Choice Hotels International Inc. is doing Web services its own way. The company, which owns the Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Econo Lodge chains, is updating the property management software it developed in-house five years ago. The new Web-enabled version of the system, also developed internally, allows software upgrades to be managed centrally and distributed with greater speed and frequency.
“Really, it’s going to make distributing the [management applications and upgrades] so much easier. Rollout will be a snap compared to rolling out an executable [file] to a hotel,” said Chad Mason, manager of software quality assurance at the Silver Spring, Md.-based company. Choice will now push out upgrades once or twice each month instead of once a year, he added.
Hotel property managers will be able to check occupancy rates, supply inventories and maintenance information through a Web browser. The new software will also standardize the versions of systems used on a corporate level and by the individual hotel chains.
Choice’s Web services initiative involves connecting the Web-based applications internally before linking them to outside vendors. Being able to make changes and test systems securely behind the firewall is essential, Mason said.
“Whether you pay somebody else or you do it yourself, there has to be very tight control over what you do in [your] environment,” he said.
The software is being developed with tools from Rational Software Corp. in Cupertino, Calif. Rational products such as Rational Rose are the “backbone” of software development at Choice, Mason said. He added that the firm’s decision to develop its own software stemmed from a lack of suitable off-the-shelf applications, as well as from the fact that Choice had been burned by a vendor he wouldn’t name that delivered software late and failed to meet project specifications.
“I don’t know if that left a bad taste in the mouth of the company. We ran up against a lot of walls around the way it was architected, where we weren’t able to do exactly what we wanted,” Mason said. “We have a staff that’s been with the company for quite a while, and they really understand what our licensees need from the company. It would probably take longer to go out and find what we need.” By designing the software internally, “we guarantee we get what we want,” he said.
Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said the Choice project is typical of development efforts being considered throughout the travel industry that would enable disparate operations to have common access to inventory data and other information.
Choice already has an online procurement site, called ChoiceBuys.com, where licensees can order goods and services electronically from vendors with whom Choice has negotiated special deals. Mason was unable to say whether the management system and the procurement system will be integrated, and officials at the ChoiceBuys.com unit weren’t available for comment.