Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A New Year means New Technologies to Unlock Time Access control for Everyone

Welcome to 2017! What a year 2017 is shaping up to be for the security, smartlock and access control industry with the emergence of new low power/low frequency/low cost technologies such as NB IoT, LoRa and Sigfox. For a crash course in these technologies see here.

Here is a quick overview of these technologies - they're low cost narrowband radio technologies that use no onsite infrastructure and less power than other communication standards such as Wi-Fi, enabling the connection of thousands of physical objects, such as hand-held devices, wearables, vehicles, security products and smarthome IoT devices. It provides the network connectivity that enables the embedded electronics, sensors and software in these devices to offer better features, and to collect and exchange data, regardless of their location, providing operators with detailed, real-time information on which to improve their services. Some have described the technology similar to that used in submarines in World War 1, or even a 1G/2G type of mobile network.

IoT going back in time to go forwards!
In layman's terms Internet of Things devices such as smart locks or parking sensors only need to communicate to service providers, 'small parcels of information with very little bytes on an irregular basis'. For example in the case of a parking sensor, its very simple. "is there a car over the sensor?" yes or no? This information is only 1 byte that then needs to be sent up to the cloud to be used in parking management (and this may only happen 5-10 times a day). Right now without the new technologies this 1 byte parcel of data has to go through Wi-Fi modems/networks/bridges (on site/off site infrastructure and power) or use Bluetooth to get to phones to go through broadband networks, and then it has to compete in the network with massive files such as video's, images, and everything else floating around up there - which equals congestion. And of course sending data around in a broadband frequency costs money - we all know that as we have to pay our monthly fees to our Internet Service Providers.

In the case of smart locks and access control systems it is somewhat similar to the parking sensor example - locks just need to know when to open their doors, and for whom, and for how long, and to relay this information to a property manager. This information can be reduced to a few bytes of information. In the past if anyone wanted to have a timed access control system on their property, typically used in hotels and offices, they needed to have all this onsite network infrastructure such as wiring and power connecting and communicating with all the electronic locks, controller boxes, onsite servers, encoder devices for writing keycards, onsite PC’s and software (usually not interfaced to other software), sometimes servers in the basements connecting everything together, and then you needed someone on site 24/7 operating the system to allow for the timed access control (in the case of hotels this is the reception desk staff job when you check-in).

But with the emergence of new technologies such as NB IoT it has the potential to unlock enormous security improvements, in addition to all the features of the typical wired timed keycard systems (but so much more) and value for property managers and end users alike. With no need for onsite infrastructure and power, for the first time in history this opens up timed access control, until now limited to offices and hotels and homes, to places such as outback mining communities, schools, shops, sporting and community facilities, storage sites/containers, and so on and so forth.

Due to the technology only beginning to roll out recently (Sigfox just got the highest ever capital raise in Europe to roll-out their network in Nov 2016) some lock companies have been forced to offer 'clumsy' solutions that use a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to offer timed access control. For example hotels such as Hilton and Starwood are using a costly and unstable digital key solution with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi bringing with it all the typical problems with these technologies such as pairing problems, network congestion, black spots, inconsistencies etc. And the large number of complaints about digital keys not working in the comments sections in the Hilton Guest Loyalty App with digital keys in the Play and App store reflects the problems.

 The risk of hacking in locks is also removed with the new narrowband technologies as Wi-Fi and other ‘vulnerable’ technologies such as Z-wave or Zigbee have been designed with security features such as user names and passwords, which can hacked "over the air". NB IoT also means greater battery life (the device is basically always sleeping, and just wakes up for one tenth of a second to send the small bytes to the cloud) and it offers lock manufacturers the ability to hook up their smart locks to a cloud application for completely automated smartphone self check-in; and to normalise data from multiple connected smart products (e.g. smart lighting) allowing an application to access data from a node that is deployed by other companies.

