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GDS Data Base Maintenance: The Never-Ending Challenge-Part 2

Hotel Technology UPDATE Spring 1998

The second in a two-part series addressing the challenges, and technology options, associated with managing a hotel company's data in the Global Distribution Systems.

Part 1, which appeared in the May/June 1997 issue of H&A Report, set the stage by describing the importance of timely updating of availability, rate and descriptive data.  It reviewed the first technology-based responses to the growing data maintenance challenge and it described the option of offline data transfer via magnetic tape.  That article also overviewed the early efforts, pioneered by Lanyon, Inc., in applying robotics to automate rate updating.

Continuing on with the challenge to automate all GDS date updating functions the now robust range of electronic data updating (EDU) options extend far beyond availability and rate maintenance utilities.  Today's EDU options, fall into four broad categories:

  • GDS Update Services
  • Switch-based Services
  • Software/Hardware Products
  • Software Products

GDS Update Services

Each of the GDSs - Amadeus, Apollo/Galileo, Sabre and Worldspan - now offer an electronic data updating facility.  Typically these employ the communication circuit already in place between the hotel company CRS and the GDS (irrespective of whether a switch company is included in that communications path).  Only Amadeus currently accepts and posts data updates on a Type A, real-time basis.  The remaining GDSs batch their update processing, and post those batches periodically, generally within a few hours and no less frequently than daily.  Each of these GDSs is moving toward Type A level EDU processing.

In all cases, the onus is on the hotel company's MIS staff to enhance their CRS to create a recipient-unique data file.

Switch-based Services

Both of the switch companies, Pegasus Systems via THISCO and WizCom International, offer a GDS update service to their switch subscribers.  While THISCO's approach is to facilitate access to the GDS Update Services described above, WizCom International has chosen to offer centralized access (via its communication channels to its subscribers) to Lanyon-RATE technology installed at WizCom International's information technology facilities.

Software/Hardware Products

A characteristic shared b the products in this category is their use of both proprietary software and vendor-supplied hardware, the latter generally consisting of a communications board.

The data updating capabilities of this product category have increased markedly in the past several years.  Today, in addition to rate (including negotiated rates) and roomtype data, these EDU tools update property descriptions and chain descriptions.  Included Windows-style graphical user interfaces have made those aspects of the updating process requiring human intervention considerably easier.  In many cases, such as for a hotel description, a single master description is maintained within the tool's software which, following updating and editor approval, is automatically reconfigured as a set of GDS-specific update files.

As important as that ease of use is the inclusion of word processor style functions which greatly facilitate the manipulation of text.   In addition to supporting the cutting and pasting of text, revisions may be entered in advance, with effective dates specified for their transmission to the GDSs.  As well, deletion dates may be entered to indicate the timing of their automated removal.

Supplementing the benefits of speed and accuracy in data entry (coupled with potential staff cost savings) is the opportunity to end the leasing of GDS terminals for the Data Base Office since these products, via their GUIs, provide access to all GDSs from the data base clerks' PCs.  With the product installed on the LAN used by the data base maintenance staff, multiple simultaneous sessions may be conducted, dependent only on the number of terminal addresses contracted for with each GDS.

Software Products

This product category offers the alternative of software-only approach, dropping the need for proprietary hardware.  In the functions this product type offers, it closely resembles the capabilities of the IBM ACSA product and the Lanyon-HotelSuite.  Like them SABRE Technology Solutions' CRSView provides a graphical user interface (including a four quadrant display screen format) and shared GDS access.

We Aren't Quite There Yet

The preceding comments indicate the much expanded range of EDU tools now available for hotel electronic marketing professionals.  Reflection on the experiences of their recent users, several lessons emerge:

  1. These tools have not yet reached the plug and play stage.  Considerable preparatory work, involving modifications to the CRS, customization of the tool, or both, is generally necessary.
  2. The pre-activation set-up services often require vendor consulting, engineering and/or training services, for which there will be a (sometimes significant) fee.
  3. Installation of an update tool-associated GUI on a data base department LAN, providing shared access by all staff to each of the GDSs, will decrease contention issues and delays within the department, frequently also providing an important morale boost.
  4. These update tools still are better at modifying existing data -- for example, rates and roomtypes already in place -- than creating new data.  Time-consuming, concentration-demanding manual data entry is still necessary -- full automation of the data base maintenance process is far from complete.

The breadth and quality of electronic data base maintenance options have improved considerably.  For the hotel professional looking for these automation tools, whether a fully manual data base maintenance operation, or outsourced GDS links and maintenance is not appropriate, there is an unprecedented selection of effective and productive options to consider.