An increasing number of hotels have come to the conclusion that they need to implement a hotel management software system, but the actual process of installing and learning to operate the new system is one which can be very challenging, and one which depends heavily upon the underlying circumstances in which each hotel currently operates.

It may be unsurprising to learn that over half of all property management system (PMS) users are chain hotels, given that three of the biggest implementation problems that hoteliers face tend not to affect this type of hotel to the same extent.

The first problem is the need for suitable IT hardware to be in place, and for the hotel to have the IT staff available to handle the task of keeping the system up and running once it is installed. Chances are than chain properties will have access to such expertise through their central headquarters if nobody is available locally. However, if you are an independent hotel, and especially if you operate in a remote area which is not known for attracting capable staff with strong IT skills, things become much more complicated. In such cases you will be relying on the support which can be offered by your chosen software provider, so this might somewhat limit your choices, depending on your exact location.

The next problem is simply one of cost. There is the initial investment in the system to think of, followed by the need for upgrades in the coming years. While such systems have been shown to cut costs and boost revenues, it remains the case that larger chain properties are better placed to absorb the short term financial burden, especially with cash flows or loan terms, than the smaller independent operator.

Staff training is another issue to consider, and one where the chain hotels often have a slight advantage over the independents. While many software vendors will explain that staff training can be accomplished within a very short timeframe, this doesn’t necessarily take into account the fact that many smaller hotels, especially those located away from major cities, can have very high levels of staff turnover. This means that the people who learn your system may not stay around very long, and their replacements will also have to be trained. Furthermore, the established older members of your staff may be reluctant to learn how to use a new system when the benefits to them are not immediately apparent. These are the people your hotel needs in order to maintain its culture and stability, so you need their full support if your PMS is to be introduced successfully.

In order to deal with these potential difficulties, you need a system which is highly intuitive and very simple to use. You also need a provider who can offer ongoing support so that your new staff can get the help they need.

The transition period itself is another matter to consider. Hotel management software is typically used by hotels to cover a range of functions, but it is not the case that all properties will use all the available features from the outset. Studies have shown that reservations and check-in is the most widely used function, followed by point-of-sale software for properties with F & B outlets. Housekeeping is the third most important function, but in this case it is worth noting that the while desktop or laptop access is the norm for a majority of systems and functions, housekeeping software is most commonly accessed by staff using tablets or similar mobile devices.

One approach is therefore to implement each element of the system in sequence, rather than attempting to automate everything in one step. This can allow staff to become accustomed to the system while also spreading the cost over a longer timeframe.

Despite the fact that the implementation phase may appear daunting at first, and a number of pitfalls must be avoided, a carefully planned strategy can help to mitigate most of the potential obstacles. Choosing the right software vendor is also critical. You need someone who understands your situation, and can adapt their services to help you through the transition to automation as smoothly as possible. Get this right, and the benefits will take care of themselves.