And one of the most important features of the use of NB IoT in smart locks is being able to capture all data in one place in the cloud, and integrating that with all other hotel software to ultimately improve the travel experience for everyone.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Hotel Problems everywhere

Problems with hotels - we've all experienced one problem or another during our hotel stays in the past. The problem could be your keycard not working so you are locked out. Perhaps you found yourself in a double room booking and you had to relocate to another hotel? Or maybe you ended up in a dirty or loud room and you had trouble sleeping?

After staying in thousands of hotels all over the world for the last 20 years, ever since the travel bug bit me in my early twenties, I'm still finding new hotel problems every time I go on a trip. I believe most problems encountered in hotels can be solved digitally with apps, software, and integration's.

Here's two new problems I encountered in my most recent travels which a guest loyalty app in a hotel would solve;
1. We were charged for room service we did not order in one hotel.
2. In a second hotel, my wife could not check-in without taking a physical security deposit swipe of a credit card which I was holding (and I was on the other side of the city at a conference), despite the fact that I had made a booking with my credit card (on the hotel's website) and so the hotel would have had my credit card details stored on their software system, and could have used these details for the security deposit.

Problem 1 being charged for room service and mini-bar we didn't have - when we went to check-out, we were presented with a bill for drinks and food that we didn't order (beers and lasagne). We explained this to the reception desk attendant and she immediately questioned our honesty. This 'charging room service to a room' is such an archaic process based on the honesty system, or is it? When a room service order such as food arrives to a room, the guest in the room signs a receipt to say they have accepted the room service. But the first point of break down with this system is this - the guest accepting the food may or may not be the person who has signed the forms at check-in (there is no way to line up signatures at the time of accepting food, so who takes responsibility in the room for the payment at check-out time?

Second point of possible break down - is it the responsibility of one of the hotel staff to take a copy of the signed receipt and attach it to a file for the room number/guest name (possibly scan it digitally) and log the information into the hotels Property Management System (PMS), so the bill can be generated at check-out? Of course this requires a human to do two things which could break down; firstly hotel staff must file a receipt correctly, and two; staff must enter correct details into software (which could be entered wrong such as with a typo with wrong room number).

So returning to our situation with being charged for something we didn't order, we had to wait around 5 minutes for the reception desk attendant to disappear to a room out the back, then finally return to watch her converse with her manager for a couple of minutes down the end of the reception desk, before finally returning to tell us, that, "we can't locate the file and receipts for your room, as they have already being taken away and processed for accounting as it was the end of the month yesterday".

At this time, I had to insist once again, that we didn't order any drinks, and we didn't order that food on the bill I had laid out in front of me. Finally the reception desk attendant agreed with me and said, "that's ok, we'll work it out later", and she then printed out a new bill with a new total amount which I paid.

So I wonder what happens next to who pays for the drinks and meals (the beer and lasagne) which totaled around $70? How are the hotel going to find out who pays for this? If it was a typo error, such as the hotel staff mistakenly entering room 505 (our room number) in their PMS, instead of the real room number, say 605, then what are the hotel going to do to get this $70?  Are they going to look up guest in 605's mobile number and ask them if they ordered beers and lasagne on the 30th October? What if it was a typo and it should have been 506? Are they going to do the same thing to guest in room 506, until they find someone that admits its their room service? What if they dig up the room service order signed receipt from the accounting department, then can the hotel be certain that the right number is at the top of the receipt? Can they line up the signature with another signature on their check-in system file? Have the hotel just lost $70 for incorrectly charging room service to the wrong room? How often does this happen?

A hotel guest loyalty app with room service solves this problem so easily. Here's how it would work - the room service order (beers and lasagne in this case) is placed inside the guest loyalty app by a guest hitting an order button, and the guest is charged immediately and automatically from their credit card stored inside the app (of course credit card details are hidden to all - like in Uber). There could be a double check system when food arrives, where the guest taps their phone to the rooms service delivery persons phone, or tray/trolley to confirm the delivery, or hitting a button on the room's service delivery persons phone. The details are then automatically sent to the hotels cloud based Property Management System/interfacing cloud based accounting system, and guest is automatically billed correctly. There can be no error here.

