Four Must-Have Criteria when Selecting your IoT Vendor
Choosing the right vendor to manage mission-critical hospitality IoT is the key to seamless smart lock integration.
For hospitality professionals looking to scale their business, leveraging smart locks and devices to automate on-site processes and digitize the guest journey will quickly become a “must-have”.
And while an investment in smart technology offers great promise for efficiency and financial return, the risks must be carefully considered and controlled. When you’re relying on a device – and not a person – to provide access to your guests, those systems become mission-critical. That’s why selecting the right vendor to manage these devices is such an important decision.
An Introduction to IoT in hospitality
First, let’s hone in on exactly what we’re talking about. You may be familiar with the acronym “IoT”, which stands for Internet-of-Things. It’s a fancy name to describe any connected device that performs a function and exchanges data over the internet. The implementation of IoT has become ubiquitous across all industries and has revolutionized the way companies do business around the world, and hospitality is no exception.
The most common type of smart devices employed in the hospitality industry are smart locks: everything from smart deadbolts on the front door of a vacation home to sophisticated access control systems that run large hotels — including guest rooms, common spaces, elevators, parking gates, and much more. Other popular types of smart devices in hospitality settings include smart thermostats and other energy-controlling equipment, noise-monitoring systems, sensors to detect water leaks, surveillance systems, and much more.
These devices communicate through a variety of mediums, such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, RFID, NFC, and the list goes on. Some connect directly to the internet via WiFi or Ethernet, while others pair to a separate bridge or hub that manages the connectivity.
While the reliability of smart devices has made leaps and bounds in the past few years, they require a strong foundation to ensure reliable performance, such as optimal placement and consistent connectivity to the internet.
The key to success is partnering with an experienced vendor who can mitigate as many disruptions as possible by guiding you in device selection and best-practice installation. And when problems do arise, it’s critical your technology partner is ready and willing to support you through the troubleshooting process, which often requires the type of expertise that only comes from experience. When issues happen, an experienced vendor will facilitate a speedy resolution that gets everything back on track before your guest is impacted.
The secret to a successful implementation of smart devices lies in picking the right dance partner. Let’s dive into four must-have criteria when selecting your IoT vendor.
1. Experience and expertise
The last thing you want is to be the guinea pig for an inexperienced vendor to test a new product on!
Managing smart devices is hard. There’s a lot of interconnected systems — your PMS, the automation software, on-site conditions, and the devices themselves. When something goes wrong, finding out why can often be a far greater challenge than actually fixing it. That’s why expertise and a proven track record of success is critical in identifying the right partner for your needs.
The last thing you want to is to be the guinea pig for an inexperienced vendor to test a new product on!
On top of troubleshooting, an experienced partner can also guide you in selecting the correct devices for each project, and should be able to provide you with several recommendations based on the specific use case. Don’t overlook the value of a reliable installer, either. A strong partner – if they don’t provide installation services themselves – should be able to introduce you to qualified technicians that will ensure your equipment is installed correctly, which can save you a ton of headaches (and money!) down the line. Many devices can be installed by your own team, particularly if you have a good maintenance team, and a strong partner will be available to support that installation remotely with best-practices and troubleshooting tips for common problems that arise.
2. Say no to middleware
To ensure a quick solution, cut out the middle-man!
Remember the “telephone” game we all used to play as kids? You whisper a phrase into someone’s ear, they whisper it into the next ear, and the next, and then the last person says it out loud and everyone laughs at how different and silly the final answer is? In a nutshell, that’s what you get with middleware.
If your device automation partner is leveraging middleware, it means they don’t have a direct integration with the devices themselves. Instead, they are integrated to a middleware service, and that company is the one that’s actually speaking with the devices. This can be very advantageous to the automation partner: instead of integrating with 10 devices separately, they integrate with one partner that gives them access to all 10 devices.
But what they gain in speed and simplicity – for them – they sacrifice in functionality, security, and losing the powerful insights that are only available through a direct integration. Response times will be slower and providing support becomes much harder.
If something needs troubleshooting, they can’t “see” the devices themselves. All they see is a blinking red light from the middleware service telling them it’s offline. All the answers are there, but you can’t see them — like the black box of an airplane that crashed into the ocean.
And what happens if the middleware itself goes down? Any problems they experience — such as a server outage, or a faulty code deployment — will leave your vendor twiddling their thumbs while the middleware company scrambles to fix their problem. This can go on for hours, days, or even weeks… and that’s a long time to wait when your guests are being impacted.
Functionality will always be limited compared to a direct integration. Middleware services seek to flatten and standardize the commands and actions across all the devices they support. It’s convenient, but it prevents them from leveraging the unique capabilities of each individual device, meaning you get less value for your investment.
