Cloud computing is not new, but only recently has hospitality realised the benefits of taking the hassle out of hosting information.Ross Bentleylooks at the software available and how it can securely and affordably deal with your data
One of the buzz terms in hospitality computing over the past 18 months, cloud computing has, in fact, been around for some years. The term is believed to originate from Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which allows users to rent virtual computers on which they can run their own applications.
There are a number of reasons why an increasing number of operators are opting to receive their applications via a software-as-a-service model rather than running their software on site. They include lower upfront costs, less hassle in managing IT, the vastly improved availability of broadband and the increasing sophistication of web browsers such as Firefox and Google Chrome, which have enhanced the way people work with web-based software.
It would seem growing numbers of operators in hospitality agree.
Kelsius Foodcheck Food safety firm Kelsius has developed a cloud-based HACCP compliance system that wirelessly monitors and tracks temperatures of food and refrigerators during delivery, storage and food preparation.
Temperatures are recorded and stored in the cloud, meaning the data is accessible from any internet-connected device and available to all staff, from management to chefs.
Google Apps Four-star hotel chain Moran Hotels, which operates in the city centres of Dublin, London and Cork, is just one of many hospitality companies that make use of the collaborative potential of Google Apps, which is hosted in the cloud.
Alongside its e-mail, Gmail, and instant messaging, Google Talk, the shared online Google Calendar allows staff to work more efficiently when co-ordinating schedules and organising events or meetings, while Google Docs and Google Sites can make sharing information easier and help productivity.
FIVE THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A CLOUD-BASED APP
1 Can you get your data out easily? If you need to change supplier, is it straightforward to export all your data ready to import somewhere else?
2 Is the app hosted in a modern data centre with all the usual bells and whistles, such as multiple independent internet connections, fire suppression, diesel generators for backup power, and data backups held offsite?
3 Is it easy on the eye and easy to use? The beauty of web-based software is that you can try it out very easily to see whether it suits you.
4 Get yourself a modern web browser such as Chrome or Firefox (Windows) or Safari (Mac). Web apps usually work smoother and faster in these browsers compared with Internet Explorer.
5 Is there a mobile version of the app, so if your main internet connection goes down you can at least do basic tasks on a mobile connection?
Tips provided by Bruce Greig, founder and managing director, KeepMeBooked
OPINION: THE RUSH TO THE CLOUD
Cloud computing or "software as a service" is nothing new in mainstream technology, but it is new in the hospitality sector. And it is already big news.
While there are some hosted solutions available now, there are very few true built-for-the-cloud apps. But that will change, and rapidly. True cloud apps should need only a browser, not an app or applet on a desktop, as many so-called cloud services still require.
Take-up in the UK and Ireland is high. We see about 85% of potential customers seriously take a look at the cloud - more than we anticipated. Two main factors are behind this: first, the upfront investment is less than traditional software; second, and perhaps more importantly, hotels like the idea of taking hardware off-site. Interestingly, we are seeing this happen across both existing and new sites.
The uptake of cloud-based solutions has also been driven by the prevalence of Wi-Fi and 3G. Access is everywhere these days. Hotels have also invested in the resilience of their own data connections and as a result are a lot more confident when it comes to the cloud. New customers also like the low capital expenditure and the speed of getting into business: implementation is shrinking from weeks to days.
Calum McIndoe Director of sales, UK and Ireland, at software provider Infor Softbrands
MANAGING IN THE CLOUD
Burger:Co makes savings Handmade burger outlet the Burger:Co in York uses two cloud-based systems for its sales management and financial control, which can be accessed anywhere in the world by key stakeholders to understand the real-time performance of the business.
These are POS Lavu, a cloud-based point of sale (POS) system for sales and stock control, which communicates with the cloud in real time as orders are processed and enables iPads and iPhones to act as POS tills. Burger:Co's accounting software, Xero, is also delivered remotely by accountancy company Robinson.
Burger:Co owner James Hastie explains: "Not only does this enable us to make more informed business decisions and improve our flexibility, but all these systems are a fraction of the cost of their traditional non-cloud-based counterparts."
The Hunley lowers upfront costs The 30-bedroom Hunley Hotel & Golf Club in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire, is due to go live with a cloud-based hotel management system (HMS) this month. The Hunley is the first UK site to deploy the Infor10 SoftBrands HMS system in the cloud, which has been developed to integrate multiple functions across hotel, restaurant and conference operations.
According to the software provider, the Hunley chose to deploy the application in the cloud for number of reasons: to reduce the administrative and IT burden of hosting and maintaining the application on site, to lower upfront capital expenditure, and to create the opportunity for easier upgrades.
The Hunley's CEO, Elliot Hamilton, says it is also important that the system supports mobile working practices at the property.
He adds: "Twenty-four-hour support and the ability to access the system remotely are all huge benefits of the application."
Brindleys likes flexibility At Brindleys, a boutique hotel in Bath, owner Michael Jones has been using cloud-based application, KeepMeBooked, to run his business. The tool, for which he pays a "low monthly fee", provides booking facilities and management tools that are all hosted remotely.
"We can access the system on the Blackberry wherever we are - whether we are in a restaurant or sitting in the back of the hotel. It means we aren't tied to the PC," he says. "The system allows multiple users, and we can log on to check what's happening at any time - for example, to see what payments are coming in from third-party websites and what availability there is."
Jones says that while he likes to chat to new bookers on the phone, around 80-90% of his bookings are online. "Why would I want to host my own application when this is so straightforward?" he adds.