Summing It Up
Do You Have Your Own Back?
At this year’s Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) annual conference in New Orleans (see full report starting on p. 52), Brian Wheeler of eSilo, Inc. stressed the importance of backing up computer systems to minimize business interruptions and the loss of critical data.
It doesn’t necessarily take a natural disaster or freak accident to lose data, Wheeler told conference attendees. A sprinkler malfunction or even something as mundane as a hard drive gone bad can be enough to seriously cripple any computer-based operations. While it might not always be possible to prevent the cause of the problem, a good backup system that is followed rigorously can minimize the damage and greatly speed the recovery. Some specific suggestions offered by Wheeler:
New Template Available for Screening Software Vendors
At the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) annual conference in New Orleans availability was announced of a new Request for Information (RFI) template that clubs can now use to help start the process of screening potential software suppliers.
The RFI is the first step in the initiative to establish club software standards that is being directed for the CMAA by Dr. Edward A. Merritt of Cal Poly Pomona University.
The RFI, a 48-page Microsoft Word document, can be downloaded (by members) through the web sites of the CMAA (www.cmaa.org) or the Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals (HFTP, www.hftp.org).
The form is not designed to generate final proposals, Dr. Merritt stressed, but rather to help clubs define their specific profiles (as defined by type of club, volume of activity, current technological capabilities, etc.) and then establish parameters for the planned application or upgrade. “It goes through what (clubs) presently have and tries to capture the unique qualities of what they want to try to address,” he says.
At the same time, Dr. Merritt said, the information provided by the clubs in a completed RFI will help potential vendors determine if they are a good fit for a particular business opportunity.
The input of over 150 club managers and more than 20 vendors specializing in club-specific software was combined to create the RFI template, Dr. Merritt said. The overriding goal was to create consistency from the start of the vendor selection process and enable “apples-to-apples” comparisons from the outset.
Put yourself in Rich Lang’s shoes. You’re the Club Manager at Aronimink Golf Club, a tradition-steeped “Main Line” Philadelphia club in suburban Newtown Square, Pa. You’re in the midst of your first point-of-sale (POS) system in-stallation for your club’s food and beverage operations, finally taking the plunge after many years of paper dupes and chits, and thousands upon thousands of hours of manual day-end closings. The staff that serves your guests in multiple dining areas is anxious about the new technology—about any technology, in fact; they’ve only ever known how to use pencil and paper.
And oh, by the way…did we mention that the PGA Senior Championship is coming to your doorstep in twelve weeks? Even in the best of circumstances, installing a new computer system or upgrading an existing one can be nerve-wracking. But usually—while it may not be quite as extreme as Lang’s situation—you have to try to step into the Great Technical Unknown while praying you won’t disrupt “ normal” operations.
All you can really do is hold your breath, close your eyes, and bring your finger down on the power button as you brace for a ride further into the future. But as Aronimink’s story shows, when you finally get up the nerve to look around at where you’ve landed, you might see a revelation.
Replacing the “Hammer and Chisel”
Aronimink is not likely to be the first setting that comes to mind when thinking of a good place to get an update on club technology. Its clubhouse, built in 1928, stands solid and sure amid the magnificent golf course, which was recently restored to its original Donald Ross design. Quietly elegant and aging gracefully, it’s the architectural image of its stable and secure membership.
Inside, its dining rooms are cozy and dark, with numerous nooks and comfortable crannies. Much of the staff has been here even longer than the members they serve. By design, time seems to move more slowly in places such as this. Change comes slower still.
Yet behind the walls of the clubhouse, and in the surrounding ether, the digital 21st century flows like a hidden, new-age “Downstairs,” in devoted service to the member experience “Upstairs.” Under Lang’s guidance, Aronimink recently took big steps into the future with a series of computer system upgrades and new installations—including for the first time, POS technology.
As recently as three years ago, things looked very different at this club—or more precisely, very much the same as they always had. “We were using a hammer and chisel to get things done (in food and beverage),” recalls Lang, who has an especially rich perspective about the old and the new at the club—he’s been in the Aronimink family for 26 years, starting as a 15-year-old busboy and working his way up through just about every job in the place.
“In 2002, we still had a DOS-based backroom system and were in the process of switching software vendors, but we couldn’t make the switch work,” Lang continues. “For one thing, we already had multiple receivables coded in the old system, and the [proposed systems] only allowed one.”
After a period of searching for a fix, a decision was made to stay with the current vendor and upgrade to its newer, Windows-based system for General Ledger, Accounts Receivable, and Dem
ographics. After that upgrade was accomplished, POS was put on the tee for the following year.
Benefits To “Touch and Feel”
At the heart of Aronimink’s conversion to point-of-sale technology was a switch to touch-screen entry of dining room orders. “Up until then, we were on a chit system,” says Lang, “and that meant we always did a lot of manual work at the end of the day.”
Understandably, Lang was a little worried how his staff would react to the new terminals. “We have some older people on the staff,” he notes.
But it all proved to be literally as easy as pushing buttons. After new hardware and gear for wireless networking was installed, everyone on the Aronimink F&B staff was trained on the new procedures and equipment. And just like that, the arduous, nightly process of manual paper checking came to an end. “Everyone was great,” says Lang, with obvious pride in his group’s ability to adapt.