The right automation partner will have dedicated integrations for each brand and model of hardware they support. This enables more reliable solutions, better functionality, and greater possibility for continued innovation — meaning your smart devices get smarter over time because your partner is maximizing their capabilities.
They should also maintain close relationships with the manufacturers themselves. That way, when additional levels of support or troubleshooting are needed, they can pick up the phone and call those manufacturers for assistance. If your vendor is using middleware, they won’t have that option, and the middleware service is not going to step in to support you, because you’re not their customer.
The result is a nightmare scenario where the vendor can’t help you, the middleware won’t help you, and you’re left on your own, desperately Googling for answers or flipping through the pages of the instruction manual.
3. Your IoT vendor’s business priorities
Smart devices should be their core business, not an add-on!
Modern technology partners are always looking to expand their capabilities. Companies typically start out doing one thing really well. That’s how they get started and how they make a name for themselves.
But over time, they grow bigger, get more funding, and they look to increase revenues by adding new products, new features, and entering new markets so they can sell their product to more and more customers. That’s the nature of any business, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if these add-ons step too far outside their wheelhouse, the quality and support for those products often suffers because it’s not their focus. It’s not their core competency.
When we look at smart devices and consider how mission-critical they are — and how much expertise and ongoing support is required to ensure consistent performance — you can’t afford to gamble by partnering with a company that’s doing this “on the side.” Your results will always be suboptimal, and when things inevitably go sideways, they won’t have the expertise to help you get things back on track.
The right partner is one who lives and breathes IoT, with years of experience and a proven track record of success. Managing smart devices should be part of their DNA and the foundation of their business.
You wouldn’t ask your car mechanic to perform a quadruple bypass, and you wouldn’t ask your cardiac surgeon to swap your transmission. Even if he’s giving you a good price.
4. Support, support, support!
Make sure that when problems arise, you have someone to rely on!
Wouldn’t it be nice if everything worked perfectly and without interruption, every day of the year? Unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case – especially at any level of scale.
When things inevitably do happen, being able to jump on the phone with an experienced (and preferably dedicated) customer support person can be the difference between a seamless guest experience and a scathing 1-star review.
Keep in mind as well that not all support is created equal. Here are some questions to consider when evaluating the support being promised by a potential vendor:
– Are your support teams available 24/7? Can I reach someone by phone?
– What are your SLAs (Service Level Agreements) for responding to customer concerns?
– Will I be assigned to a dedicated contact (typically referred to as a Customer Success Manager or CSM)?
Having a dedicated CSM on your account enables you to develop a relationship with someone who will learn the ins-and-outs of your business and know exactly how to support you when troubleshooting is required. Someone you can trust. If the vendor doesn’t provide dedicated support (and make sure it’s not just for the first 30 days!), you’re going to be forced to call a generic help number, send pleading emails into the dark void of a catch-all @support e-mail address, or – shudders – forcing you to message with a chatbot that’s regurgitating stock answers from their knowledge base. No thanks!
– Are your support teams in-house?
Many companies seek to cut costs by outsourcing support to external agencies and the support will suffer as a result. When you select a vendor, look for a company that provides access to a dedicated and well-trained in-house team.
– How many products are your support teams responsible for?
This connects very closely to our next topic, #3. If the management of smart devices isn’t part of your vendor’s core business, their support teams probably spend the vast majority of their time resolving issues that have nothing to do with IoT – which means they’ll be ill-prepared to help you resolve issues: “Uhh…have you tried turning it off and on again?”
For hospitality professionals looking to provide a world-class guest experience and grow their business, smart devices – properly implemented and managed – can provide enormous benefits. This is particularly true in light of the current staffing challenges, as it’s become increasingly difficult to find and retain good people across every level of the hospitality industry.
Automation through smart devices can be the inflection point for a growing business, an accelerating flywheel that enables a property manager to scale with confidence. But the moment your guest is depending on the function of a smart device, the performance of that equipment becomes mission-critical to ensure they have a great experience.
And if you don’t have a reliable and experienced partner to stand behind you, the results can be disastrous.
While the pains of malfunctioning equipment may not be experienced by smaller operators managing a small handful of units, anyone with aspirations to scale to larger volumes will soon realize the importance of having a trustworthy partner to guide and support you at every step.
Without that strong partner, managing large networks of smart devices can quickly become an unpleasant game of “whack-a-mole” where you’re chasing down one issue after another. As for your guest? They’re standing on the doorstep, one hand fiddling with a lock that won’t open while the other scrolls through their phone to find somewhere else to stay.