hospitality technology made simple by kevin sturm Consulting

review before you replace

The technology system you bought a couple years ago has never really met your needs, nor has your vendor ever delivered on the commitments they made during the sale. Sound familiar?

This experience often seems to be the majority for hospitality venues, and like many others you are contemplating investing in a new system. Your vendor does not seem to want to fix the problems and you are not sure they can. But before you go down the road of new requirements, RFPs, budget allocation, and the infrastructure investment of buying a new system it is worth your time and money to “Review Before You Replace”.

After almost a decade of replacing technology systems, working with venues to fulfill sales commitments, and minimizing the interruption of a new installation my experience is 65% of venues ended up having the same problems with the new vendor. The reasons for this are generally not the fault of the vendor. Usually it is a number of steps were not and have not been done by the venue in ensuring the software they purchased meets their needs. The reality is 80% of the features in competitive technology systems are the same, and the unique 20% are a very specific set of features you probably do not need (the exception to this may be in system architecture). It is highly possible that replacing your system is just a really expensive way of buying the same problems.

Before you replace your system go through the following exercises as a due diligence effort. If after these steps you find that your current system does not meet your needs, you will already have most of what you need to begin the replacement process.

  1. Define your needs versus wants.
    Define exactly what you need from your technology solution and then define what you want. You will most likely find that many of your needs end up in the wants column and some of your wants end up as needs. Prioritize the needs and wants separately as high, medium, or low. The exercise of prioritizing them will also help you organize the needs versus the wants.

    This process should include multiple users of the technology system with input from different functional areas (i.e. finance, f&b, information technology). If this process is accomplished by a single group (read information technology) it is a worthless exercise.

  2. Review the list with your internal expert.
    Have your internal system expert review this list and recommend system changes to meet these requirements. If no one in your company can do this then you will never be happy with any system you have. Like it or not, someone in your company needs to be a 'super user'. If you believe the system you bought does not require someone in your organization to know how to use it intimately then I believe you will never have a solution that meets your needs. (Step 5 is part of the solution this problem.)

  3. Review the list with your vendor.
    Meet with your vendor to review the list together and request they respond to each need and want. You should have filtered out the items you already know can be met at this point to save time for everyone. Most likely you can work with Customer Care or Technical Support and go through this process without paying for a billable service. You are not actually installing anything new, but optimizing the use of your existing system. If your vendor responds that this is a billable service then you may be better off going with a different vendor. The vendor has to want the system to work for you.

    For this step to be successful the vendor must provide a resource that is an expert in your vertical and on the software. Demand this as part of the process and do not settle for a resource that has to escalate to another person to answer every question. A first level (or even second level) support resource is most likely going to be a waste of time for you. For this to work in a timely fashion you need a resource with two years of experience.

  4. Require your vendor to outline how to make changes.
    After getting a response for every item on your list from the vendor request detail on how to implement the changes for your system. Recognize that these changes may require you to change operational procedures. No off the shelf system is going to match exactly how you run your operation. If you want a system that does you will need to build it from scratch, and that is way more expensive and troublesome than changing operations.

    Review the notes from your vendor in detail with your internal system expert (super user) and ensure they understand how to implement both the system changes and operational changes. At this point you will probably find a new system is not required, but if you do the requirements have already been defined.

  5. Invest in training.
    If your 'super user' cannot implement the changes without assistance invest in training. My experience is one of the biggest reason venues are unhappy with their investment is they skimped on training. If you are looking to cut costs in your project do not cut training. Your entire operation will run smoother when everyone knows what to do. The analogy I use here is learning to drive a golf cart and then assuming that you can drive that golf cart in rush hour traffic on the freeway. You will probably cause an accident. If you do not you will succeed in causing road rage.

    The training should be catered towards implementing the changes to meet your needs. Do not let your vendor waste your money by delivering a canned curriculum that only covers half of what you need to know. Demand a custom curriculum be delivered in advance of the training so you can review it, and demand the trainer have expertise in your market and on every feature you are going to implement.