The second problem we encountered is also easily solved with a stored credit card inside an app, once again like Uber, or simply being able to self check-in on an app. Although the hotel had taken my credit card details at the time of the booking (through their channel too - i.e their website), they insisted they physically swipe my credit card for a $200 security deposit, or if my wife had a credit card on her to use that (which she didn't have at the time), before they would check us in and give the key to my wife to access the room. Although the hotel had my credit card details stored from my booking (and I had paid for my room already), they would not trust giving my wife with the key to the room without a physical swipe of a credit card for the $200 security deposit. The hotel would not allow me to come down after the conference had finished at 5pm with my credit card physically in person to be swiped for the $200 security deposit, despite me being interrupted from my conference and pleading on the phone for this to happen.

So at the end of the day - we the guests have had to trust the hotels (especially with our credit card details) but they don't trust us! They're systems are often based on the honesty system (room service or mini-bar ordering) or on a system that is inefficient and can't store and re-use details (such as credit card details, and your personal information for example sometimes you have to fill out your personal details on a piece of paper at check-in, even after you enter all those details into a form online when you make the booking).

The lack of trust from the hotels, leads to conflicts, inefficiencies, time-wasting, and possible loss of money and respect. An Uber like loyalty app, with credit card details stored, and tied to all purchases during hotel stay, solves many problems. The hotel does not take responsibility of your credit card details (a third party financial institution holds it in the app) and there can be no errors or mistrust or problems.

If you are interested in learning more about Guest Loyalty Apps for your hotel please visit http://www.leapin.biz/

Monday, 10 October 2016

Does Google's new 'Google home' work with smart locks?

Last week (Oct 4th 2016) Google launched its new 'Home' product for the smart home. We've been researching since then to see if 'Home' has a smart lock in it/interfaces to a smart lock. We couldn't find a straight answer in any of the tech journals, or on the Google website, so we called up the 'Google Home Support Team' phone line to get some answers. After having to explain to the Google operator 'what a smart lock is', and then waiting 3 minutes on hold for him to find out the answer to my question, the answer was "no, Google Home does not work with smart locks...not for now, anyway".

The Google website pages for Google Home here says that the product works with Nest. Well this makes sense considering Google bought Nest back in early 2014 for $3.2 billion. When I clicked on the Nest logo - nothing happened - I sort of expected all the compatible Home and Nest devices would show up on a list. I was a little confused because August Smart lock has been working with Nest since January 2015. So silly me, assuming that just because Google says that 'Google Home works with Nest', and 'Nest works with August', then the August smart lock would work with Home. August also works with Apple's HomeKit, and with Amazon's Alexa and Echo smart speaker/home automation hub, so I was a little suprised not to see the August smart lock up there on the 'non-existent' "works with Home" list.

The Google Home thingamebob - just don't go to the Google Home page to learn more about Google home.

During the Home launch the Google people praised the Amazon Echo, and according to most reports, the Home is modeled on the Echo. As the Echo is both a hub and a speaker, many people on the Google Home's FAQ's page seemed as confused as I was, commonly asking 'does Home also work with the Samsung smart things hub considering the Samsung Hub works with Nest'. Many asked if they would have to buy the Samsung Smart things Hub to make the smart devices work considering Home was marketed as a smart speaker and not a hub. Also asked, 'is Home a modem as it works with Wi-Fi' and not Bluetooth?'.

So if you are not confused yet, then congratulations you are doing better than I am. What we do know from Google's support line is that Home only currently works with the following smart home devices;
1. Nest Smart Thermostats
2. Phillips Hue smart lights
3. Weave Thermostats (made by Nest)

You can see more information about the smart home devices working the Google Home....thing...here (its probably better to say its a thing, as I'm still not sure if is it a kit?or a a hub? or a speaker? or casting device, or all of the above. The Google website says that Home works with Google Chromecast, but does it work without Google Chromecast?).

Its seems I'm not the only one confused with smart home things products at the moment - for example see this article from June 2016 titled 'Apple launches HomeKit app - but where are the products?'

