Five-Star Application Service - InformationWeek

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Five-Star Application Service

An online system for managing guest complaints at Sheraton Hotels relies on local functionality in client interface to prevent bandwidth problems

Employees at more than 200 Sheraton Hotels are using a new online system to coordinate fast responses to guests' complaints and unmet needs.

When a Sheraton hotel employee enters the report of a guest's problem in the Starguest Response system, a clock starts ticking. If the maintenance staff, maid-service staff, or other group designated to manage a particular issue doesn't respond within a time predetermined by hotel management, the color of the notice appearing on an employee or departmental PC will change from green to yellow and finally to red. Code-red notices sometimes prompt the hotel to offer the guest a gift, a rebate, or a free room to compensate for the delay.

The system, rolled out in 210 Sheratons owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. over the past 18 months, is helping the company stand out for the quality of its services, says Israel Del Rio, Starwood's VP of emerging technologies. "Starguest Response is one reason Starwood is gaining market share from the competition," Del Rio says.

Starwood reported that revenue per available room, a standard industry measure, was up 8.8% to $85.96 a night in the fourth quarter of 2003 compared with the same period in 2002 for the Sheraton chain. Market share for Starwood, which also owns Westin and W hotels, was up 2.3% in the fourth quarter, according to research firm Smith Travel Research.

Sheraton Hotel

Manhattan's Sheraton Hotel is one of 210 hotels featuring the Starguest Response system to enhance guest services.

Photo by Richard B. Levine
The Starguest Response system is a chainwide, Java-based application service that's delivered via Starwood's data center in Braintree, Mass. The application provides a rich user interface to each hotel--meaning users can customize certain aspects of the software they're accessing from PCs and other devices. The interface functionality lets each hotel's management set its own time limits for various types of complaints. When a trouble ticket to a complaint has been satisfied, the responding employee enters that information into the client interface so it can be viewed by other hotel staff members.

The response system runs on IBM's WebSphere Java application server through two Sun Microsystems Solaris servers, and uses rich client technology from Nexaweb Technologies Inc. Starwood plans to extend the system to more than 100 Westin Hotels within a year, Del Rio says.

Although the system is centrally located and delivered over a network, the local functionality provided by the rich client interface keeps network-bandwidth needs to a minimum, Del Rio says. As a result, it's been relatively easy to roll out the system to hotels of all sizes and bandwidth capabilities, he says. Four of Sheraton's smallest hotels came online with the system in recent months, after Nexaweb released Smart Client 2.0, an upgrade that lets clients handle more functionality and requires less data to travel over a network. The 2.0 version is more interactive and easier to use, says Tom Rhinelander, analyst with the New Rowley Group.

On March 9, Nexaweb released Smart Client 3.0, an upgrade that includes a prototyping tool for building user interfaces that work with the Eclipse open-source development platform. The software starts at $30,000.

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