I took a briefing today with BlueNote Networks on a new customer win that sheds some interesting light on the beneficial unintended consequences of integrating communications, PBXs, Web applications and back-end applications using web services and SOA.
The Seaport Hotel in Boston is using the BlueNote Networks SessionSuite product to provide integrated services and VOIP so that Seaport Hotel can offer guests a touch-screen-enabled, in-room services portal. The portal interface allows users with one touch to access a virtual telephone keypad and make free telephone calls to any domestic or international number.
Simple graphical buttons also allow guests to make one-touch calls to the major hotel services, as well as select local attractions, business services and restaurants. Guests also receive free Internet access, either via the portal directly or wirelessly from their own PCs.
This new implementation could define the next generation of hotel-based business services, and help hotels monetize their services better while empowering guests to get what they need quickly and easily. For me it's the integration and common GUI -- as well as the free services -- that make this both unique and a bellwether.
Now most business travelers today have a cell phone, and probably pay a monthly flat rate for their calls. That's why the revenues that hotels used to enjoy from in-room telephone calls has plummeted. It was not that long ago that I recall frequent hotel telephone bills that would equal half or more the daily room rate itself -- especially back in the days of dial-up Internet access. Guests now expect free or daily flat-rate Internet broadband access for less than $15 per day (and that charge won't last either). So the fact that this hotel system offers free calls and free Internet access does not in itself set it apart in terms of guest services and expenses. Such offerings are long overdue.
Instead the Boston Harbor waterfront-situated Seaport Hotel, a standalone hotel and not part of a large chain, is working to provide their guests "SeaPortal" services (now in 45 rooms and soon in 100 rooms of the 450-suite hotel) for ease of access to all the myriad services, media, and information that they may need while on the road, packaged neatly and conveniently, with no separate billing or itemizing. So users get convenience, low-cost, and zero itemizing. They get services tailored to their needs, first on a category basis (business traveler, tourist, conventioneer, etc.), and then on an individual basis.
The unintended beneficial consequences of Seaportal come to the hotel and its suppliers and partners. Because when guests access their needed or desired services from the portal, that use pattern can be tracked and examined. Before such use was scattered amid different communications and networks, and hard to capture and measure. So such full integration affords the power of business intelligence (BI) so that a user's individual preferences can be observed, measured, and therefore enhanced, either on this trip or the next.
If a guest makes a restaurant reservation from the portal, both the hotel and the restaurant will know it -- and the relationship between the eatery and hotel is thereby tighter, enhanced. Next time the traveler is in town, an invitation may be in made via the portal for the guest to revisit the restaurant, with preferred seating or a discount. The hotel may get a share of the renewed business from the restaurant. Lots of service-chain innovation and revenue-sharing opportunities seem now possible.
Like many activities nowadays, the new grand bargain between consumer and provider is at hand: Users get convenience, efficiency, custom-tailored services, and lowered overall costs -- while the providers of products and services get clarity of demand and use from which to improve their offerings while reducing their own costs and biding them within an efficient business web of federated partners.
And, folks, it's the SOA-enabled integration across all kinds of services, communications, information, media, and applications that make this grand bargain possible. Soon even the guests' PCs and cell phones may be integrated into these offerings as end points, so that users can get the full ease and benefit of the hotel's spectrum of services through the interface and device of their choosing. The hotel may even offer ongoing services to frequent travelers to maintain the bargain, even when the guest is not at the hotel.
The implications for businesses and enterprises are pretty clear: If I as a user can get such integrated services benefits on the road from a hotel, why can't I get them when I'm at work in my own company?
In addition to the hospitality industry, this integrated services portal approach would also work very well in hospitals, universities, convalescent homes, assisted-living campuses, government self-service offerings, enterprises, and airports. Let the grand bargain begin!