  6. Build a plan to implement the changes.
    When training is complete your super user should know how to implement changes to the system and to your operations. Build a plan on how to implement these changes. Chances are some changes will be dependent on others, and some may need to be planned around other existing events. For example, if a change will alter how your reports look you may want to wait for the end of the fiscal period. This will make running historical period reports simpler.

  7. Create a feedback mechanism for system users.
    When you have made the necessary changes to your system implement a feedback process for your users to request system or operational changes to improve efficiency. The people using the system everyday have great ideas on how to make it better. Take advantage of this and earn some good will in the process. Acknowledge employees if their recommendation is implemented and has a positive effect. This will increase the satisfaction of your employees which in turn will increase the satisfaction of your guests. And that really is the point of all this work.
By Step 4 of this process you will know if the right decision is to keep your existing system or replace it. However, vendor deception is the exception to this. If you vendor has not been honest in this process you should discover this in Step 5. This is the primary reason for a custom training curriculum versus canned content. And if your vendor lied you have a pretty valid argument for denying payment for training. This process may seem like a lot of work, but it will be less expensive than buying a new system.

If you found this article helpful, have questions about this post, or want to add insight into avoiding the high cost of system replacement please submit a comment. We can all learn from each other.

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

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don't steal my stuff

hospitality technology made simple (htms) Legal Mumbo Jumbo
hospitality technology made simple subscribes to and supports Creative Commons for Internet work. If you want to use anything from hospitality technology made simple (htms) or kevin sturm Consulting for your print article or white paper I would be flattered. All that I ask is that you give credit were credit is due and email me to let me know. It is actually for the benefit of both of us so that I can plug your magazine and my work in a post. If you want to use anything for your website or blog please abide by the normal rules of Creative Commons and give me credit with a link back to
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hospitality technology made simple (htms) makes every effort to be accurate with information provided, but unfortunately I'm not perfect and may make accidental errors or omissions in any information on the website. What I write is based on my experience, but no information in this blog comes with a warranty, express or implied. In addition I will always give credit to any information or thought that is not my own via link or normal quoted method. If you find an error please send me an email or post a comment. I will fix it post haste

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Updated February 29, 2008


© 2009 kevin sturm Consulting

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deliver for a dollar

I'm on my way home from my first client trip as an independent consultant. I was at Microsoft's office in Seattle for three days (never saw the sun).
I was working out of the R&D building and tried to see the latest Microsoft Surfaces demonstration but no luck. I didn't even get to see the current one. Most of the things going on in the building we won't see for 10 to 15 years (or so I was told). How do you plan for technology products 10 years in advance? With as fast as technology changes that just seems unrealistic...but I suppose somebody has to do it. There were also supposedly 30+ researchers with PhDs in the R&D building! That is a whole bunch of brain power.

Most of the offices are in Redmond, WA and the entire city is pretty much Microsoft. From what I was told Microsoft employs 45,000 people at the Redmond campus! That is almost half the population of Santa Barbara! And the campus is pretty amazing. They have multiple soccer, football, and baseball fields, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

I was there to oversee the implementation of eMenu, a software that will allow all Microsoft employees to order lunch via the company Intranet and have it delivered to their desk. Seriously.

You can check out eMeu here, but don't order from this site because this place actually exists in NY. Microsoft has the most amazing company cafeterias with awesome food and now they are offering to deliver your lunch for $1.00 (plus the cost of the food). I think that is awesome because I'd take a lunch break to go work out and then have my lunch delivered to my desk and eat it there (in the scenario I had an office of course).

James, the Microsoft analyst I did the install with, had a futon, big screen TV, DVD player, Xbox and Wii in his office! It was complete with a small movie and video game library. How would you ever get any work done?