Perhaps 2016 needs to be renamed to the Year of the Internet of 'Confusing' things. Atleast we now know that Home does not work with smart locks - so no smart locks for the Google home...well not yet anyway.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Amazon wants their mailman to use digital keys to drop parcels into your home

Yes, its already that time of the year again! Well almost - you know we are getting closer to Christmas every year, when stories appear in the mainstream press about parcel deliveries, and their problems. This year Amazon is finally sticking its neck out, and proposing a solution. This is a solution here at digital keys we've been proposing every year for the last 3 years e.g see our Dec 2014 blog here. Of course alot of people these days purchase Christmas presents online, and people want their parcels delivered safely to their home.

You all know the problem - order something online, and the parcel is dropped off on your doorstep exposed to weather, insects/animals, or thieves. Of course a lot of the time you get a note in your letterbox saying that your parcel can be picked up from a warehouse/storage facility (usually during a small daily time window like 9am-3pm). This is of course a terrible solution, as the whole idea of "home delivery" is that the parcel is delivered to your "home", and many people work full-time away from home and cannot get to the storage centres when they are open.

According to a recent TechCrunch report, two smart home connected lock companies, August and Garagio are “working with retailers and Amazon on technology that would allow delivery people temporary access when they’re making deliveries.”

In the tests of August locks shoppers are given the option for in-home delivery during checkout. If a shopper gives the OK, a one-time access code is issued. The delivery service uses the code to open the front door or garage door, leave the package, and close the door. The code can’t be used again.

So this technology has been around for atleast 10 years now. Here at LEAPIN Digital Keys we first used this technology in our web check-in systems and mobile check-in systems with digital keys in resorts and hotels back in 2011. Now Amazon and others are actually seriously considering it. Wow - how progressive of you Amazon. 

Now most of the stories in the last week about Amazon testing this solution has used the angle about whether people "will trust the delivery man" with a 'digital key' to their home. Already there has been some significant backlash about this. And everytime we talked about smart lock digital keys as a means to solve the 'last mile delivery problem' to anyone whether they be potential investors, homeowners, people in the postal industry, there was always the same response, and that is "I won't trust a delivery man with access to my home". And commonly we got "that's a stupid idea". Usually the justification was, "I have pets, I have children, who would run out when the door opened". Or commonly we heard, "what if the delivery man doesn't just drop the parcel, but goes through my house, or makes arrangements with thieves to go into my house and steal all my stuff, or would he close the door afterwards or not - I just would not trust him".

Of course Amazon, the big retailers and the postal companies have been aware of the smart lock digital key solution for some time, and they have also been aware that most people won't trust the delivery man with access to their homes. So these companies have been experimenting with another digital key solution, and that is delivery to car boots/trunks. E.g see this story on Sep 2 2016 here about Daimler, Audi, and DHL testing a digital key solution, and Volvo claiming they were the first with the digital key solution earlier this year.

Commonly with new proposed solutions, it throws up a bunch of new problems - with the car digital key delivery solution, people asked, "what about food spoiling in the car, to what about drug deliveries, to what about bomb deliveries, and to what about the delivery guy stealing the car, or not closing the trunk properly, or people seeing the package delivered and breaking into the car to steal it".  As you can see from the chart below its doesn't have to be very hot for a car to get very hot. So if your car is out on the street, and if you are accepting deliveries, you need to make sure that whatever is in the the package can handle 100F for hours or days at a time.

Here at Digital Keys we tried to address some of the problems such as "trust of mailman with house digital keys" and "leaving door open" by putting digital keys into delivery boxes in yards, and also building prototypes of digital keys in window locks/openers.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what digital key solution that is proposed, and by whom, what matters to the consumer and homeowner is two things; 1; "trust", and 2; "cost". Trust with the person who has access with the digital key, and 'trust' of the security of the smart lock/digital key product itself (e.g see last weeks blog about hacking on smart locks).

