HITEC 2016: Remembering What You Are
And What All Those Acronyms Represent
By Bernard Ellis, President and Founder at Lodgital Insights LLC
My 25th HITEC is done and dusted. For the uninitiated, HITEC is HFTP's annual "Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference," attracting over 5000 buyers, sellers, and a growing number of innocent bystanders who seem to genuinely want to learn. The event has grown too large to lend itself to a concise recap, and whether it was busy or a bust, a boon or a boondoggle, revolutionary or repetitive, laborious or leisurely, will depend on each person's unique experience. Here are the themes that emerged for me.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll fess up that I wasn't fully confident that I remembered what HITEC stood for when writing the intro paragraph. Was it Hospitality Information Technology, or Hospitality Industry Technology? How could I not know that? Twenty-five exposures isn't enough to get a clue? I was always taught that the first time you use an acronym, it's mandatory to spell out what it stands for, and if you don't, the reader won't be impressed with how smart you are, but rather, by how inconsiderate you are. "Calm down," many of you might be thinking. "Why get so worked up when the term HITEC seems to be marching down the path of becoming one of those acronyms that has become so old and familiar that people forget what it stands for, if they even knew or cared it was an acronym in the first place? Don't you have bigger things to worry about?" I do, and it actually took more digging to find the answer than you might think. But I still needed to know for sure. I'm sure that sounds pretty pedantic, but there's no denying that acronyms are a very pervasive aspect of technology culture.
How Did it Start?
No one seems to know for sure. Some say it began with the need to confidentially refer to weaponry during WWII, while others say it simply began as a way for socially awkward techie geeks to have their own club and language that only privileged insiders got to understand. Either way, it sounds like the creator of the acronym doesn't actually want everyone to know what it stands for, yet I still take no comfort. You see, acronyms have been a third rail for me since my very first job out of school.
A Long History of Acronym Acrimony
It was 1991, and our industry had been decimated by the Gulf War. Requests for job interviews were literally met with laughter. My CIO (Chief Information Officer) aspirations would have to wait. (Thought I was going to forget, didn't you?) I landed a job as a technical writer, and my starting assignment had been to quickly update an existing programming manual with the new features of a much-anticipated software release that was finally coming out. One of the engineers had previously been maintaining this documentation as a side hobby. But there was simply too much content in this release for him to have time, and by his own admission, the manual was pretty shabby because even though he was a great software developer, he was a so-so writer, and an even worse aesthetician. He was fearful that the next release, which would be the first to require him to support color, a prospect that excited so many of his peers, might actually be his downfall. (Don't worry, concerned readers- it wasn't.)
Already very late, the release encountered further delays due to the discovery of defects relating to the handling of some new 64-bit double-byte, multi-tasking, popped kernel, something or other, or some such. (I told you I was new to the whole thing.) Customers were absolutely breathing fire. But in my own mind, I secretly and selfishly celebrated the delay, because it gave me more time to spend on cleaning up the manual before it went to print. I knew it was a manual that only our employees or distributors would use, with perhaps an outside chance that a super user at a customer site might use it-once! But it was a golden opportunity for me to show off to my new boss what a hard-working, quality-stickling, reach-for-the-brass-ring employee he was so fortunate to have hired. And what a smarty-pants too. It had certainly worked in my favor that my resume listed that I knew WordPerfect, which was the standard-issue word processor for the whole company. But what they didn't know was that I KNEW (not an acronym - just for emphasis) WordPerfect, and they were about to find out.
That was quite uncommon for someone coming right out of school at that time, because Apple had already been much more aggressive in going after the academic market with its intuitive Macintosh computers, offering very deep discounts for classroom and lab environments, and consequently making it the de facto teaching standard, and the go-to accessory for every spoiled child's dorm room. But in spite of having so many Macintoshes around, lines still stretched out the door for the Mac side of the computer lab, as if it were a hot new night club. And it was indeed a social mecca, because the conversations and bonding that started in line tended to continue into the lab, then be modulated into the new electronic log-in messages (whose name I can't remember because it was some hokey acronym!), then continue to take various forms elsewhere on campus.
Conversely, the IBM PC (International Business Machines Personal Computer) side was practically deserted, except for the middle-aged secretary-turned-homemaker-turned-doctoral-student who was a somewhat permanent fixture in the corner. Her son was actually an undergraduate at the same school, and he occasionally would pop over from the Mac side to visit her now and then, as if he were dutifully visiting her in a nursing home. He wasn't that great of a student, and would freely dump his troubles on her, but any attempt she made to mentor him was waved off, and was usually accompanied by some sexist or ageist dig as he headed out the door for the frat house.
