Photo: Kate Kaye/Protocol

Better margins through automation

Protocol Enterprise

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: what it’s like to stay and work in a hotel staffed by people thousands of miles away, why an open data-sharing format introduced last week might actually have staying power and, to whatever extent it can, Cisco calms the enterprise spending worries for another week.

Programmed to receive

When I booked a room at a Sextant Stays hotel in New Orleans in June, I didn’t realize my stay would involve automated self-check-in and an array of interactions with emerging tech – from automatic liquor dispensers and noise sensors to offshore concierges on video monitors.

The takeaway? While automation adds novelty and convenience at times, it opens the door to new technical glitches and unique labor dynamics that go beyond the usual tensions when robots replace humans. Here’s an overview of my story about the emerging world of hotel automation.

Before I got there, I was asked to upload a selfie and a photo of my ID using software from Superhog.

  • Would this be used to match my real face when I get to the hotel? I wondered. Nope. For now, it’s just for credit card validation.
  • Guests at The Lola hotel can buy forgotten aspirin or condoms in CVS-branded kiosks.
  • Digital touchscreens in guest rooms use customers’ booking data to enable personalized welcome messages and let guests order $100 mid-stay cleaning services.
  • Noise sensors monitor for loud partying or loud, sustained noises that can make for a bad night for other guests.
  • Or, want to wind down from a stressful flight? A shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon from the lobby’s automated booze dispenser costs $5 — but if someone isn’t there in person to check your ID to get a special payment card for the machine, you’re out of luck.

I was surprised when I arrived to see what at first glance looked like a disembodied head. It was actually a woman giving me a smile from a tablet-sized monitor in the lobby.

  • She was one of Sextant’s 10 full-time virtual concierges, all of them based more than 8,000 miles away in the Philippines. She told me she may greet guests at New Orleans properties one day and Miami the next.
  • It’s all about cost savings. The company can pay a lean concierge staff of 10 rather than the 30 they’d need in a traditional in-person setup.
  • “Our concept was, let's make sure that we're as productive as possible to rethink the traditional hotel cost structure,” Sextant Stays CEO Andreas King-Geovanis told me.
  • Employing overseas workers for virtual concierge is “really quite rare,” said John D. Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting.

It felt a bit desolate walking around the hotel at times. And automated tech replacing people could mean more work for the people who are still around.

  • When my room door code was not operable during an early check-in, a housekeeping supervisor assisted in communicating with the virtual concierge — a task someone in a customer-facing role would usually handle.
  • “One of the challenges of these efforts to save labor through these technological [systems] is they often ironically create more labor to deal with them than they would otherwise,” said Lisa Kresge, a lead researcher at the UC Berkeley Labor Center said.

What does the future of hospitality look like if automation takes over? Check out the full story.

— Kate Kaye (email| twitter)

Sponsored content from Cisco

How cybercrime is going small time: Cybercrime is often thought of on a relatively large scale. Massive breaches lead to painful financial losses, bankrupting companies and causing untold embarrassment, splashed across the front pages of news websites worldwide.

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Open standards are having a security moment

The Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework — announced a week ago by AWS, Splunk and numerous other heavy hitters in the industry — has a strong shot at becoming the de facto data format in cybersecurity. If achieved, this would be massively helpful to customers, because today it's a huge pain that most security tools do not play nice with each other.

But what happens next? Our Braintrust post on the topic this week provided some great insights, and I also got some additional thoughts from Mark Ryland, director for the Office of the CISO at AWS. He told me that the initial 17 participating vendors should start announcing updated products and services related to the OCSF standard soon.

"I think you'll see feature and function launches from the vendors who are signed up for this pretty rapidly in the next few months, saying, 'We now support emitting or consuming data, in or out of our product, using this format,'" he said. That means that "within months, we will see a significant decrease in the amount of custom code or special connectors that have to be built."

Some vendors have found "a lot of success" from building custom connectors, Ryland noted.

"They have the business advantage today [in] that they can emit or consume more formats than perhaps some of their competitors," he told me. "But rather than competing on that, I think [OCSF] is a recognition that 'Hey, as a community, we have a serious challenge, which is to help people be more secure. So let's focus on adding analytic business value, rather than just the sheer quantity of connectors we have.' And that, I think, is a pretty big shift."

— Kyle Alspach (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Cisco isn’t quite the enterprise tech bellwether it used to be, but a better-than-expected outlook for the third quarter could help ease fears that enterprise spending was in trouble amid a shakier consumer economy.

Russian hackers launched a DDoS attack on the website operated by Ukraine’s state nuclear power company, according to the agency.

Sponsored content from Cisco

How cybercrime is going small time: People have been swindled since before man created monetary systems. These aren’t new crimes; just new ways to commit them. But as cybercrime increasingly goes small-time, those on the front lines will need new and more effective ways to fight it.

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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