The Evolution of PMS/CRS – What Will These Solutions Look Like in 2025?

What will property management systems (PMS) and central reservation systems (CRS) look like in a few years’ time, in 2025? Will they be similar to the solutions we use today or something very different? And what about the other systems that interact with them, such as revenue management, customer relationship management and channel management solutions? What role, if any, will they play in hotel operations?

PMS and CRS evolved as two systems with considerable overlapping – in other words, duplicate – functionality. Both systems held a hotel’s room availability, rate and inventory (ARI) data, guest profi les and records of future reservations. This duplication occurred out of necessity: when PMS and CRS were developed and evolved in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s inexpensive and reliable internet communication wasn’t available to enable real-time sharing of data.

Fast-forward to 2018, when data sharing is not only possible but routine. Systems need not be physically adjacent to share data. One might be located in a computer on property, another hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Furthermore, the arrival of cloud technology means that both systems can be remotely hosted and serve multiple hotels simultaneously.

The question then becomes, can these two systems be merged? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Yet, is a PMS/CRS merger inevitable? What would it look like? Is it the only possible evolutionary direction? A variety of technology advances are suddenly offering hotel system designers exciting new options.

The first potential change is the smallest. In it, the systems would continue to exist separately, with the role of the PMS reduced to guest check-in, check-out device and on-property guest accounts manager. All other duties, including storing ARI data, processing internet booking engine reservation processing and receiving third-party bookings, would be completed by the CRS.

Moving beyond reassigning the roles of the PMS and CRS while keeping their separate identities, the next step might be the merger of PMS and CRS into a single cloud-based system that performs all functions and is accessed via the internet using a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Same look and feel for all functions; system interfacing issues eliminated.

The use of an enterprise service bus (ESB) takes the merged PMS/CRS concept a step further. A well-established technology, an ESB is a middleware tool used to distribute work among connected components of an application. It provides the environment and the connective ‘plumbing’ to host modules that perform PMS and CRS functions as well as specialized modules, such as guest database, hotel ARI database, booking engine, credit card transaction processing, point-of-sale, activities (i.e. ski, golf and spa management), and sales and catering, all of which can access and share data instantly without functional duplication. Pioneers in this technology area include IRECKONU and protel.

An ESB works best when the modules that reside on it are similar in architecture, which enhances compatibility and allows more effective data exchange. Interaction with less similar but still desirable external systems to create a network whose capabilities a hotel or hotel group requires is increasingly enabled by the evolution of application programming interfaces, or APIs. Long present as custom-developed interfaces between systems, the most recent thinking is that hotel system vendors should follow the examples of Apple and Google with Android and publish publicly-viewable specifi cations
for interfaces, termed ‘open APIs’.

Open APIs allow anyone to develop an interface to the system offering the API. API activation then requires only that a business arrangement be finalized and a certification process completed. These publicly-accessible interfaces are being offered by an increasing number of hotel system vendors. Moreover, Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG) trade association recently established an API registry, further facilitating the open API process.

The process of developing an API – regardless of whether the software specification is open and publicly accessible or proprietary and available only after agreement with the vendor — can be highly technical and slow to complete. An alternative to this lengthy ‘DIY’ interface construction process is now available with the emergence of API ‘hubs’. These companies promise to be ‘plug-and-play’ utilities, offering their own API infrastructure to replace the need for individual system-to-system interfaces. Pioneers in this technology include Data Travel (with the Hapi cloud platform) and London based Impala.

New technology offers groundbreaking opportunities to assemble and connect hotel systems into hotel-specific (or hotel group-specific) configurations, enabling the assembly of the most desired systems into more-efficient-than-ever suites of capabilities. Yet, improving the functionality or interoperability of current hotel systems isn’t the only route for the evolution of hotel technology. An even more disruptive development is complete replacement of these traditional systems. As one thinks about where data is assembled, it’s possible to foresee other systems’ expansion to effectively replace the PMS and CRS.

The two technologies where this seems most possible are revenue management systems and channel management systems. The former already collect hotel availability and rate data in order to recommend future rates. In fact, some systems are on the verge of obtaining and storing past guest history data – guest profiles – in order to propose not only a best available rate for the day but also the recommended individual rate for any traveler for whom it holds a profile as well as rate recommendations for unknown travelers based on specific personas.

Further, revenue management systems are increasingly connected to online distributors that deliver rate and inventory updates instantly and directly. The functional gap between that expanded revenue management system and today’s central reservation system is small and growing smaller all the time.

Similarly, channel management systems, or channel managers, are now storing extensive databases of their client hotels’ availability and rates so that data can be communicated as needed to various online travel agencies and other online sales outlets. Should guest profiles be added to that database, the channel manager would be in a position to customize communication and rate offers and – with the addition of an internet booking engine and a revenue management system interfaced to it – replace a central reservation system. Add a slimmed-down PMS to the mix and a new and interesting hotel management super system is born.

The available directions for the evolution of our traditional – and essential – hotel systems are plentiful. It will be interesting to see which ones are followed. Stay tuned.