This would leave the two of us alone in an awkward, IBM sort of silence, which was only made less silent by the muffled cacophony of chatter, laughter, and validating Macintosh noises (those frequent musical phrases chiming from the Macs to let you know that you've arrived, that you clicked, that you're leaving, that you're special!) penetrating the wall from the other side. The IBM PC's only made a noise when you did something wrong, or when you saved something to a floppy disk; we were completely on our own for any hint of positive reinforcement. So, after the third or fourth time this crash site of rejected motherly love happened, I broke the silence.
I told her that my mother had also gone back to college and grad school, but when I was much younger than her son, so I therefore really knew no different. One thing that I DID (emphasis not an acronym) know, however, was that if I ever made such condescending remarks to my mother, well, let's just say it might have been the last thing I ever did. I conveyed that I thought her son was wasting a great and unique opportunity to ask his mother for help with his homework. When I was growing up, asking my mother or father to help me with my homework didn't even occur to me. After all, I was the one who had gone to the class and read the textbook chapter, not them, and my mother had her own homework to worry about.
My older sister was sometimes a good resource, but she had her own homework too, and even being only 7 years ahead of me, she often didn't remember the stuff cold anymore, and had to review the material herself, while I waited impatiently. I finally figured out it would be even faster if I just reviewed it myself. My brother who was between us in age was decidedly not a resource. He had had similar results with my sister, and figured that since he hadn't had the benefit of any help with his homework, then why should I? I already got better grades than he did. Why was I so greedy? And, my precocious little self figured that if I didn't learn the material well enough to do the homework, shouldn't the teacher know that, instead of getting a false sense of security of his or her teaching effectiveness?
After I recounted all this, my rising PhD friend seemed a little unsure how to react, but was definitely grateful that it made her motherly plight seem more normal, and as a result, I became her new best friend. While she hatched a plan to garner more respect from her son, I served as her coping mechanism. She channeled her mentoring instincts in my direction, offering miscellaneous lessons on such difficult topics as how to navigate the university's political landscape, how to have wrinkle-free clothes without ironing, how to handle Phyllo dough, and basically how to live life. And in between all that-- and from my perspective, a life skill above and beyond all that-- she showed me the ins-and-outs of WordPerfect.
It wasn't structured instruction, but whenever I hit a snag, or simply had a vision, she was right there with the fast answers on how to turn it into execution, whether it was a function key combination to be pressed, codes to be revealed, a design-driven menu option to be selected, or a conniving trick played to get it to bend to your will, she shared her experience gladly, and I just as gladly soaked it up. On-line help and in-context business intelligence should be able to do all of this, but where it's no match for a human mentor is in supplying the encouragement that what you're trying to achieve is a great idea and worth pursuing in the first place, and in sincerely demonstrating happiness and pride once you've achieved the result.
I learned that human mentorship isn't perfect either, especially when it comes to predicting the future. One of her main battle cries was: "You picked the right side of the lab, Bernard. WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 are on every office LAN (Local Area Network) out there. Those kids over there are going to be very sorry when they get out into the real world, and find out no one has even heard of that Word or Excel stuff, forget about needing expertise in it, or even having it installed…."
But in the short term at my first job, I still got to be a star. I took that shabby manual and gave it a professional polish that people didn't believe was achievable. As with an expert magician, after awhile people stopped concerning themselves so much with how it was done, and learned to simply enjoy the result. One thing that made the manual look so rough was that the company name was written in all capitals throughout the document. I thought, boy, it's nice for that engineer to have such a high opinion of his employer's importance, but how could he not see how God awful it looked? It was like a printed version of overhearing two people arguing on the other side of a restaurant in a foreign language, but only being able to make out one word repeated over and over. In just the nick of time before it had to go to press, armed with my WP search-and-replace prowess, I managed to change all of the company names to normal capitalization.