As easily as his wait staff can inform club diners about menu specials, Lang can now list the benefits of his new POS system. Today Aronomink has:
•Improved staff utilization
•Control and audit
•Enhanced business analysis
•New services for members
Lang is quick to emphasize that “no one was let go—but through attrition, we were able to reduce accounting staff.” He also cites better communication with the kitchen, fewer errors, and more floor time for the serving staff as additional benefits.
Beyond the dining room, the access to more and better data that is provided by the new POS system has been another big win, Lang says. Like every club manager, he is being asked increasingly to produce more detailed reports, with hard numbers, for the club’s Board and various committees. The new POS system, he says, lets him respond with meaningful data, but without “the manual pain of gathering all that information.”
In fact, with some additional custom programming help from his vendor, Aronomink is moving closer to using its POS system to generate automatic reports that can give both Lang, and board management, a real-time view of what’s happening with club operations, so timely decisions can be made to improve efficiencies and enhance responsiveness to members’ needs.
Aronimink’s story also highlights the importance of infrastructure in extending the value from installed POS systems. Innovative use of technology often grows on a sharper curve when the basics are done right, and a well-planned network infrastructure is one of those basics.
For the club’s F&B operations, using the wireless network infrastructure now gives the serving staff greatly increased flexibility and mobility. “Our outdoor areas are very popular in the summer, and as a result we can have some serving areas that are quite far from the kitchen,” Lang says. He installed a wireless kiosk that became a POS terminal and can be moved to the outside dining area (or anywhere within network range), eliminating kitchen distance as an issue. “We use wireless laptops the same way,” he says.
Like many clubs, Aronimink is also sorting through the possibilities of its online presence. As an early adaptor of member-facing web technology, it now lets its members log on to the club’s web site to view their account information. The F&B POS system provides much of the information used to generate both mailed monthly statements and the online account information. Member use of the site is still small, but growing, Lang reports, and an update of the site is in progress to expand its capabilities.
Now That Wasn’t So Bad, Was It?
The virtually seamless implementation of Aronimink’s POS system, even at such a hectic time for the club, speaks volumes about the good things that can come from combining careful planning with a willingness to discover all that’s possible through technology and being eager to dig in to extract its value. Complacency, as Lang points out, is a danger to be avoided both before and after new systems are implemented.
Don’t assume barriers to technological advancement will be impossible to overcome. And give your people credit for being able to learn, and adapt to, new ways of operating.
This too was proved at Aronimink as the Senior PGA Championship got underway a short while after its new POS system went live. During that event, the Senior Tour golfers displayed no more dexterity on the course than Joyce Andruscavage (pictured at left on p. 46), who quickly emerged as a touch screen whiz while deftly handling the added activity in the dining room. At 72 years of age, Joyce is another of the long-term staffers serving Aronomink’s members and guests. Who would have thought that her pencil would retire before she did? C&RB
Ringing Up New Ways to Gain From POS
Current retail POS systems are rich in features, yet many club sites never get beyond basic transactions. A frequent complaint from club systems vendors, in fact, is that too few customers take advantage of the abundance of features available in their software.
While it’s not always easy (and in some cases not appropriate or necessary) to turn on the bells and whistles, the vendors are at least partly right; you, the customer, need to continually search for value in your software and systems investments. One way to figure out what’s right for you is to look to peers who have extended the value picture beyond the basics.
Fisher Island Resort, which sits in Biscayne Bay just off the tip of Miami Beach, has taken retail POS in two directions. With eleven separate POS locations on the island, each linked to a common back end of club- and hotel-oriented business applications, quite a bit has been done beyond the basics. But surprisingly, POS is also used to accomplish some simple tasks not normally included as part of traditional transaction events.
Brian Hightower, Systems Administrator in the Fisher Island IT Department, describes how POS works in the golf and tennis shops, the spa, and other locations to identify members and guests and list their preferences, in addition to handling transactions and posting them to member and guest accounts.
“When a member has an account created in [the] membership [module], that information flows immediately to other modules, including POS,” says Hightower. “Within a minute, there is a member file, with a photo, in the POS system.” The resort’s retail staff can then access that information to get a profile of what activity is allowed, what limits are applied, and most importantly, what opportunities exist for enhancing the sales experience.
POS also integrates with the system’s inventory applications, Hightower says, so inventory information is always current. “We also save purchase order detail, which streamlines ordering,” he adds. What about automatic replenishment of inventory, the supply chain’s Holy Grail? “We’ve experimented a little with that,” Hightower says. “We’re not there yet, but that would be really nice.”
Two places where you might not think POS would be involved are hotel mini-bar billing, and security. But at Fisher Island, they’ve found ways to use POS to get up-to-the-minute guest billing information into the hotel system, and also to enhance resident and guest security.
The mini-bar application is a simple recordkeeping task. Each guest’s use of his hotel room “mini” is gathered the old-fashioned way: on paper. The usage data is then gathered and entere
d into a POS station and immediately registered to the hotel folio. Perhaps it’s not the sexiest use of the technology, but it’s efficient, and effective.
The security application involves identity and island residents and guests. We can’t describe it here in more detail; after all, it’s a security thing.
But in these and other examples—from the simple to the top-secret—the common key to the extra value being drawn from Fisher Island’s POS capabilities is how its networked systems talk to each other. The official technical term for that is “integration”— which also happens to be the hot topic for next month’s technology section in Club & Resort Business.
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