Oakmont Country Club offers proof that with equal parts planning and precision, you can successfully integrate your systems-and the operations they run.
As with so many things, systems integration starts with a plan. To successfully integrate the many visible aspects of club and resort operations and service with essential back-office functions, properties must know what they want to accomplish before searching for the software and communications vendors, and programs, needed to fully implement the process.
Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club certainly did its homework before converting to its current operating system in 2005. Its prior systems were a mash-up of several different, non-compatible systems that could neither be improved nor expanded upon—and, as General Manager Tom Wallace recalls, the time had come to abandon the patchwork approach and get things done right.
SUMMING IT UP
• During the bidding process, have vendors demonstrate their products using real-world data, to see how your team would use the system on a day-to-day basis.
“We designed a matrix of goals and objectives that we incorporated into a formal Request for Proposal [RFP], which was then submitted to several different vendors,” Wallace says. The “wish list,” he notes, had been developed over time, using input from each of the property’s operating departments. It included non-negotiable “must-haves” as well as features that were desirable, but not mandatory.
From the initial responses to the RFP, Wallace and the club’s Controller, Jim Springborn, selected three vendors that were invited to personally demonstrate their systems, using internal data supplied by the club.
“We wanted the demonstrations to use as much ‘real’ information from the club as possible, so we could get a good handle on how their systems would operate, where improvements could be observed, and compare how each of the vendors addressed the same data in their proposed solutions,” explains Springborn. “We reviewed with each of them their development process, system architecture, future plans and, of course, their pricing schedules.”
High on Springborn and Wallace’s list of concerns was how food-and-beverage point-of-sale (POS) operations would be handled, especially to integrate the various menu cards the team uses throughout the year to highlight seasonal specials.
“A flexible, easy-to-configure system was critical,” notes Springborn. “In addition, we were very interested in obtaining a system that would run on an existing, standard database; this became even more important when we looked at integrating other packages with our eventual choice.”
|The experience of Oakmont CC emphasizes how successful systems integration begins with a plan, not a product, and must be focused from the beginning on getting all of the people who use the system on the same page.|
The POS and system configuration factors, Wallace says, even outweighed the development and ease of use of the General Ledger packet (G/L, A/R, A/P, etc.). That’s because when it came down to the top three candidates, the streamlined functionality of the General Ledger module, he says, was “simply a given.” What was going to make the difference was the POS system. Oakmont tends to have as many member charges as possible input into the POS system, rather than relying on back-office operations or after-the-fact accounting adjustments. That way, the numbers are up-to-date and practically real-time, according to Springborn.
Playing Nice With Others
Oakmont’s pro shop merchandise, Wallace notes, is handled by the facility’s golf pro, Bob Ford, outside of the in-house system. Hosting and updates for the Web site, www.oakmontcc.org, are also handled by a third party. These two factors, he says, meant it was critical that the integrated system offered the ability to seamlessly interact with outside systems. To make sure that would be the case, Oakmont went to the source it would know best: its information technology (IT) provider.
“We’ve maintained a relationship with a local, third-party IT support group to service our hardware, server, PC and POS units,” Wallace explains. “Once we were nearing a decision, we engaged them briefly, to get their input on whether the eventual system choice could be hosted using standard Microsoft Windows, and whether they would be able to provide on-site assistance when necessary.”
Before pulling the trigger on which provider to use, Wallace and Springborn spent quite a bit of time designing and developing how they wanted the F&B operations system to look and feel. “Planning and preparation was critical,” Wallace says. While [the vendor’s] database was strong, this upfront investment of our time was vitally important to ensure, as much as possible, that we would maximize the full capabilities for the system.
|During the vendor review stage, Oakmont’s General Manager Tom Wallace (left) and Controller Jim Springborn identified existing processes that needed to stay in place, and the goals for the new system.|
“We worked on our proposed system menu cards, screen views and integration modules until we felt we had a robust system, and then we would contact our vendor to review it with them,” Wallace adds.
The largest challenge, in fact, was pinpointing exactly how the POS system should work. “It was a matter of striking a balance of what we did and did not want to see on the chits, revenue reports, member statements, etc., and how best to track revenue so that we could get all the detail we needed—yet not have so much detail that we couldn’t get a handle on overall operations,” Wallace says.
During the vendor review stage, Springborn and Wallace identified what their goals were, why they wanted to keep certain processes in place, and what they hoped to accomplish with the new system. In this way, says Springborn, the vendor was given a better understanding of all that Oakmont wanted to achieve.
But it wasn’t just the vendor who got the bigger picture: “We sometimes saw problems when discussing our choices, which made us revisit our approach,” Springborn says. “It also allowed the vendor’s representatives to comment on how they thought their system would handle transactions, for example.”
Training from the Start
Wallace and Springborn point to the initial “train-the-trainer” process as a vital part of helping make the eventual system-wide implementation go smoothly. Using real data from the club, the vendor trained the department heads on Oakmont’s leadership team, and they in turn trained their staffs.
“The vendor’s trainer was on-site as an observer during this process,” Springborn explains. “While it cost a bit more, it was well worth it—for when this last level of training was completed, we were very confident that everyone was well-versed in our new system. In addition, because we knew we were going to be developing multiple menus, price changes, seasonal offerings, etc., having the leadership team do the training made us feel very confident in their knowledge right from the start.”
Taking such a formal approach to systems integration was a long and sometimes tedious process, Wallace and Springborn admit—but the end result more than justified the means, as they got everything they wanted out of the new system.
“Virtually all of the basic packages out there can do the job; admittedly, some better than others,” Springborn points out. “However, only by taking the time to formally schedule out the work effort—both internal and vendor-oriented—and to follow a regimented development/installation schedule will you be able to be confident of the final results.”
Communication with the vendor was an important part of the process. “We found our vendor to be very user-friendly,” says Wallace. “We called them quite often, and they were always accessible and willing to review our development goals.
“I got the impression,” he adds, “that we were the exception in this regard, compared to many of their other clients.”
Implementation of the new system took a couple of months, and according to Springborn, the actual data-conversion of the G/L was straightforward “and the easiest part.”
“The development of our POS system was much more involved, as we needed to generally build it from scratch,” he continues. “At the same time, because we were not wedded to any particular convention, it did afford us the chance to think outside the box a bit and develop a system to fit the needs of our club—rather than just installing a canned approach from some other club.”
“The time and effort was well-spent,” Wallace confirms, “as the final product was able to meet our needs as soon as we went live.”