By: Jacob Chacko Regional Business Head – Middle East, Saudi & South Africa (MESA) at HPE Aruba
The hospitality industry has been a keen adopter of technology, from Wi-Fi as central to guest satisfaction to embracing in-room assistants, consumer trends have rapidly driven and changed the industry. However, there’s a key technological shift still to come – edge networking.
The edge is more than just a technical concept, it is the culmination and coming together of many of the most talked about technologies of the past few years and crucial to improving guest experience.
We define the Edge as the new experiences being enabled by edge technologies for customers, employees, students, patients, and any users of network services. Edge technologies allow the processing of data by devices at the edge of networks, which is where users and devices are. It is where things connect to the network, whether they are wired or wireless. The edge is where actions take place. Over time, these actions at the edge will become smarter.
The opportunity at the Edge is driven by many things, including smart applications powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, data analysis, next-generation Wi-Fi, 5G communications, and “edge-to-cloud computing.”
The new edge network combines AI, ML, and automation to continuously learn, predict, and adapt to changes, needs, and threats in real time. The new edge network utilizes technologies and software to make sense of the resulting insights, enabling businesses to act and respond, optimizing the experience for the customer or user wherever they are. Pushing intelligence out to the edge will drive change in the design of our products, services, processes, and organizations, and transform how decisions get made – giving greater autonomy to the devices at the edge.
According to Gartner, edge computing will be a necessary requirement for all digital businesses by 2022. With potentially trillions of dollars being invested in the hope of generating huge economic returns, the argument for paying attention to the Edge opportunity is clear and the window for learning and action is narrowing.
Edge Technology – Transforming Hospitality
In the hospitality sector, using facial recognition or other biometrics to check in and open bedroom doors is just the start of the next-generation hotel experience at the edge. Interaction between the guest’s intelligent assistant and the hotel can ensure that the mini-bar is stocked only with what is in their approved diet, and digital restaurant menus will automatically update using the same information – for example removing from view any high sugar content dishes. Buffet stations will automatically display a red light over anything that is off limits. In the bedroom, the digital wallpaper can reconfigure to your preferences – whether showing videos of your family or taking you on an underwater journey.
Using activity data about their current stay, historic information about the guest, social media, and any information provided by travel partners, each hotel employee will be able to interact with guests fully informed about their needs and current experience.
David Wortley, Digital Technology Strategist, CEO and Founder of 360in360 Immersive Experiences, highlights the potential for personalization here: “In the hotel sector, for example, an edge experience is when a client walks into a hotel, the building recognizes them and is able to tap into a previous relationship that the person has had with the hotel chain or their travel preferences.”
Futurist Bronwyn Williams highlights how personalization could be taken to the next level as people start enhancing their brains and bodies with embedded devices, arguing that “cyborg lifestyles is a trend that’s coming. It’s 10-20 years in the future but it’s definitely gaining traction … three thousand people have already had chips implanted in their hands for simple things.”
Zrinko Badanjak, CIO, Amadria Park, Croatia talks about different market segments having different needs, differentiating the likely automation of the commodity hotel sector versus the premium sector. “We’re looking at technology that allows us to offer a premium service, where we can incorporate the human element with the premium technology.” In part, the technology solution will allow each guest to receive differentiated service information based on the purpose of their stay in a hotel or resort. “The more information [a business guest has] then they can make the choice quickly between meetings, where as a leisure guest, you don’t want to over bombard them with so much information.”
The creation of “elevated guest experiences” is the objective for the Edge according to Tomeu Fiol, Global Hotel Technologies Director and IT director EMEA – Meliá Hotels International. The combination of human supported by the edge is key. “Ultimately, we will see the creation of enhanced personal/human experiences and interactions with hotel staff who will work as Experience Agents.”
Edge technologies opens up new possibilities for both providers and travellers. For example, capturing the multi-sensory experience of travellers (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch) and enabling others to purchase an AR/VR version of that experience. Tomeu Fiol also speculates that the Edge could enable “The creation of additional, new, value added experiences which could be the focus of revenue generation in the future, challenging the traditional hotel/resort business model of room occupancy being the underpinning revenue generator.” Such offerings might include the opportunity to take part in immersive AR/VR experiences within a hotel.