Handhelds at Carlson

One of the keys to the success of any new tool is in how quickly the users gain familiarity with it – what it feels like, how it handles, what it can do. Once it becomes second nature to have it with you, adding new functions and useful features to it only increases it’s value, and it quickly becomes an indispensable part of the modern, mobile manager’s toolkit.

That’s the philosophy followed by Carlson Hospitality Worldwide. “It became obvious that the convergence of hand-held PDAs and wireless technology would allow us to give our hotel managers and corporate field staff mobile access to all kinds of dynamic business information”, says David Sjolander, Vice President, Hotel Information Systems, Carlson Hotels Worldwide. “So, to get them used to the idea of carrying such a tool around, we gave a test group of executives standard Compaq iPAQ Pocket PCs, under our MACH-1 program – Mobile Access to Carlson Hospitality.”

“At first they just used these for all the usual PDA activities – tracking contacts, appointments, etc. But adding crucial information about their hotels’ operations has made them really essential. Rather than delay things until we could perfect a two-way interface to our key systems, we used standard, off-the-shelf technology to give each manager look-up access to information tailored specifically to their needs.”

“We pull dynamic data from our CustomerKARE system – the central data warehouse which covers multi-property operational statistics and guest information – and make this available to the corporate MACH-1 users. Each user downloads content that is useful to them (using the standard AvantGo utility), and can create personalized threshold “triggers.” For example, a Regional Director could set his MACH-1 to alert him whenever any hotel in his region drops below 95% in guests’ “willingness to return” rating.”

Carlson has already fully deployed the first version of MACH-1, which was designed for corporate field staff. The second version, MACH-1 Hotel, is oriented towards hotel management and pulls information (reservations, guest profiles, room status, house status, etc.) every five minutes from the Harmony PMS data files. The managers’ iPAQ units are kept up to date either automatically via 802.11b wireless links or manually via synchronization cradles or cell phone connections.

“We’ll probably also develop handheld check-in and check-out, although we don’t see that as a point of differentiation, ” says Sjolander. “We feel that this was definitely the right way to start. Not all properties need a mobile front desk, but every single manager can benefit from keeping on top of their information as they walk the property.”

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