All About APIs: The Future of Integrated Technology
By Jason Q. Freed
Like so many industries, COVID has forced the acceleration of digital transformation in hospitality. Offering contactless experiences for guests, automating more processes and even redefining how the work itself is done are necessary for survival.
Very few applications today can accomplish these goals on their own without connecting to other systems within the tech stack to share data, access features and allow hoteliers to take action. For this reason, it's critical that developers build "open" systems with connectivity to other suppliers in mind.
Integrating two technology systems starts with what are called APIs. Developers depend on Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, to access the features and data within other systems. In many cases, since the Property Management System still sits at the center of the hotel tech stack, technology suppliers are often writing code to access information from a PMS.
What data is stored in a PMS that another system might need to access? Reservations, profiles, room blocks and guest folio data is generally stored in PMS in cases where the PMS is the "source of truth."
Open APIs afford access to data, but that's only part of the puzzle, according to Brad More, CTO of Hapi, a platform that allows developers to write one set of APIs and connect to many systems. More says APIs also allow one system to tap in the features of another system, allowing hoteliers to take action. And a common set of APIs provides a standardization of data, meaning guest information appears the same in one system as it does in another, for example, reducing the need to manually enter data in multiple systems.
Tech providers, including PMS suppliers, have come a long way in opening up their systems for easier connections, but there's still much work to be done. Some innovative suppliers are pushing the industry forward by building "API first" - planning and collaborating with stakeholders on the design of the API before any code is written. These products are built with APIs that are consistent and reusable.
Below, we walk through why APIs are so important not only to tech providers but to the hotel owners and operators who use these systems day in and day out to improve their operational efficiency and enhance the guest experiences.
What goes into building an API?
APIs are a set of rules that a machine or a human can use to either access or action information. To improve the hotel tech stack - what powers your ability to run a hotel - it's best when a majority of tech providers generally conform to the shape of a common API. As long as system designers follow a good set of rules, integrating systems can be much easier and more cost effective.
For example, let's say a guest's address needs to be updated in your system. A single set of rules would articulate how that address is mapped so it is updated consistently across the various systems that need it - PMS, CRM, CRS, etc.
"Open APIs" mean the developer has made the API language available for other systems to connect. Developers can still connect to systems with closed APIs, but he or she might have to go through a certification process or be limited by what data and features are accessible. However, "open" and easily accessible is not synonymous with free - a PMS vendor might feature open APIs that they will then charge a fee to use.
There's more to this than APIs
Building to a system's API does not always complete the integration process. To begin sharing or receiving data from a PMS, even after the code is written, a third-party system must then "connect" to the PMS, and PMSs are still predominantly housed in hotels. Complicating the matter is the fact that many PMSs handle data differently. A reservation might be stored in one PMS differently than it's stored in another, for example. And some systems might need more information about that reservation than others - while a guest messaging system might need first name and room number, a payment processing application will need richer information on the guest.
"For example, one PMS vendor might have a set of web services that you can interact with to check someone in, check someone out, assign a room, change rooms, etc. To create the integration, you have to engage with the company as a partner, gain access to a development server, you need to code it, you need to test it, and then you need to go back and certify it," says Luis Segredo, CEO of Hapi. "But that's really only part of the challenge. The next part is you need to deploy it, and getting connected to each and every hotel is challenging from a networking perspective."
Building to a provider's APIs is simplified when systems are built in the cloud rather than sitting on premise. But even then, connecting to a PMS can be a complicated mess of firewalls and networking issues - and rightfully so, because access to a hotel's guest database should be carefully controlled.
"There are people whose jobs depend on keeping you away from the PMS," Segredo says. "Letting someone in is not always the right thing to do."
Why integrations - and open APIs - are the future
As noted earlier, technology continues to play a larger role in hospitality. Take mobile check-in, which prior to COVID was simply a way for hotels and brands to differentiate themselves. Today, it is a necessity for hotels to comply with government-mandated social-distancing regulations.
"Think of the technology behind mobile check-in," More explains. "You might have a booking that was made on an OTA that you need to somehow convert and make available for a contactless experience when they arrive at your property. If you're a distributed system and you have a PMS at every hotel, how do you know who is checking in today? To extract a report, you have to send a message through an interface to a system in a broom closet. If you move all that to the cloud, it's one endpoint, it's one database, it's one query.
"That's why Hapi exists," More continues. "We're trying to take that spaghetti bowl of systems and make it a central point of aggregated data - an aggregation of endpoints. When the contactless application says, 'check in this guest,' we are responsible for routing it to the right PMS."
Hapi is a disruptive Cloud Data Hub that exposes event streams and transactional APIs from hotel systems at scale designed to solve the hotel industry"s rapidly expanding data management challenges, while also addressing the traditionally high integration costs and lack of vendor alignment that inhibits innovation and efficiency. Developed by hotel technology innovators, the secure, scalable, cloud-based data streaming platform is based on an open model, using the same proven technology that runs some of the world"s largest social media and business services, to which multiple layers of encryption, authentication and governance are added.