Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Internet of Things example - Property Management

Over two years ago (April 2012), our company posted the above video to YouTube which attempts to show a more efficient or 'completely automated' Property Management System we built for hotels, motels and resorts. This more efficient Property Management System also enables smartphone room check-in and web check-in for accommodation just like the airlines have been utilizing for the last few years. Perhaps you could call this system we built two and half years ago an 'Internet of Things product'.

A lot has happened in the 'Internet of Things' industry, since we built and trialed our first prototype two and half years ago in a small motel of thirty-two rooms in Sydney, Australia.

We had no idea two and half years ago what the 'Internet of Things' was. The 'Internet of Things' as a concept, according to this report, had only just been born when we built our first prototype.

Nowadays its hard to pick up a newspaper, or scroll for a few seconds through your twitter feed without getting Internet of Things stories. The Internet of Things is not only bringing software, hardware and the internet together to improve our lives, but its also bringing big companies together too.

Who would've thought two and half years ago when we trialed our first 'Internet of Things' product that two old enemies Apple and IBM would come together to build Internet of Things products? e.g see here

And you wouldn't have picked two and half years ago that Samsung, Intel and Dell would come together in another deal/consortium? - see here

And there are plenty of other examples of so called 'Internet of Things consortium's' too with big companies.

And who would've thought two and half years ago that you could go into Lowes and Home Depot stores and buy up to 60 'Internet of Things' products like you can now? e.g see here 

So the 'darlings' of the Internet of Things right now, and the product often used as the 'go to example' of the Internet of Things is the Nest Thermostat - if you haven't heard of Nest you can read more about it here.

Our Internet of Things product brings a number of systems, software and hardware (smartlocks) together to allow any accommodation property to essentially manage itself without any human interaction. Guests can book rooms in the same way they do now on Expedia, and receive their time-sensitive digital key emailed/texted to them and go straight to their room. At check-out the digital key no longer works. All the other management systems update in real-time. Housekeepers receive automatic text notifications when the rooms have been vacated so they can go in and clean. Room allocation is done by the guests, or by our software randomly. Guests can log onto their account and do room extensions themselves. There is no check-in desk required.

We're looking at bringing other systems and products into our Internet of Things Property Management System to further improve property management - for example if a light has been left on after a guest has left(or after a housekeeper has left), then a manager could receive a text notification, and turn the light off from their smartphone, or the system knows that the rooms are empty with motion detectors, and the lights will turn themselves off automatically. In the resort we live in, the balcony light was left on for over a week as the room was empty, and the Property Managers did not know it was left on.

Or take the fire alarm in a motel/resort/hotel -this is often the most painful part of hotel management. The scenario commonly goes like this;
'guests come home after a day of sightseeing, they cook themselves a quick meal, or put on some toast, some smoke comes off the food and it sets the alarms off waking everyone on the floor up, and the hotel manager must scramble to the room or floor to see that its the guests cooking that has triggered the alarm, and now they must turn the alarm off'.

Sometimes the alarms are connected to the fire department, and the firetrucks are automatically dispatched to the hotel for a guest that has burnt their toast. This not only causes great inconvenience to the hotel, the guest and the fire department but it also causes great costs too. Some hotels and resorts now charge a few hundred dollar 'fire call out fee' if you set off the smoke alarm. It also diverts the fire departments resources away from real fires, where they are needed most.

What if when a fire alarm was triggered, a video camera could be turned on, and an offsite manager could receive a text notification to his phone say that an alarm has been triggered, and then he could view the room from his phone to see if toast was burning, or if there was a real danger. If there was no danger, the Property Manager could turn the fire alarm off by hitting a button on his app.

To support the offsite manager viewing the room on his smartphone, the guest could send a text to the offsite manager in a hotel smartphone app, by clicking one button that has a number of choices such as;
1. Notify manager that you have burnt toast(or any food), and request alarm be switched off, and there is no danger
2. Notify manager that cigarette smoke has entered the room(e.g from open balcony door) and request alarm be switched off, and there is no danger
3. Notify manager that a fire has developed and that you are evacuating and fire department needs to be called immediately.
4. Notify manager that fire alarm has gone off without any smoke (perhaps malfunction/dead battery) and that you need to smoke alarm detector repaired/looked at.

Sure some will say that having a video camera triggered in the room when a fire alarm goes off is an invasion of privacy. Others will say that you can't gauge the fire threat from a camera. Others will say that state regulations means that you can't do any of the above. I guess that's what the Internet of Things consortium's should be used for - building, testing, trialing, analyzing data, improving, advocating, promoting, selling, educating, repeat.

But finally you might be asking the question, 'how are all these features you are building for Property Management going to improve my life and hotel experience?' Well the answer is simple - our Internet of Things property management product is going to save you, the guest, money, its going to save you time, and it will make your life more convenient when traveling. Isn't that a good thing then?

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