Automation in the hospitality sector – the time to act is now

Automation in the hospitality sector – the time to act is now
Diana Ermini
Tue, 04/07/2020 – 03:49

Now is the time for businesses in the hospitality sector to bring much-needed automation to finance and payments, writes Sage Intacct’s Diana Ermini
Restaurant automation service concept robot waiter serving bottles and wine glass © Besjunior - Shutterstock
(© Besjunior – Shutterstock)

Companies are feeling the heat to implement automation and consider AI in their finance operations. Why? Uncertain market conditions and tight budgets don’t change the need to innovate, produce results quickly and drive growth. But these types of implementations bring an abundance of back-end reconfigurations and employee training. Fortunately, a company can also gain a new level of insight, greater agility, and new potential to transform its day-to-day business.

However, according to a Sage survey of businesses carried out late last year, CFO 3.0 — Digital Transformation Beyond Financial Management, only 16% of hospitality companies say they’re on the cutting edge of embracing emerging technology.

A number of misconceptions, including complexities around how to prepare the workforce and projected ROI, could certainly lead to roadblocks in the adoption process. However, this resistance to change could prove more damaging than taking the leap. In an uncertain and highly competitive world, using valuable data and insights to improve customer satisfaction and streamline mundane, time-consuming tasks can give companies an advantage that helps them survive the most challenging trading conditions.

Interestingly enough, the Sage report, which surveyed a number of hospitality executives, gained perspective surrounding several challenges they face — all of which could be solved by digital transformation initiatives and upskilling:

  • Tech issues (difficult-to-use digital tools)
  • The digital skills gap in their department or team
  • Time management

According to hospitality executives, the following are common pain points they experience on a day-to-day basis and are working to address within their companies, with the help of new technology.

Data deluge

Hospitality organizations are tapping into automation to address a variety of business woes through data-backed solutions and strategies. But all technology isn’t created equal; and in order for it to work, executives must decide which problems they’re looking to solve through its use. Since integrations between hospitality systems are still not universal, data is often siloed or inaccurate due to human error during a transfer, a problem which can be magnified by difficult-to-use digital tools. The lack of good, usable, accessible data prevents executives from seeing a holistic view of the business and makes it harder for CFOs to see where changes need to be made in order to optimize ROI.

For instance, restaurants are experiencing a complete revolution through the proliferation of third-party delivery. Even before the shutdown, off-premises orders made up 44% of all restaurant sales, with one-quarter of these orders for delivery, according to Technomic’s On Demand Delivery Study report. In the past, restaurateurs knew their crowds, but now with third-party delivery, it’s harder for them to predict when and where customers will come from. Moreover, CFOs in the restaurant industry are often not able to properly measure data relating back to this new system, and how it may be tweaked to their advantage in the future. These insights are obviously needed even more now, when many restaurants are, temporarily, take-out only.

Lack of automation education

As found in the Sage report, currently 91% of hospitality executives note that some of their company processes are automated. However, according to those same executives, the digital skills gap amongst employees is one of their most harrowing issues. As such, there is a major lack of education and differentiation around what automation can do within organizations, and how employees can put it to good use — both to make their jobs easier and more efficient, and increase output for the company. Hospitality finance executives need to be the driving force behind the education around new technology and automated systems.

An overwhelming 96% of hospitality executives responded that their staff lack the skills and knowledge to leverage emerging tech such as AI, ML and predictive analytics to drive efficiencies within finance. This means one thing — simply implementing emerging technology will not suffice. In order for technology to be successful, companies must go to great lengths to ensure it’s being incorporated into daily activity, and that executives and employees are on the same page with regards to how it will be leveraged.

Needing to free up time

On the customer-facing side, an increasingly large number of millennial customers has led hospitality companies to recognize the need to meet them where they’re comfortable — tech that doesn’t require human-to-human interaction. As a result, they are reevaluating and adopting more automated systems to better suit their needs. A recent study from revealed that 75% of customers preferred self-service options to take care of simple requests. This commitment to providing a positive digital booking experience in order to speed response and better please customers is the lens that all hospitality companies (and beyond!) must use when vetting and implementing automated technology.

Internally, systems like Sage Intacct present the opportunity to help hospitality companies manage multi-entity finances, streamline monthly close and gain better visibility into critical KPIs. Sage Intacct customer Benchmark Hospitality net $800,000 worth of time savings while managing financials across 50 properties. Benchmark SVP of Finance, Brett Atkinson states:

We can quickly assess how we’re performing against budget and forecasts, or comparative pricing across locations, and what levers we might be able to pull to improve a certain metric.

As with any new innovation, digital innovation carries inherent risks. It involves both time, resources and budget, and needs careful management to ensure it delivers benefits in customer satisfaction or ROI. But hospitality companies that opt to do so will certainly give their organization a leg up on competitors while opening up the opportunity to appeal to a broader set of customers and keep them on the cutting-edge within the industry. Those that act to improve their processes during this time should find themselves with a winning advantage on the other side.

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