When I started working in hotels during college, at a 500-room property in Philadelphia, I did practically every operational duty there was. I worked at the front desk as well as housekeeping and in all kinds of back office capacities, from personnel management to ad hoc IT. I say "ad hoc" because in those days, technology advancements often didn't trickle down to the hospitality industry. Most hotels, even the big ones, were notoriously low-tech, basically running off of paper and radios—and that's even still the case for many of them today.
I co-founded PurpleCloud Technologies to help hotels modernize and run more efficiently. Our platform helps hotels bridge the gap between complex, often messy, back-office operations and the front-of-house services that have historically received more focus and investment because they are customer-facing. In all of this, data management and presentation plays a huge role, because efficiency is all about getting people the right information when they need it, in ways they can readily use and understand.
We formed PurpleCloud in 2011, and our current platform has been on the market for about three years. 2020 was the year we planned to scale up into new markets and large accounts. Needless to say, Mother Nature had other ideas and instead, we faced the same pandemic nightmare as nearly every other business out there, asking questions like how to stay afloat, be of service to our customers and our industry, and show heightened levels of compassion for the real end users—in this case, hotel guests who want assurance that they're staying the night in a safe, rigorously-maintained environment.
We embedded Tableau into PurpleCloud Covid Response (CR), a slimmed-down, pandemic-focused version of our platform. Embedded analytics is critical to getting compliance data in the hands of our customers, in a time when they need it most. This blog post covers key considerations and the background story behind our decision to take a data-driven approach to helping our customers during this difficult time.
Assessing the need for transparency into compliance and operations
Soon after COVID-19 arrived, the calls started coming in. Many of our customers wanted to scale back their use of our platform, just as their customers were heavily scaling back the use of their facilities, particularly following the announcements of global travel bans. Most hotels run on thin margins and lack contingency funds, especially for anything as disruptive as a pandemic. And many were sinking fast, because they lacked an agile way to guarantee safe facilities.
It was a somber reckoning for all involved, but it was also an opportunity—not just to learn important business lessons, but also to assist our industry. The most heartbreaking calls we got were from customers who were on the verge of shutting down and felt there was nothing they could do. At PurpleCloud, we asked, "What can WE do to provide assistance?" It's not just that we wanted to keep these customers' business; ethically, as their technology partner, we were there to help make them successful, after all, no matter what the circumstances were.
After evaluating the crisis our customers were facing, we realized that what made the difference between a hotel staying open or not came down to how efficiently they could guarantee that their facility was a safe place to stay, according to local, federal, and industry guidelines. We worked backward from the question: What is the new level of accountability in hotel operations? The added precautions and procedures were many—procuring and maintaining new equipment (like electrostatic sprayers), enacting new cleaning procedures, including the deep disinfecting of private rooms and common areas, and following new policies and practices, like removing high-risk items and putting guest amenities into sealed bags.
With all of this, there was the added burden of training all managers and staff on the equipment. This posed further complications, ranging from the lack of technology for ease of tracking to interpersonal barriers, such as educating staff who don't speak the native language. And to be truly accountable, hotels needed to not only provide the training, but ensure everyone has completed it and continues to follow it properly.
If and only if all of this could be accomplished, hotels could honestly tell customers their facilities were safe and open for business. So, at PurpleCloud, we got to work figuring out how to make it possible.
The message that was going to save hotels was:
"We've thought about your safety, we've looked at what's needed, and we've got it under control. Our doors are open. Here's what we're doing. Please come."
Our solution uses data visualizations and analysis to help hotels deliver on this promise.
Embedding analytics to serve our customers with the PurpleCloud Covid Response platform
In May 2020, after just a few weeks of pivoting our efforts, we released PurpleCloud Covid Response (CR), a slimmed-down, pandemic-focused version of our platform that we could offer for free to customers and prospects in our industry. PurpleCloud CR helps hotel managers and staff to achieve agility in five key areas:
- Awareness—making sure new protocols are clear to all personnel.
- Accountability—making it clear how personnel need to comply.
- Consistency—making sure the protocols are completed accurately, every time.
- Auditability—making it easy to see at a glance how the hotel is doing.
- Corrections—making it possible to step in quickly and fix any gaps that an audit turns up.
The key was helping these non-technical users interact with data and with one another in ways that made it possible to effectively perform the crucial duties that were now part of their job. This meant presenting up-to-the-minute data about the state of the facility and its workforce in ways they could easily understand, use, and keep up to date.
We looked at Tableau, whose technology I'd seen before and who I knew could give us the look and feel we wanted. The Tableau analytics capabilities allowed us to embed checklists and other visualizations right into the platform, making COVID-19 compliance intuitive and easy for hotels to manage. And because we weren't relying on a back-end extract-transform-load (ETL) process each time the data was updated, I or any of my teammates could easily go in and create or adjust dashboards when necessary to make the platform better, and those changes would be immediately reflected in the product.
PurpleCloud CR is pre-loaded with the latest compliance data from Ecolab, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and a variety of other sources. Using this data, the platform produces visualizations that help hotels:
- Complete checklists based on expert guidance from Ecolab and the CDC.
- View training videos, images, and PDFs for branded equipment and COVID-19 best practices.
- Send messages between workers to help minimize face-to-face communication.
- View and share images of property conditions.
- Provide guests and auditors with printed reports on completed checklists.
- Facilitate contact tracing measures in the event of an infected guest or employee.
- Track employee break room capacity to help manage social distancing.
All of this might seem like common sense, but in a year when very few of us feel empowered, having the right capabilities and guidance in one place can serve as the magic bullet for business continuity. Through reliable and timely data feeds, clear guidance, agile resource management, transparent reporting, and consistent execution, PurpleCloud CR and its embedded Tableau interface give hotels a framework for locking in and fine-tuning the safety of their operations at a critical time.
Getting results when it's never been more important
As it says on our website, PurpleCloud is committed to helping our industry open safely and quickly. Our hope is that with PurpleCloud CR, hotel teams can readily grasp and manage the essential tasks they need to stay working (or resume working, if they've stopped) while providing their guests with the safe, pleasant experience that has always been our customers' goal.
So far, we've helped 200 hotels during this crisis, and the number continues to grow. To me, that gives hope that our customers and our company will survive this crisis, no matter how long it drags on. Technology has always been a hurdle for the hotel industry, but with COVID-19, we believe finding the right uses for data and technology has become a matter of survival for their business.