Ensuring the best possible guest experience is the priority of hotels across the globe. With customer expectations on the rise and travelers being more connected than ever, technologies are instrumental in enabling the superior experiences consumers want to enjoy.
For hotels, offering the latest technologies and valuable digital services faster than their competitors, today is a way to gain a competitive edge, says Shovan Sengupta.
Shovan is the Global Vice President for Schneider Electric, in charge of the hotel segment. He is a subject matter expert on the evolutions in the hotel industry and how leading players embrace technologies to achieve myriad goals. On top of enhancing the guest experience, these include meeting hotel sustainability demands, increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and gaining the loyalty of travelers in a competitive industry with several challenges.
Schneider Electric has become a major technology partner for several of the world’s leading hotel chains – and other hotels – in an amazingly short period. The company’s network of certified partners, specialized in hotel solutions, has been instrumental in making this success possible.
Moreover, Schneider Electric succeeded in delivering precisely what the hotel sector needed faster than its competitors on the level of technologies, integrations, and its overall value proposition.
It’s becoming mandatory for the hotel industry to integrate third-party ecosystem players
In this interview, Shovan, among others, explains how the company realized this, what forces shape the hotel industry, the priorities of hotels, and how technologies help the hotel industry achieve the mentioned goals. No doubt, you’ve already used some of the more recent technologies. Perhaps you checked in and out with your mobile phone. Maybe you used one of those digital door locks. And you might have experienced the comfort of a connected room.
Shovan also tells us about the EcoXpert hotel specialization and how it is vital in realizing superior hotels and offering these latest innovative services. EcoXpert is the channel partner program of Schneider Electric. Integrators who have an EcoXpert badge certification in any of the 11 areas of competency can pursue the hotel specialization program.
Servicing hotels for the entire life cycle of the building with an additional focus on sustainability
Shovan, thank you for your time. People might not immediately associate Schneider Electric with hotels, but your client list is impressive, and the major hotel chains see you as a critical partner. Moreover, all of this happened in a short period. Why is that? What do readers need to know?
Shovan Sengupta: We indeed managed to become a leading player in the hotel industry in only a few years for several reasons. We developed a value proposition that resonated in the sector, and the way we built out our portfolio of solutions enabled us to make a huge difference. There are three things that readers, including EcoXperts, might want to know about Schneider Electric’s hotel solutions.
First, it’s important to understand that we service a hotel for the entire life cycle of the building. So, we aren’t a fly-by-night operator who comes in to design a project with the building management system (BMS), power solution, or guest room management, for instance, and then vanishes into thin air.
Our official involvement with the global sustainability program of Hilton and Marriott shows that our story has been accepted by the leading hotel chains, even if we’re a late entrant in the market
We are involved in the design, build, commissioning, and operation phases of our customers’ hotels. Moreover, we’re a key partner in the sustainability program of leading hotel chains. In other words: it’s a complete story around the entire hotel life cycle that not many other companies can offer.
Secondly, we’ve been very successful in showing the value of this proposition and, indeed, selling it in a short period to the major hotel chains in the world, specifically Hilton, Marriott, InterContinental, Accor, and Hyatt. We haven’t just sold them our building management system, guest room management system, power distribution, and management solutions, power metering equipment, UPSs, or in other words, around 10 percent of their mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering (MEP) scope. We also help them maintain and operate their property efficiently, for instance, in the form of training their staff on our BMS solution and retrofitting older properties with new technology with an energy ROI.
Our official involvement with the global sustainability program of Hilton and Marriott shows that our story has been accepted by the leading hotel chains, even if we’re a late entrant in the market.
Integrate or die – connecting hotel and guest (eco)systems at the edge and in the cloud
Shovan Sengupta: The third and most important thing is the development of technology, which enabled us to be where we are today. Again, I want to emphasize how fast we went from being just a power solution provider in hotels to where we are today.
The large hotel chains and many others realize that we’re a much bigger solution provider. They see us as a company that provides the end-to-end automation system, the connected solutions in power, and has been very fast in picking up the technology in terms of the third-party integrations and more hotel-friendly graphics in our BMS system.
The fastest technology development has been at the edge layer. We have been able to really integrate these third-party integrations into both our building management system/power metering equipment solutions and guestroom management solutions such as OnQ, Opera, Infor, Assa Abloy, and others. Our competitors have been more limited in achieving this while we were able to realize integrations with door lock companies, housekeeping software, blinder controls, property management software, voice control systems; you name it.
So, with EcoStruxure, your IoT-enabled architecture that consists of several layers, including an edge layer, you managed to integrate and connect everything hotels wanted faster with an open ecosystem approach?
Shovan Sengupta: Indeed. In fact, the way we work with an ecosystem of technology partners goes hand-in-hand with what we do with EcoStruxure at the edge level since it’s all about integration. It’s becoming mandatory for the hotel industry to integrate third-party ecosystem players.
