HID Global and ASSA ABLOY on Mobile Keys In Hospitality

Interview: Julian Lovelock, Vice President of Innovation, HID Global & Tim Shea, Global President, ASSA ABLOY Hospitality

Mobile ID World President Peter O’Neill had a chance to interview Julian Lovelock, Vice President of Innovation, HID Global, and Tim Shea, Global President, ASSA ABLOY Hospitality, about a recent worldwide deployment of mobile key technology. Essentially, thanks to new mobile credentialing and wireless technology, smartphones and wearable technologies can be used as room keys at Starwood’s 150 Aloft, Element and W Hotels around the globe. The technology was a major focus of the Apple Watch keynote earlier this year, but it doesn’t end necessarily with the hospitality experience.

The following interview examines the Starwood deployment, how the millennial demographic is embracing mobile keys, and where the technology can go from here.

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Peter O’Neill, President, Mobile ID World (MIDW):  Julian, you and Tim were involved with Apple and Starwood with the launch of Starwood’s SDG key list service, can you please walk our readers through how this works?

Julian Lovelock, Vice President of Innovation, HID Global (HID): Sure so basically what is going on is that a room key is being generated and that room key is being generated by the same systems that generate an electronic room key if you check in at the front desk. The difference is that rather than putting the electronic room key onto a plastic card as your readers are probably used to from their experience of checking into hotels, that room key is then securely transferred over the air to the mobile phone. And where it resides in the mobile phone is managed and secured within the app, the SPG app that the hotel guest has already downloaded onto his or her phone. That then enables that guest to bypass reception and go straight to their room and when they present their phone to the door, the app basically securely transmits the room key to the door. Now when you bring a watch into play, it is pretty much exactly the same process except that electronic room key is being presented to the door via the watch rather than the direct communication between the phone and the door lock.

MIDW: I’m sure this is just the beginning of where the hospitality industry is heading with mobile technology, where do you see new applications coming?

HID: Basically I would kind of break it down into three areas; firstly I think the actual experience of checking into a room will evolve over time. So when a new technology comes into the market a lot of times the first step or the first application of that technology is simply to try and emulate a prior user experience but with this new technology in play. In the first instance you are just kind of emulating the room key experience but now you are using a phone or a watch instead of a room key. And then over time we can kind of see new ways to use the device or that technology that does more than just emulate the old experience. It enables the guest to interact in a much more sophisticated way with his or her environment, whether that same technology is being used to enable the guest to change the environment in the room in terms of the temperature or interact with the audio visual equipment or set the lights or maybe it even means the guest can set the room temperature before he even arrives in the room. So there are all sorts of ways that I think it will change for the better the way that the guest interacts with the environment in the room and it doesn’t require the guest to actually be in the room to have that interaction with the room. The guest can almost prepare the room for his or herself.

Then you can imagine how that same technology would be used with other devices in the room. Maybe you can use your phone or your watch to open the safe in the room where you put your passport for example. You can imagine how that same technology would also be used to enable the guest to interact not just within the room but also more generally within the hotel. At one end of the spectrum it might be using your phone or your watch or your other wearable wristband to buy something from a vending machine in a hotel out of hours or perhaps pay for business services.  I think there is a whole set of kind of access and more general interactions that can feed back off of this type of technology throughout the whole hotel, not just for the action of getting into the room.

And then I think the technology that is being used here is very portable across other devices. So it could basically be loaded onto a plastic loyalty card, it could be loaded onto a credit card that the hotel chain issues to its members, it could also be loaded onto other types of wearables.

MIDW: Tim can I get your take on where the hospitality industry is heading with mobile technology. What do you see on the horizon?

Tim Shea, Global President, ASSA ABLOY Hospitality: The one thing that I see in hospitality is that each brand has the ability to do things that are unique to their brand and as such each of them has some uniqueness in terms of how they execute their mobile technology strategy. Here is the key message you have to keep in mind: a very large number of bookings are now coming through mobile apps. The typical profile is a millennial; it is the largest growing group of hotel guests and they are very attractive to all hoteliers. These are tech savvy guests who unlike the people that are over 50, like me, they have grown up with cell phones and computers and are used to being able to do things without having to call somebody on the phone. So from a hotel’s perspective, they want to cater to this group as you can see the generation of people older than millennials are also adopting new technology.

If you look at the airline industry where the transition from the paper ticket, to the electronic ticket, to the cell phone, and the hospitality industry is seeing a lot of similarities in the pattern in terms of how you interact with that hotel.

For example, one major hotel chain offers a service where a floor plan comes up and you can actually pick which room and which floor you would like to have, just as you would on an airline where you pick your seats. Of course, your choices are defined by your level of loyalty.

This establishes brand loyalty and connection with users. The thing that we see with ASSA ABLOY Hospitality Mobile Access, and why they are so interesting to hotels, is that they dramatically increase the percentage of users who are actively interacting with a hotel chain using their mobile device. From a hotel perspective, when ASSA ABLOY Hospitality Mobile Access is added to a hotel app, the hotel will experience a significant higher usage of their app.  For the brand it gives them a much tighter connection to their guests, which is what they would like to have.