The manuals and their binders rolled off the assembly line. As my boss opened the shrink wrapped binder then opened the shrink-wrapped pages waiting inside, it wasn't the binder who came unhinged, it was him. "What happened?," he gasped, "all these typos, EVERYWHERE (emphasis-not acronym)! And on the company name, no less!" Everywhere now said Micros, instead of MICROS (Modular Integrated Cash Register Operating Systems). It was incorrect, potentially violating trademarks and posing various other dangers to society. Yes, MICROS was an acronym-a much better example of one which practically everyone had generally forgotten what it stood for, or stopped caring. Yes, I know what you're thinking: look at any MICROS terminal in any of the tens of thousands of restaurants who use them, and you'll see it's not all caps. I pushed back with exactly that argument. And no, it's not all caps--it's all small letters-following a common practice to "logo-ize" acronyms dating back to at least the 1960's, especially for acronyms that are so old or familiar, that people have forgotten what they stand for.
I'm getting tired of typing that over and over - there must be a word for that. It turns out there is: this concept is not-so-commonly referred to as an 'anacronym'. It's so uncommon in fact, that my spell checker is fighting with me over it, just as it does with the acronyms themselves, especially if there is unusual capitalization. I've come to realize that I've been battling spell checkers for much of my career:
Did You Know?
MICROS Modular Integrated Cash Register Operating Systems
SynXis Derived from the ancient Greek synaxis, gathered together around a common point
IDeaS Integrated Decisions and Systems
SAS Statistical Analysis System
THISCO The Hotel Industry Switch Company
DHISCO Distribution Hospitality Intelligent Systems Company
HEDNA Hotel Electronic Distribution Networking Association
Is it any wonder that I have become so acrimonious toward acronyms? And for the most part, these companies are just as happy to have everyone forgot their origins, which they now consider to be obsolete relics. I am happy to report that, for the first time in my adult career, I am not working for an acronym. I've looked everywhere I can look, and have asked the earliest employees I can find, and find no evidence that "Infor" is an acronym, or worst case, is an anacronym in the truest sense of the word. But what about the companies that are part of Infor Hospitality's heritage? Yes, the TLAs (three letter acronyms) that were so popular with our industry for so long, e.g. HIS, CLS, SSA, or longer ones like EzRMS? Well, here's the thing: those are not actually acronyms - they don't form a pronounceable word, which is technically required to make it an acronym. Otherwise it's just an "initialism." (Spell check didn't like that either!).
- Infor and other relative newcomers to the hospitality technology industry have generally been avoiding the acronym and initialism traditions, at least for their company names, a welcome change.
- ,Anacronyms' are acronyms that have become so old and familiar, that scarcely anyone remembers what they stand for. Our industry is replete with these, and for the most part, the players are happy to have you forget those outdated origins.
- To achieve economies of scale, acquirers have generally washed out acronym- and initialism-based branding at the corporate level. They are less apt to do so with established product names, which often carry significant brand equity, e.g. EzRMS (Easy Revenue Management System (Co), abbreviated), EAM (Enterprise Asset Management), HotSOS (Hotel Service Optimization System).
- New technology company and product names inside and outside of hospitality often include a standalone letter or number, e.g. zDirect, d2o, Xfinity, t-Mobile, Nor1. While giving a nod to the old tradition, its main intent is usually to guarantee trademark uniqueness for their intellectual property.
- Even if not a high-visibility component of a company's branding, it's never a useless pursuit to find out if it's an acronym or initialism which stands for something. It will give a hint as to the company's true roots, and potentially their lingering priority, despite public messaging to the contrary.
- Tired of acronyms? They generally exist to simplify complexity, and unless business leaders are willing to make time to master the complex nuances of the systems at their disposal, the acronym question will likely continue as a nicknaming convention.
I'm generally credited with coining the greeting "Happy HITEC" over 20 years ago, so you can imagine my delight when I hear it referenced on the main stage or overhear it being expressed by complete strangers. I should probably approach Hallmark about it-they might just be desperate enough to go for it!
Why do I see the need for a holiday-class greeting? It has become a bit of a cliché to call HITEC the "New Year's Eve of Hospitality Technology," but when you think about it, it does bear an uncanny resemblance to the holiday season. Like the holidays, everyone involved spends months carefully preparing, and bemoaning whether they should be spending so much money again this year. They create a list of who's been naughty and who's been nice. They eat and drink to excess, due to the packed schedule of parties. They reunite with close friends they haven't seen all year. Plenty of free stuff is given out.