And it’s not just about integrations at the edge level. If you look at the cloud layer of our EcoStruxure platform, which is the layer of services, applications, and analytics, you’ll see different Advisor solutions for hotel applications. Examples include EcoStruxure Resource Advisor for sustainability and EcoStruxure Building Advisor for operational efficiency. We integrate with others here as well. For voice control, for example, we now work with a specialized company, Volara, that offers applications on the cloud level.
The hotel guest in the driving seat: guest experience shifts drive technological evolutions
Shovan Sengupta: It’s important to know that the demand for these next-generation applications comes from the hotel sector itself, since its customers want seamless connected experiences. Part of our success has been the fact that we were so fast in enabling these integrations in an environment where hotel guest expectations drive the evolutions.
Today they can do pretty much everything through their phones: book a hotel, check TripAdvisor, download the apps of their favorite hotels, etc. They can even check in with these apps and open their rooms with their phones using digital locks. Our integrated approach to help hotels meet these demands and feed the need for digitalization enabled us to leave the competition behind. And the fact that it happened so fast – which for a company of our size isn’t obvious to do – was essential.
That’s a great example of how customer demand drives technological priorities. As consumers, we indeed want these connected experiences instead of having to use various systems, so integration is what we want. And for hotels, it’s no doubt important that their brand is the interface that makes it all possible?
Shovan Sengupta: Absolutely. As a traveler, you don’t want the hassle. When you land in Boston at 11:00 PM, you don’t want to go into a hotel after midnight and waste a lot of time trying to get a keycard.
You want to take out your phone, check-in, go straight to the room, open the door lock with your phone, go to bed, and sleep. That’s guest experience.
And the top brands indeed want to be the enablers of such experiences. The big hotel brands compete to show their customers they are the fastest adopter of technology and offer them that superior guest experience in several ways.
So, technological innovation to gain a competitive edge. Now, there is more than the guest experience with priorities in areas such as sustainability, managing costs, and increasing margins, new types of competitors, regulations, and so on. However, the guest experience is still the number one priority?
Shovan Sengupta: Most certainly. Guest experience is the biggest thing. Hotels live and die by guests, and everything else is secondary. However, as I see the world evolving, sustainability is becoming the second most important thing.
Pretty much every big hotel chain has an official sustainability program today. In terms of costs, the two main ones are labor and energy costs. The latter again is linked to the sustainability program since hotels have KPIs based on the reduction of water, electricity, gas, and carbon emissions. However, there will never be a compromise on the guest experience.
An ecosystem of specialized hotel system integrators: the EcoXpert hotel specialization
Let’s talk about the EcoXpert hotel specialization program since partners are key to your success too. Can you share some key facts and evolutions?
Shovan Sengupta: The EcoXpert hotel specialization is running for almost three years now. We appointed someone dedicated, Madhu Menon, to support further growth, add more value, and work together with our partners across the globe. After all, they are also the representatives of Schneider Electric in front of our customers.
A major part of the guest room work is done by EcoXperts, through the guest room management system we provide, integrated with our building management system and third-party edge level integrations
The program is global, but some regions are more mature than others, partially because some countries have been major contributors to the hotel business. Yet we keep growing our footprint, having surpassed 80 partners in 2019, and continue to expand in several countries. In 2020 we also start in the US.
Even though the hotel specialization is open to any EcoXpert holding any of the 11 badges, so far, our hotel-specialized EcoXperts either have a BMS badge or a Light & Room Control badge. We will also include IT System Integrators who are getting into the field of building management systems and guestroom management systems since, with the Internet of Things and the convergence of IT and OT, the gap between Extra Low Voltage and IT players is being bridged. This will be very useful for our customers. We’ll also train some EcoXperts on power monitoring and power solutions. Panel builders already do this, but we want to offer hotel-related, application-based trainings.
Your website shows four – obviously connected and integrated – groups of solutions. There’s hotel building management, guest room management, power management, and common area management. What do partners get trained on from a product and solution configuration perspective?
Shovan Sengupta: Indeed. About 75 to 80 percent of the projects we do, whether it concerns new hotels or refurbishments, is done with EcoXpert partners. So, these are indeed the areas they get trained on.
Now, it’s important to know that the hotel segment is one of the few where the products and solutions are very tailored to the requirements of the segment.
The SE8000 room controller series, for instance, is very hotel-focused, even if we sell it in some other segments such as retail, hospitals, and office buildings. A significant amount of this product is sold in hotels. Next, there are what we call the EcoStruxure Building Operation (EBO) interfaces. These are the BMS interfaces that need to respond to third-party requirements and for example, property management systems and others I mentioned earlier. So, that’s the product part of the training.