So we are calling on Amazon if they are serious about solving some of the last mile problems with digital keys to "put their money where their mouth is". Or is this talk about trials with August, and Garagio just another publicity stunt to get Amazon headlines? So how about it Amazon - chip into some of your $399 Billion worth, and offer homeowners a subsidy to buy digital keys smart locks to put on their homes to address the problem of cost. If a smart lock cost can be reduced to around the same price of normal locks, that is around $30-$50, then homeowners may be willing to give them a go. This won't immediately solve the problem of trust, but it will solve the problem of costs. And if people can try out the digital keys smart locks for a period, they may build up trust, and then tell others that this solution can be trusted.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Smart locks - two steps forwards, one step back

In the last month the world of smart locks has seen some major steps forwards (some new smart locks have launched offering new features, reductions in pricing, and easy installations) but at the same time, smart locks have also taken some steps backwards with hacking and vulnerabilities (e.g DEFCON hackers found 12 out of 16 Bluetooth smart locks open to hacks).

Here are some of the highlights/low-lights of August/September 2016;
Amadas (a Korean manufacturer) launched a Kickstarter campaign and within a week hit its goal of $70,000. Two really neat features of the Amadas smart lock included the solar emergency recharge system, and the its simple installation/near comprehensive door installation compatibility. According to Amadas 'while the lock is designed to operate for an entire year with two AA batteries, the Amadas emergency charging solar panel can recharge the lock for one time use within 20 seconds. Consumers can use their smartphone’s flashlight to quickly charge the lock, ensuring they’re never locked out of their home'. Being able to install the lock in under 2 minutes with only a screwdriver is pretty exciting too.

A week after hitting their Kickstarter goal, the Amadas Kickstarter campaign quickly turned from highlight to low-light, cancelling their campaign. According to the Amadas CEO quoted on a Techcrunch interview "the campaign wasn’t as clear as we hoped. The challenge is that the backers and the company had some misunderstandings about the features of the product". The problem, the team points out, is that its solution is Bluetooth only, but a lot of the competitors in the market offer remote unlock solutions over Wi-Fi. The challenge was that many of the backers assumed that Amadas’ solution would also support remote unlocking from anywhere in the world.

The PIN Genie Smart Lock

 Another smart lock off to a good start on Kickstarter in the last week is called PIN Genie. Whilst they have not yet reached their $50,000 goal, their $146 Early Bird Genie Pro has proven popular with the reward sold out(no longer available). This is 30% off their retail price of $209. PIN Genie also have a light version of the lock available as a reward for only $111, but this works with PIN only and not smartphone unlocking. Either way, these prices are very affordable and some of the lowest we've seen on Kickstarter campaigns. On their Kickstarter campaign pages PIN Genie boasts of a feature they call "Peep-Proof" which is a scrambling numberpad (the positions of the numbers on the pad constantly change after a PIN has been entered, so robbers can't watch you enter your PIN nearby and copy it to let themselves in). Although this is a neat feature, its not exactly 'world first' as PIN Genie claim on their Kickstarter campaign pages. Many Chinese lock manufacturers and Samsung with their Ezon Touch, have been offering this scrambling feature for a number of years now.

Moving onto the DEFCON hacking conference and the news of 12 out of 16 Bluetooth Low Energy energy smart locks were vulnerable to hacking, which got some pretty good press coverage, one has to ask the question about the security and the use of BLE in smart locks. Though a few of the manufacturers with hacked locks claim they encrypt a user’s password when it’s transmitted via Bluetooth, two of the hackers still reported having the ability to swipe the password out of thin air before sending it back to the lock itself. By doing this, the smart lock would then unlock itself without the original owner knowing or either of the researchers needing to decrypt and encrypted password.