But, no, I'm not enough of a geek to think it's like waiting for Santa to arrive. "Far from it," the cynical camp would quip, citing that Santa is usually later to arrive than expected, with less in his bag of toys than promised, and requiring a lot more time and effort from his elves to get all the new toys configured and working properly. And elves sure get touchy when you accuse them of falling short. They will be quick to inform you that the bonuses Santa gives out are not as fat as he is.
Another aspect of a visit from Santa should be surprises under the tree. HITEC indeed continues to be the place where we suppliers like to "announce" the new, the faster, the cheaper, and the better. But, it's rarely if ever the unwrapping of a complete surprise, all tied up in a bow and ready to be put into service the next day, like it is for so many other industries. On behalf of your vendor community, sorry about that. You see, if we wait that long to start generating buzz about a new product that's ready for prime time, and long memories and old battle scars cause you to hang back until someone else tries it first, it will be at least two years before we begin to see any sign of an ROI on the investment in developing the product.
So, that's why we start talking about what you want for Christmas starting on Halloween, or even Labor Day, followed by lots of sneak peeks. Show me an "innovator" or "disruptor" that entered our industry that way in the last ten years, and I'll show you an investor who had a portfolio of hotels he could force to be early adopters and give positive references. Having said that, I can also understand why it has become so challenging for buyers to know what's real versus roadmapped. But don't let one bad experience make you give up on the professional sales representatives, and rely only on website research and talking to current users on your own. You won't get complete information with which to make your decision.
- HITEC has become too big to see in the time allotted. A popular saying is "plan to go, but go with a plan." It shouldn't yield many surprises, just a greater depth of information.
- If you missed it this year, or didn't seen enough, don't despair-vendors are not looking to hide information about their products and services! And a new European version will take place over the Winter.
- As with the regular holidays, try to maintain the spirit all year. As more solutions move to Software as a Service subscription models, updates are more frequent. Be sure you are keeping pace with the innovation you are paying for.
Getting Back Up on the Horse
The last notable theme to relate to you from HITEC 2016 was that it was very much a year of turning old Hospitality Technology notions and assumptions on their heads, once and for all. After a relatively slow pace of innovation for so many years, the desire by attendees to push forward harder and faster was palpable. Among the de-bunked notions:
The mega-brands will always insist on developing their own central reservation technology. Check the scorecard: post M&A, all but one of them are in the process of converting to off the shelf systems. The chain-code-by-chain-code conversion process is painful and tedious. No one is looking back. Those selling off-the-shelf loyalty systems are not having as much luck: that is the new point of differentiation, and each is requiring customization and the costly maintenance that goes with it. And, member-only pricing is now the anti-OTA maneuver. Will loyalty systems soon be required to provide sub-second responses like Central Reservation Systems do?
Omni-Channel Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems aren't a fit for hospitality-so many failed implementations over the last 10-15 years. We'll get by with PMS profiles and an e-mail service provider. Whether those who suffered through the bad CRM implementations are still around or not, there is plenty of institutional memory around them. But many companies are planning undaunted. See the section on Loyalty Above.
There's no need to change out our PMS (property management system) anytime soon. Well, except when the relationship degrades to the point of visceral anger, many people do feel the need. People are concluding that they can do without some of those 15-year old features after all.
Out with the old, in with the new…Revenue Management System (RMS), Accusations have been flying as to the inadequacy of "traditional revenue management solutions" to operate in today's demand environment. New solutions are bringing new features, but also skipping over basic ones. Many users are opting to keep their existing SaaS based subscription meters running while they assess the new, or foregoing it altogether.
Mr. Ellis has a track record of stewarding technology initiatives from industry startup to industry standard. He has spent most of his career at early- and mid-stage startups bringing best-of-breed solutions to market. then leading to successful acquisitions: namely, Micros (Oracle), SynXis (Sabre), and IDeaS, (SAS).More from Bernard Ellis
Infor is a global leader in business cloud software specialized by industry. With 17,300 employees and over 68,000 customers in more than 170 countries, Infor software is designed for progress. To learn more, please visit www.infor.com.
Infor customers include:
- 19 of the top 20 aerospace companies
- 9 of the top 10 high tech companies
- 18 of the 25 largest U.S. healthcare delivery networks
- 18 of the 20 largest U.S. cities
- 19 of the top 20 automotive suppliers
- 17 of the top 20 industrial distributors
- 15 of the top 20 global retailers
- 4 of the top 5 brewers
- 17 of the top 20 global banks
- 9 of the 10 largest global hotel brands
- 8 of the top 10 global luxury brands