Hotel solution architecture requirements – a tale of standards
Shovan Sengupta: When EcoXperts work on a project, they need to know the product, the solution, and how to commission it to the precise requirements of the hotel. There is very little room for error when you realize projects for prestigious hotel brands like Hilton, Marriott, Accor, etc.
And this is where the solution architecture part that EcoXperts must learn comes in: the interface with the design brand standards of the hotel. Let me give you an example. When a hotel brand builds a new hotel, there are specifications for several aspects of the buildings, such as the air conditioning set-ups. And each hotel brand has specific standards.
When Marriott builds a new Courtyard, the standards will, for instance, stipulate that when a guest opens a room, it will go into an occupied mode, which means that the lights will be turned on and the temperature will move to the last set temperature or a pre-defined temperature, depending on the used technology and program set-up.
To achieve this, you need to make a technology design. That design is the standard that EcoXperts need to understand. They must know where exactly to position the sensor, what kind of programming needs to be commissioned with the room controller and the thermostat, and the interface between both. So, this is essential.
Before a hotel opens, the operator, such as Hilton, Marriott, or Accor, approve a mock-up guest room, together with the consultants. The expectation with Schneider Electric is that everything will work perfectly in the mock-up, and it will be approved in one go. And this concerns everything that the EcoXpert partner has to execute and where the sync comes in between their hoteland understanding the needs of the hotel .
Some EcoXperts have also used our Power Monitoring Expert and EcoStruxure Building Operation platforms to run energy efficiency projects within an operating hotel, thus really bringing great value to the hotel operations team.
That is quite a bit. Does the fact that hotel-specialized EcoXperts work on often prestigious hotel projects and that quality is part of the DNA of hotels mean that you need to be selective regarding partners?
Shovan Sengupta: It does. We work together with the Schneider organization in the different countries and identify the top EcoXperts for the hotel specialization. They then get trained, and before becoming certified, they need to complete a project for a hotel.
We’re indeed selective about our EcoXperts since the deployment of the solution is such an important factor. We can win projects, but we also need to make sure that a project is installed and handed over correctly. Since 75 to 80 percent of the jobs get done by EcoXperts, you need this level of quality, and hotels insist that system integrators know their standards and that the execution is flawless.
We also have given our hotel-specialized EcoXperts quite some exposure to hotel chains, which has also attracted many of them. We have given them quite some credibility and, of course, business. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship whereby we also support them in case of potential problems. As said, they’re not just the implementation arms of our EcoStruxure platform but also represent us.
Exchange: connecting hotel expert system integrators across the globe
So, for them, that’s quite a major marketing advantage as well given the fact it’s probably a relatively small world, depending on the country. You work with large hotel chains but of course also with others, and word of mouth still matters. We understand that you also want to build a more global community of EcoXperts with a hotel specialization and that the Exchange community which Schneider Electric launched in 2019 is instrumental here. What can you tell us?
Shovan Sengupta: Getting our global community of EcoXperts specialized in hotels indeed ranks high on the agenda for 2020, and our Exchange program plays an essential role in making it happen. We want to make sure that all are on Exchange, among others, to share their best practices.
We already work on several things with Exchange, however. We identify EcoXperts in countries where there are hotel projects. You can imagine that we can’t go after all the hotel opportunities ourselves.
How Schneider Electric and EcoXperts help hotels enhance guest experience and become more efficient
Clear. The guest experience is key for hotels, but there are other priorities too. We mentioned sustainability demands, which, however, is somewhat of a broader matter, increasing efficiency, reducing costs with, among others, maintenance. How would you say Schneider Electric and its EcoXpert partners help hotels realize the guest experience better and, secondly, help hotels with some of these other goals?
Shovan Sengupta: Guest experience starts when people enter the hotel, and continues when the guest spends time in their rooms and the hotel overall; in the lobby, restaurant, executive lounge, etc. EcoXperts are essential in both cases. The first thing guests experience is the common area, where you, for instance, have the common area lighting, the BMS that controls the hotel’s airconditioning, etc.
Yet, although the first impression takes place in the common area, the guest room is the priority. A major part of the guest room work is done by EcoXperts, through the guest room management system we provide, integrated with our building management system and third-party edge level integrations.
We also have several EcoXperts who are specialized in doing energy management with existing hotels, including guaranteed energy savings for the hotel operator. So, this is another area where EcoXperts can be of crucial importance, and we have some great recent cases with, among others, a partner in Sri Lanka and one in Australia.
To resume: it’s a full story, and we work around the full lifecycle of the hotel building. Hotels want to optimize, innovate, and, at the same time, cut costs. Moreover, since the chains don’t own the buildings improving financial performance is always imperative. And EcoXperts are our go-to-market gateways to the hotels and essential in helping hotels achieve all these goals.
Shovan, thank you for your time and insights!
Disclosure: this is a sponsored post in the scope of the commercial collaboration between i-SCOOP and Schneider Electric, containing links to solutions and the partner program of Schneider Electric.