Although the DEFCON hacks sounded very serious, this next smart lock vulnerability that made news recently reads like a script in a Mel Brooks movie. The article in Forbes on September 17th, titled  "Neighbor unlocks front door without permission with the help of Apple's Siri" is quite hilarious, and so as not to lose any of the comedic value of the story, here it is cut straight from the Forbes article;
According to a Reddit post by user “sportingkcmo,” he had his house equipped with an August Smart Lock, a Bluetooth-enabled door lock that users operate using their phone, as well as Apple's AAPL +0.02% HomeKit, which enables users to interact with smart home gadgets using Siri. According to his post, the user had set up his iPad Pro in the living room to connect to the lock through HomeKit.
Unfortunately, the setup opened up a huge security hole that serves as lesson of how smart home technology can backfire: His neighbor, who was coming by to borrow some flour, was able to let himself in by shouting, “Hey Siri, unlock the front door.”
The iPad was apparently able to hear the neighbor’s command through the front door and then sent the unlock command to the August Smart Lock. (The August Smart Lock also supports Amazon’s voice assistant service, Alexa, but users can’t unlock the door with Alexa. Users can only lock and check the status of the lock with Alexa.)

Adding any commentary on the above story will only distract from its ironic poignancy! So in summary, although its still early days yet with smart locks, start-ups, lock manufacturers, and tech companies are trying to solve shortcomings with other features, which often lead to more shortcomings. For example with a long battery life solution, we wouldn't need Amadas' solar emergency recharge feature. With a more reliable/cheaper/more secure long range technology we wouldn't need BLE and Wi-Fi. With cheaper and smaller hardware/modules, prices will come down, and installations will be easier. As the Internet of Things (IoT) world grows, with new technologies and standards watch out for some new "real" solutions to the smart lock problems within the next year that will solve all the problems once and for all.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Are keycards safe?

Recently I saw a news story from Sydney, Australia titled, "Swipe Card Scam", which I think perfectly summarises the complexities and ironies in the access control/smart home/security/digital keys/smart lock space.

Putting aside the sensationalist journalism news source here, called 'A Current Affair', and everything that is wrong with these types of shows, "Swipe Card Scam", raised the following issues;
  •  Are families at risk here for swipe card copying?
  • Who is responsible for key management in rental properties?
  • What is the problem here? Is it really a problem? Can it be solved?
  • Is this immoral/is it legal/is it really a scam?
  • What is the solution, and who pays for a better solution if there is one?
  • Has keycard technology broken down/is it secure?
  • Will anything change?
  • Who cares?
In this blog we'll attempt to answer the above questions, perhaps even to do a bit of a "myth busting exercise" to learn more about the security industry. But first, the story summarized so elegantly by a Current Affair on their website is below:

After being tipped off to a money-making racket putting families at risk, A Current Affair reporter Steve Marshall was hot on the trail.
What followed was an insane bolt to expose the man who has been copying card keys in a shopping centre food court.

You get the idea, camera chasing man all over streets, reporter chasing and hassling man to try and make him sound dodgy, throw in lots of negative editing and puns, blah, blah, blah. So firstly the question is about security - are families at risk here?

In the story there was 'undercover' footage of the young man (the 'swipe card scam man') copying keycards and keyfobs with a laptop and a scanner device and taking $70 cash from people for the product/service. The reporter went through with the so called 'scam' himself and showed how he can easily enter an apartment building with the copied key fob.

The people paying the $70 cash to the 'swipe card scam man' in the video were mostly young people, and mostly Asian students. In Sydney its common for students/backpackers/tourists/internationals/travelers/call them what you want, to live in overcrowded accommodation. Its common in the Sydney city centre to find between 5-15 people living together in tiny 2 or 3 bedroom apartments. Living costs, property prices and rent costs in Sydney are some of the highest in the world, and the 'traveler' simply cannot afford to get a place all to themselves, let alone legally sign leases.

We don't want to get too bogged down with background story here, but I've lived in Sydney myself in this type of accommodation so I know first hand about the situation, and I think its important to understand the reality of what's going on here in an attempt to answer the first question about 'security/risk'.

Often landlords aren't aware that they have up to 12 or more people in a two bedroom apartment, or they are aware, and they simply turn a blind eye to it, so they can get more money. The blind eye is turned as its usually illegal to have so many people crammed into the small apartments (e.g fire risks etc).