Microsoft's countdown to release clock

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dinner of the traveling type

Sometimes when I travel the thought of airport food just isn't appetizing, so the free food in United's Red Carpet Club turns into dinner. Crackers and cheese with carrots and ranch dressing washed down with a Coke. Chase it with a chocolate chip cookie...who could ask for more?

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Coming Soon!

This section will link to different template documents and tools for consultants and venues working on technology projects. Keep checking back for updates!

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eXtreme marketing

Marketing is hard. Really. Once you are uber successful I'm guessing it gets much easier, but before that point it's hard. When you don't have a huge customer base all blabbering on about how brilliant you are the only option is to self blabber about brilliance.

I've spent the last two work days self marketing. Whether cold calling, emailing, requesting references via LinkedIn, or getting my new blog (to be announced soon) together. This is all pretty much standard new business stuff though and comes with the territory. It's one of those things though before you start you think, "I've got a huge network, I'll get business." (at least that is what I thought). The reality is that it is a long ramp and you have to claw for every opportunity. Nobody starts at the top. People may indirectly reference you but most likely they are not looking for business for you or from you.

I am a true believer that word of mouth marketing is king (especially in my business). But, if you can't tell one great story about yourself no one else will be able to either. To get one big deal someone has to believe that you can be successful with that big deal. And if you have no references for your greatness then you must become your own self reference.
This post was prompted by an absolutely outlandish extreme marketing example I saw in the Starbucks parking lot today. Check out this guys car. He caught me taking pictures of it which was pretty funny. He acted like it was a totally normal occurrence, which was more funny.

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chicke little and the sky catcher

My dad used to always say, “If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem.” (though the saying is generally credited to Eldridge Cleaver). I've tried to take this philosophy with me to every project and believe it is a good rule to live by. For the sake of clarity I'll define this as being a person that brings solutions not problems (hugely insightful I know).
Everyone has been on a project with someone that has “Chicken Little Complex”. They bring up every possible pitfall in the project, why ideas won't work, and regularly send emails to the project team when pending disaster is inevitable - leading everyone on the project in a fire drill effort that generally could have been avoided (i.e. Foxy Woxy's hole).

As a project manager we strive to be the antithesis to Chicken Little. I call this person “Sky Catcher”. I've held this title on projects multiple times in my career. Sky Catcher is the person on the project that objectively looks at each situation and offers solutions to problems, but more importantly becomes the person that helps advise Chicken Little.

Imagine how different the story would be if Chicken Little was productively educated by Henny Penny on the elemental nature of the atmosphere, the concept of gravity, prompted with ideas of what could have hit her on the head, and more importantly the danger of “forest frenzy” due to adoptive apprehension.

If you have a project team member with “Chicken Little Complex” make it your personal duty on the team to be “Sky Catcher”. Provide solutions but also help prevent others from only bringing problems. Most likely you will find yourself in the position to offer advice often and may just find yourself leading the charge on more projects.

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seven steps to success

My friend Nazia sent me a "Tip of the Day" email with some wise words from Dr. Mark GoulstonGet Out of Your Own Way at Work) on things you should know the answers to when starting your own business. If you want to start you own business make sure you have an answer to these questions.

  1. What do you love making (product) or doing (service) that has enough value that other people would be willing and want to pay for (your DREAM)?

  2. What desire or problem is your product (what you make) or service (what you do) the best answer or solution to (your VISION and MISSION)?

  3. What people or what company has a desire or problem that most urgently needs your product or service, i.e. who are the ones that "Gotta have you!" (your MARKETING)?

  4. How do you get those people or that company to be aware of their urgent need for your product or service (your ADVERTISING)?

  5. How do you convince those people to buy that service or product that they "gotta have?" (your SALES)

  6. How do you get your product or service to those people or that company (your PRODUCTION and DELIVERY)?

  7. How do you continue to increase the satisfaction and enthusiasm for your product or service, so they'll tell others (your CUSTOMER SERVICE)?

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