets, and the guests,” she says. “We wanted to eliminate all of the dual paperwork.”
First Call Hospitality used another software before implementing Paperless Night Audit from MDO, but Wilcox says the process turned out to be a “nightmare” because the company couldn’t get its reports right. Now with Paperless Night Audit from MDO, the night audit process is simple and gives the team back time in their day to focus on other tasks.
Today, paperless is status quo and operations are significantly streamlined for everyone on the team – from the corporate office to the on-property staff members. “All of our GMs are now on board and we’ve learned that, when we bring a new hotel into our portfolio, we start training on digital document management right away,” says Wilcox.
First Call Hospitality is one of several companies that have adopted Paperless Night Audit processes through MDO’s myDocs software. The management company has already received certification for its measurable impacts on reducing the number of byproducts created in the printing of nightly property-level reports and documents. First Call Hospitality has also received a personalized landing page with real-time sustainability data and a badge to use in communications and materials.
Since adopting the myDocs Paperless Night Audit process five years ago, First Call Hospitality has contributed to saving 175 trees, 71,437 gallons of wastewater and 31 pounds of landfill across its portfolio.
Simplifying and Streamlining: Digital Document Management
As a hotel owner or operator, there are numerous struggles with the outdated practice of printing night audit reports. These reports are causing your hotels to print hundreds, or even thousands, of documents each night. This process is not only inefficient but also harmful to the environment.
After the night audit reports are printed, they are stored either on or off property for years to come. In the event that a manager would need to find a report from years past, he or she is likely doomed to a day of digging through bank boxes full of wasted paper. The solution to the old fashioned system of printing is simple – paperless night audit.
Today’s innovative hotel operators think of cloud storage as the “blocking and tackling” of their data strategy. The first phase of creating a comprehensive data strategy is to move your data storage and management into the cloud. Doing so ensures you:
- Increase efficiency through automation
- Remain in compliance
- Reduce your environmental footprint
MDO’s myDocs is a one-stop shop for uploading night audits, recording new data, and recalling data from old reports using optical character recognition. Reach out to an expert today to learn more about how you can start your digital document management strategy.