Sometimes bunk beds are brought in by the tenants who originally signed the lease (lets say 2 people's names are on the lease) and they sub-let to others (illegally). If those 2 people on the lease can squeeze in lets say 3 lots of bunk beds in each of the 2 bedrooms and they sleep in the living room (and its common that artificial walls are built) or move out, and charge say $150 per bed per week x 3 bunk beds in each room =6 people per room x 2 bedrooms = $1800 a week cash in hand to the 2 people on the original lease, then its a nice little money spinner.

Now this leads us back to the so-called 'keycard copying scam'. When the 2 original people signed the lease, they probably received 2 keycard/keyfobs for the common entrance door/street door to the apartment building, and probably a metal key for the apartment door. Copying the metal key to the apartment building is cheap and easy ($2), and the 2 original people on the lease probably give a copy of the metal key to the new 'flatmates' when they say pay a deposit and 2 weeks rent in advance. But then there is the problem of the common door keycard. How do the '12 flatmates' and the 2 original people on the lease (if they still live there) coordinate the common door entry into the apartment building with only 2 keycards? 

The common 'industry' accepted solution is this; place the keycard in the letterbox out the front of the apartment building everytime you come and go, and place the keycard in say a bowl on a table by the front door when you enter the apartment. Usually another small metal key is provided to all 'flatmates' to unlock the letterbox. Now can you imagine 12 young people in a big bright new city like Sydney coming and going at all times, night and day, trying to coordinate entry with 2 keycards and a letterbox? What a nightmare right? Lockouts, phone calls, text messages, waiting around, arguments, planning, coordinating coming and going etc would be a nightmare with all the 'flatmates'.

So as we all know, desperate people do desperate things - so the young 'flatmates' simple cough up $70 to some young tech guy in the shopping centre food court nearby, (our Current Affair swipe card scam man) with a scanner device to copy the keycard and all the flatmates problems are solved. They then have the 24 hour unlimited, uncomplicated access all to themselves. $70 is a small price to pay right for this uncomplicated access right?

Now most of the time, these 'flatmates' aren't interested in getting involved in the seedy underworld, and giving or selling copies of their new keycards to criminals, thieves, rapists, or homeless people so they can come and go as they please and attack and steal from people in the building, or sleep in the hallways of the apartment building.  I don't think the 'swipe card scam man' would be that interested either in bothering to deal with criminals. He looked to have a pretty good business going here!

So getting back to the allegation by a Current Affair - "putting families at risk". Are families at risk here?

Following the argument and reality explained above, you would have to say that the level of risk to families, is not that much 'greatly enhanced' than what it was before 'swipe card scam man' came along.

Further most of these apartment buildings don't have families living in them anyway - its too expensive remember, and its overrun with loud Asian students too remember!

Finally if the apartment buildings have metal keys for the apartment doors, and the common doors have keycards, (and if most of the apartments are rental properties), then there are most likely copies of their metal keys floating out there anyway. So therefore significant "risk" already exists. Criminals and homeless people can simply watch a two minute YouTube video of how to bump, crap, snap, jemmy, or break open a metal key lock in seconds if they wanted too if they didn't have a copy of a metal key. And if these criminals desperately want to get into the common door swipecard entrance of the building, they could wait by the entrance and follow someone in, or go see our "swipe card scam man" and ask him for copies of the keycards to his customers and then follow the 'flatmate' back to their apartment, building, or even extract the address from data on the keycard.

So it's taken to the end of this blog post to bust the myth posed by A Current Affair, and that is, 'families are no more at risk now then what they were before by the "swipe card scam man"'.

Finally the question has to be asked, "why doesn't the lease signed tenants who are taking all the cash from the flatmates for rent provide a copy of the keycard to their 'flatmates' when they pay the cash to stay there and when they get their copy of the metal key?

Are the lease signer tenants either; ignorant, lazy, too tight to pay the $70, don't care, or are they concerned about an audit of the keycard locks, and having their own scam uncovered? We will attempt to answer these questions and the others on the list above in next weeks blog post.

