Oracle Hospitality is the market leader in selling hotel tech software. But the company has made some missteps. It is adjusting course, and two weeks ago it appointed a new top boss, Greg Webb. The industry will watch his moves closely.
Oracle Hospitality provides the most widely used property management systems and point-of-sale systems in hotels worldwide. Giants like Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott rely on it, as do many small independents.
Two weeks ago, Oracle Hospitality installed Greg Webb as its new top boss. Webb was previously vice chairman of Sabre, a travel technology company with a large hospitality division of its own, for 16 months. Webb rose up through the ranks there. His stints included five years running Sabre’s biggest division, which powers global airline distribution.
Webb takes the helm at Oracle Hospitality during an era of industry and technological change.
In 2014, Oracle bought Micros for $4.6 billion. Micros ran the most widely used hotel property management system, or PMS — a centralized database that keeps a golden record on guest data and that is today the heart of the typical hotel operation.
The merger didn’t go smoothly.
But Webb says that transition is mostly over. Renewed growth and improved customer satisfaction will be the new normal.
What follows is an edited version of our conversation with Webb at HITEC, the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference, last Wednesday in Houston.
Skift: As you’ve settled into the top job, what has stood out?
Greg Webb: I’ve only been in the job for two weeks. But the thing that has become obvious is that the transition from Micros to Oracle was painful for both employees and customers. It went from a federated system to something more centralized.
What’s happened over the last couple of years is that Micros had some issues that Oracle has fixed. And Micros also had some things that worked well that Oracle broke.
But as we’ve come together as a company, hotel customers are seeing the benefit of having a partner that’s part of a larger technology organization, one that has access to deeper pockets and capabilities.
The performance of the system has gotten better. The release cycle of updates and fixes has gotten faster. Our next-generation suite will take things up to a new level of performance.
Skift: What’s your vision, in brief?
Webb: Oracle Hospitality will provide hoteliers with the data, the tools, and the training to provide an end-to-end guest experience in the full travel life cycle [from acquiring a traveler through their stay to encouraging them to visit again].
We want to be a partner with hotels. We’re effectively an outsourced IT shop for end-to-end service.
Skift: Your predecessors talked for years about the cloud — where software is run over the internet instead of via hardware at properties. But fewer than one out of every hundred hotels worldwide run their software on the cloud today.
Webb: Candidly, we talked before about getting people from on-premise tech to cloud, but it probably wasn’t ready for prime time.
We’re ready now. And we’re seeing the pace of those migrations pick up significantly.
Skift: Cloud adoption has been slow. Some hoteliers are willing to move to the cloud, but Oracle Hospitality has put them on hold until at least later this year.
Webb: That had less to do about the [cloud] application and more about making sure we get to a next-generation data center. We want to make sure we don’t move customers more than once.
Skift: A consensus view is that Oracle’s Hospitality’s hotel property management system business is flat.
Webb: The flattening in terms of growth has been largely around… Let me put it this way: Unlike a lot of business, we serve all the way from the enterprise — the Marriotts, the IHG’s [InterContinental Hotels Group] of the world — all the way down to independents, like “Jim’s Hotel.”
During our transition from what was traditionally an on-premise world to a cloud-based world, yeah, we lost some customers.
What we’re seeing is we have started growing again. Customers are catching up on the technology curve on where the industry needs to go.
My hope is we’ll continue to expand the portfolio out of what we do, and that will drive growth.
Skift: One of your front desk reservation systems is still known by many hoteliers by its old name of Fidelio Opera. It’s widely used. Are you de-emphasizing it?
Webb: It’s not necessarily that we’re de-emphasizing it. The reality is that, as we build from scratch the new cloud-based product, the first services we launched on cloud were reservation services. Clients now have a next-generation tool.
Skift: Some clients like what they have. Do they have to switch?
Webb: I think they’ll want to switch. They’ll want the overall set of services we provide via cloud.
Skift: Hoteliers have many systems. Some feel it has sometimes been a pain to integrate them with Oracle Hospitality. What’s your view?
Webb: As we move to cloud, integrations become simpler, cheaper, and faster. Some of the pain goes away.
In a premise-based install, you were dealing with everything from hardware to network connectivity to configuration. It was especially hard for the small guys, where the IT expert might be the bartender. So those took longer.
As we move to a cloud environment, everything is effectively self-provisioning. We’re not dropping hardware or dealing with new network or a new internet service provider.
Skift: Some vendors and startups advocate “open”, or free, APIs [application programming interfaces, or methods of exchanging data]. Some competitor property management systems offer standard APIs, where there’s effectively a fee but the overall cost is cheaper than what Oracle offers. Is Oracle competitive?
Webb: A big portion of our focus is on making sure we can keep our promise to our customers that they will receive a highly secure environment and that we never put a hotel at risk. There is a higher bar [for integrations] on that.
The other component of this is we want to be integrated into all parts of our hotel customers’ business. It wouldn’t make sense for us to put out a product that only solves a single part or function.
Skift: Some third-party vendors who offer niche solutions for hotels say it’s expensive and difficult to integrate into Oracle Hospitality’s ecosystem.
Webb: Look, I can’t speak to the history.
But part of the go-forward strategy around the Oracle Opera Cloud offering has been about us beginning to create a set of web services that we’re exposing to the marketplace. We are opening up the platform. That is different than it has been in the past.
We’re eating our own dog food. The user interface that we built for Opera Cloud actually accesses the same Web services that any third-party integrator would.
Last autumn we published our APIs and continue to update them, such as through a trade association registry that debuted last year.
Skift: Some other competitors, including folks at your former company, Sabre, say the energy is moving out of the property management system. In the future, core functions that impact revenue will move to other tools, they predict. What’s your view?
Webb: I think other companies talk about that because they can’t compete in the PMS [property management space] with the same level of functionality as Oracle Hospitality.
A cute marketing structure is to talk about where everything else is.
Do I think that the industry is moving to a more customer-centric model? Absolutely. Do I think that means it has to move out of the PMS? Absolutely not.
It means we have to have a deeper integration in the data. We need to provide better reporting. We need to make sure we’re interacting at every touch point with the guest in a way that is personalized and that is specific to that guest.
The truth is that the PMS is the heart of that today and that it’ll be the heart of that as the industry moves forward.
Are there other capabilities that we can build out that are specific to CRM [customer relationship management]? Absolutely.
But do I believe we’re going to end up with a model where somehow the PMS just becomes check in, check out? I don’t see that.
Skift: What’s the Greg Webb approach to Oracle Hospitality?
Webb: The way I was in my previous roles will be the way I’ll be here. We’ll be a customer-focused company. We’ll focus on customer success.
At Oracle Hospitality, we’ll do everything we can to make sure our customers feel that they’re supported and to make sure that they’re successful. That’ll be the thrust.
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Photo credit: Shown here is the lobby of the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. While it has used Oracle Hospitality's widely popular property management system, Aria is one of thousands of hotel brands that have felt the need to supplement with tools from other vendors to fill in what it sees as gaps in the offering. Oracle Hospitality's new boss faces a challenge in how to win back full-service business. Aria Las Vegas