MIDW: From a marketing perspective that is a really nice side benefit.

ASSA ABLOY Hospitality: Right. So if you think about this becoming typical of any business model, we need to deliver a great user experience with sort of a cool piece of technology. So the technology has to not only be great for the hotel guest, but also for the hotel. It has to be a unique and cool guest experience that bonds the guest with the hotel brand.

MIDW: If we were to talk about some of the key drivers behind this, convenience would certainly be one, and the cool factor as well, because as you were mentioning: your target market millennials are users of the latest technology. What else might be some of the drivers behind this move by Starwood?

ASSA ABLOY Hospitality: I think convenience played a big part. Some people really enjoy the front desk experience and every brand creates a unique experience for their guest when they check in. But if you stay at hotels all the time like I do, I don’t want to stop at the front desk; I’m probably running late, I want to be able to go directly to my room, maybe order room service. I’m not even going to be social. Maybe I’m going right to bed because I’ve got an early morning meeting. By incorporating mobile access, the whole process becomes highly automated and there is nothing to interrupt my flow of how I do things.

By incorporating technology, hotels are just making this process more efficient. So if you are a millennial who doesn’t talk on the phone, but instead communicates by text messages or Facebook you’ve got something that matches the way you live your life. If you are a person who relishes the convenience of going straight to your room, it sort of caters to that type of guest as well.

MIDW: How large was this initial deployment with Starwood?

ASSA ABLOY Hospitality: The feature is being installed at 150 Aloft, Element, and W hotels globally when completed 30,000 door locks will allow SPG Members to open their hotel room doors with SPG Keyless

MIDW: Can you give us some sense of what the guest reaction has been to the keyless system?

ASSA ABLOY Hospitality: We have salespeople that do direct sales and travel to install products in 156 different countries. Internally, our technicians and salespeople stay at hotels, which are mobile key enabled. We have a collective social database where we receive feedback from either direct or indirect employees about their experience and recommendations for improvement. We also ask their age. People that are under 35, seem to love the technology, however, they don’t give us as many ideas on what we should be doing to enhance the experience. People that are a little bit older, they are more interested in how the whole process works and how it could be simpler.

The big difference that I see in the millennial generation, they just intuitively know how to do things whereas people my age need more instruction. If you look at the SPG app for instance one of the things that they have done is create a little animation on their app that shows exactly what to do:  hold the phone up to the lock and a light blinks. The millennials don’t really care about that, but my generation likes to have the animation there so that it is crystal clear what they have to do.

MIDW: I can’t help but think beyond the hospitality industry to enterprise and residential.  I’m sure that you are seeing opportunities across a number of vertical markets now.

HID: Yes absolutely. What is going on in the background is that we have a platform that is delivering and issuing these mobile keys in a very secure way and that platform is being used across all of our different businesses. If you go into the enterprise space, we are using that same platform to enable corporations to issue a corporate ID badge onto their phone so now an employee can get into the building or get into their office by holding their phone up against the reader on the wall rather than using a plastic corporate ID badge. That same technology is being used in the education space. We’ve run a pilot and have a number of live deployments going on in the university space where students are now going to be able to – instead of using their student ID card – use their mobile phone to gain access to student dormitories or even pay for something in the canteen, buy something in the bookshop. Back into the enterprise space for a second; we also see the application of the technology not just for accessing the building but also being able to open the lock to your personal office, being able to pick up a print job securely from the printer, being able to get into the parking garage if your office has secure parking facilities. A whole range of different use cases with the same underlying technology. And then as you pointed out in the residential space, likewise we will see this technology and our platform being used to provision electronic keys onto consumers’ phones for the purpose of being able to open their own front door.

MIDW: This is all changing quite rapidly isn’t it?

HID: It is changing rapidly and as I kind of alluded to, and I think it is a change you will see in other technologies. The first inclination is simply to replace an existing user experience with a new technology. I was told the analogy of the video business and how when you look at when Netflix started by simply saying, “Okay, instead of going down to your local video store and getting a DVD now you basically go online and we’ll mail you out a DVD.” Not a hugely different experience just a different delivery medium. But then over time there were a whole set of services that Netflilx was able to include that you could never have included through your local video store, such as online reviews and a much wider catalogue etc. Then over more time Netflix actually got to the point where they were producing content which is something your local video store would never have done, it never would have actually made a movie, or if they did you probably wouldn’t have wanted to watch it.

So you can kind of see there that that trend happens over a period of time. In the first instance a new technology comes along and essentially gets used to replace an existing user experience then people look at the technology with fresh eyes and say: “Oh my gosh, we could do so much more with that!” and it becomes actually very disruptive over time and I think what we’ll see is the same thing here with mobile keys. In the first instance we’ll see the technology used simply to replace an existing user experience but then as people get comfortable using their phone as a credential we’ll see a whole range of new use cases come out and really a new kind of way that people prove their identity. So yes, I think we are in for an interesting ride.

MIDW: Well I can’t wait to try this myself at a Starwood Hotel soon and thank you both very much for taking the time to speak with us today.