Monday, 11 July 2016

After 8 years, the hotel giants finally awaken to adopt smartphone apps, mobile check-in and digital keys

It was way back on June 29th, 2007 that the first generation iPhone was released. Around a year later, July 9th 2008, the App store was born. And it was about this time that a new expression emerged, "there is an app for that". 

Within the next couple of years, hundreds of thousands of apps appeared in the online stores for just about anything you could possibly imagine. Of course the online app stores also spawned many new successful companies such as Uber and Airbnb, and there were millions of game apps that followed, plus banking apps, government services apps, and just about everything in between was changed by the app revolution. Over the next 8 years smartphones (and apps) had an adoption rate faster than the internet, the radio, and TV at around 60%.

Smartphones and apps adoption in 8 years is fast

But if you follow mainstream media, or if you follow news in the hospitality space, then you could be mistaken for thinking its 2008 again by the number of stories circulating now about hotels offering smartphone apps. For example see this story here in USA TODAY about large chain hotels offering loyalty apps from July 11th 2016 titled 'More Hotels Offers Discounts for Booking Directly'. 

When we first started our company, LEAPIN Digital Keys back in 2011 with our 'mobile check-in app with digital keys' product offering for hotels, a lot of hoteliers told us, "no we are not interested in smartphone apps - hotels are all about service, good old fashioned service, that's what people want - not digital". 

We tried to convince hoteliers, that smart phone apps will actually make the hotel's service even better, but we found a lot of resistance. Fast forward 5 years later, and a quick look at the financial charts of Online Travel Agencies such as Expedia (who adopted apps about 5 years ago) and whose share price/valuation has grown over 5 times from around 26 cents in 2011 to 112 cents in mid 2016) compared to the big chain hotels such as Hilton Hotels (which didn't adopt smartphone apps until recently) and whose share price over 5 years has remained pretty much the same at around 22 cents, it tells a pretty compelling story about the value of apps. 

And we could use thousands of other examples of how adopting digital and smartphone apps actually improves service and valuations of companies, but we don't want to get too sidetracked here other than to point to the example of the new Pokemon Go app adding $10 billion to Nintendo's market valuation in only two days!

Returning back to hotels and apps, lets have a quick look at the Tripadvisor story. 5 years ago, Tripadvisor didn't even exist. Expedia spun out Tripadvisor in late 2011, and it quickly grew to a valuation of $10 billion with over 290 million app downloads. In short, people wanted to be able to leave online comments/reviews about hotels, and there was no platform for this provided by the hotels, so in stepped Tripadvisor and 5 years later its worth over $10 billion.

But alas, at last, the hotel giants are finally waking up and realizing that their service/product can indeed be improved by adopting apps and offering digital services. The hotels are also learning that not only can they improve their service/product but they can also increase their profits too. The opening line in the USA today story summarizes it perfectly, "Hotel companies are aggressively battling for online bookings by offering their most loyal customers discounted rates for reserving directly with them". If a quest books at the hotel and not the OTA, then the hotel can save 10-30% in OTA commissions. And hotels are using "Guest loyalty apps" as the tool for getting back their online bookings. Other perks the hotels can offer guests for downloading their 'loyalty app' include earned points (frequent flyer like), free Wi-Fi and the ability to check-in, choose your room from a digital floor plan and use a digital key to unlock your door.

So now with a 'hotel loyalty app' the guest has a really simple choice to make when it comes to staying in hotels;
1. Do I choose to book a hotel at an OTA or
2. Do I choose to book a hotel at the hotels guest loyalty app, where I can save 10% on the booking, choose my room/view, earn frequent flyer points, get free Wi-Fi, self check-in, not have to line up to check-in, go straight to my room, open my door with my digital key and not have to worry about going down to the reception desk during my stay to get my keycard remagnetised after it stop working because its held against my smartphone.

If you are a hotel and you would like to learn more about our "Guest loyalty app with mobile check-in and digital keys + more" and how it can help improve your hotels service, and your profits, then please get in touch with us at admin@leapin.com.au

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