​A painless PMS switch – dream or reality?

Back when I was 25, I worked as the Front Office Manager at the Hilton Prague, a monster hotel of 800 bedrooms with a front office team of 65 persons. One unfortunate night we ran into a problem with our PMS and we learned that it was going to take several hours for the system to come back up and our latest backup report was 6 hours old.

After the initial panic subsided, we took a breath, prepared for the worst and went in “offline mode”. The first hours were the worst, trying to decide on a system that allowed for a steady workflow, and would offer a smooth customer experience, whilst ensuring no money would go missing. Once we had the flow down, it was surprisingly easy to operate the hotel.

That was one of the most challenging nights in my career, but also provided me with one of the biggest learnings that I always tell our clients: “It’s possible to run an 800-bedroom hotel without a PMS if you need to.” The experience and the realisation was for me, the best preparation for the hundreds of PMS switches and onboardings that we’ve embarked upon, as we’ve built the Hotel Platform of the future…

Real leaders take the plunge

We estimate that 90% of the hospitality industry today is locked into legacy PMS solutions. One of the major reasons why these hoteliers do not migrate to something more modern, is the fear of change and the potential downside of the switch not bringing substantial improvements and cost savings.

I was always taught, that a true leader analyses the situation in front of him, assesses the potential downsides and weighs them up against the upsides, then makes a decision and then moves forward. And so it is with innovation and steering your business: in order to climb to the top you have to move forward at all times. People who stay in the same place out of fear of bold action will lose in the long run.

When we started Mews (Disclaimer: we are a PMS solution provider) we ran into many objections from hoteliers. Some of the biggest fears we ran into, we had to assess whether they were legitimate:

·      Can I continue running my old system for several weeks? (just in case)

·      What happens with all my historic data?

·      How long will it take to switch?

·      Will my current provider come with an innovative new product in the near future?

From our 3,5 years of experience in onboarding hotels in 18 countries, I feel pretty confident about answering these:

Can I continue running my old system for several weeks?

About 50% of hoteliers ask us whether they can start using Mews and run it for several weeks side by side with their legacy system.  I can see why they would ask this, and we don’t say no. However in our experience this complicates  the operations for your team even more.

Hoteliers are afraid that after onboarding their new PMS, they might find out that the system works very differently to their old system, and want an option to return back to “the way things were”.

Firstly, if you have done your research well and tested all of the different solutions, this should not be a concern. You know your new solution has all the required features but also know its downsides and are prepared for them.

Don’t punish your team for not having done your research properly!

If you want to run both systems together, this means your team have to complete every single task twice across 2 systems, and thus, besides doubling the workload, it also opens up the possibility for frequent input errors. Every hotel who has tried to do this with Mews gave up after 1-2 days, because it simply creates too much work.

As with all things, once you’ve made your decision to switch, it’s best to stick by it and make a clean cut. If you have researched the solution properly, you already know the challenges ahead, and you should have adjusted the expectation levels accordingly.

What happens with my historic data?

When we onboard a new client, we make it clear that we strongly recommend against importing old data from the previous PMS into your new clean solution. I will explain why.

Often, one of the main reasons a hotel moves away from their current PMS is because of their dissatisfaction with its capabilities, integrations and user friendliness. All these points contribute to a huge and very badly maintained database with incomplete inputs, primarily, poorly-maintained guest profiles. You can import these into Mews (we have a tool for this) but you pollute a clean system with tens of thousands of profiles containing inputs which will give you inaccurate data points.

What about the financial data?

There are some really great solutions on the market today that do data aggregation and simplification. So while we (Mews) will not import all the history, at least financial history can be retained. Tools such as Snapshot or Juyo allow you to import the budgets, actuals and forecasts from a multitude of systems, thus retaining the benefit of the past (revenue figures) without the legacy of that past (bad guest data).

How long will it take to switch?

We onboard new hotels within 1 week maximum, which is not an industry standard, but we try and maintain it as our own. There are a few stages to onboarding:

1.    “Building” the hotel

The moment we have a signed contract and received configuration details from the hotel, we can create the hotel in our system within a day.

2.    Initial Training

Initially we do an online introductory training that will allow the project manager to set up the basic rates/services/templates

3.    3-day Training

We conduct 3 days of training on site, covering every aspect of the system.

Day 1: the basic users (everyone in the hotel)

Day 2: advanced reporting possibilities (supervisory level)

Day 3: all configuration aspects (admin level)

4.    2-days Onboarding support

Once everyone is trained, we will import all future bookings from the previous solution into Mews and populate these within our system. Once we agree this is correctly done, we pull the plug on the old system, and move forward.

Am I losing out because my current provider has promised that they are preparing their own innovative product in the near future?

If your current PMS is a local server-based system, and they have not yet launched a 100% Cloud First solution, it probably will not happen in the next year. (Despite the promises)

Building a system in the Cloud comes with a whole new set of challenges, which are not easily solved. If their expertise has been in working with local server based systems, they will quickly find they need a different skillset and mind-set to move into the cloud.

It took us 3,5 years to build out our feature set to the level where we compete against industry leaders. What was most important during this phase was the feedback from our hotels and their guests. We listened carefully and put all of our people (especially our developers) behind reception desks to find ways to improve the usability of the solution.

We see that the biggest problem with these “moves to the cloud” usually are not upgrades because the logic of the user experience does not change. Where we, as hoteliers thought differently, was that we thought that the old experience was broken and we wanted to start from scratch – to move the whole industry forward.

As I said earlier – I was always taught that in order to embrace the future, one must move forwards, and not just horizontally.

You’ll find that once you have migrated to a Cloud Solution, you will have regained your freedom, and switching to another PMS in the future will be significantly easier from this point forward – this is why we’re committed to always improving as we know that staying horizontal will always work against us in the long term.

So, have a look at what’s out there - there are some really great new hotel techsolutions on the market – don’t let the fear of what you could lose, cloud your judgement in moving into the 21st Century.

Matthijs Welle - CEO