May 2020

Enterprising Software

Providers of enterprise software solutions are stepping up their game.

Written by David Meeker | 0 comment

Most ski areas are fairly complex operations, especially when looking at them through the lens of a software developer. No two ski areas are exactly the same. There’s variability in the products they sell, the prices they sell them for, resources—both human and capital—markets and geography, just to name a few. As a result, the software most ski areas use must be customizable and have the ability to integrate with other software solutions.

Since not everyone’s needs are the same, we asked a handful of resort IT folks what they’d like to know about enterprise software solutions. We distilled their input into a few questions that we posed to a handful of—but certainly not all—software vendors to tackle. Here’s what we learned.

Common API, Anyone?

Simply put, an application programming interface (API) allows different programs to interact with one another.

For example, say a resort uses accesso Siriusware for its point-of-sale software but its e-commerce platform is Liftopia Cloud Store. The resort needs a way for tickets purchased on the Cloud Store to load into Siriusware so the tickets can be redeemed, the revenue reported, etc. These two different programs weren’t built to talk to one another, so an API was developed to play middleman and facilitate certain actions that need to happen after a ticket is purchased.

As it stands now, the enterprise software solutions and third-party applications most widely used in the mountain resort industry don’t all speak the same language. This makes integrations—like the one between the Liftopia Cloud Store and Siriusware—complicated.

Many resorts operate multiple systems: e-commerce; point-of-sale for food and beverage, retail, and tickets; rental inventory; ski school reservations; lodging reservations; customer relationship management (CRM), etc. Getting all of these disparate systems to talk to one another can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

The aim: ease of use. A common, or open, API would make it much easier for these various applications to integrate. Such APIs exist: The Open Travel Alliance has been leading this connectivity for the travel industry since 1999. Same with Hospitality Technology Next Generation for the hospitality industry.

At last fall’s Mountain Technology Symposium—an annual gathering of resort tech leaders and suppliers to discuss the future of technology in the ski industry—the Ski Technology Standards Group was created. The group includes representatives from Aspenware, Aspen Snowmass, Boyne Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Inntopia, and Powdr. The group says it will focus on creating a baseline data standard and open API to address the challenges of operating multiple systems.

Is this realistic? If it comes together, will it benefit ski areas of all sizes? Or only those with the money and people to fully utilize it?

Aspenware senior vice president Rob Clark says a common API would help the many different providers and developers that build amazing solutions for the industry. “A common API will enable these providers to innovate and will result in better solutions and options that support the needs of resorts of all shapes and sizes,” he says.

Best for big players. Inntopia vice president of marketing Gregg Blanchard agrees that all operations, large and small, would benefit in the long run, but “the reality is that every implementation of an API has its own flavor, and those with the most resources will be at an advantage, and are likely to benefit the most,” he says.

Mechele Larmore, vice president of sales for accesso, not only foresees the ski areas with greater resources seeing the greatest return in leveraging a common API, but multi-property corporations, too. “Beyond the point of resources (or lack thereof), a common API would really only benefit the larger corporations—those that may own multiple ski areas, all operating on different software,” she says. “For single ski areas, there may be a need for an API, but there is little to no benefit of it following a common standard.”

Plus, Larmore reminds us, it’s not easy to do. “It can be a large undertaking to find a common data model for the API responses, given that each system has a unique set of characteristics and distinctive setup processes,” she says. “This can complicate the element of alignment when working to create more complex functionalities, as products and pricing are represented and configured differently in every system.”

Dissenting opinion. The newest enterprise software to enter the fray is SnowCloud, which was developed in response to the overarching challenges many resorts have of needing to integrate various disparate software systems. Joe Hession, CEO of Snow Operating, which also owns Mountain Creek, N.J., and founded SnowCloud, isn’t entirely sold on the idea of developing a common API for the industry.

“I see where people are coming from, but I believe this is a reaction to the current reality of legacy software, and honestly won’t fix the actual problem,” says Hession. “Currently, many resorts have unique or different versions of enterprise software, and each of these versions have many customizations making them different from anything else. In order for a ‘common API’ to work, it assumes everything else is also ‘common.’”

Global view needed. Blanchard prescribes a more global approach to the issue. “It’s critical for the ski industry to connect not just with one another, but also with the travel and activity industries at large,” he says. “Otherwise, we’ll put ourselves on an island where we can’t effectively communicate with the systems that are selling experiences that compete with ski.”

E-Commerce

Having a user-friendly, attractive, and secure online buying experience is becoming a necessity. The mountain resort industry has been slow to adopt e-commerce, but software providers are stepping up their game to offer better all-in-one native solutions and/or easier opportunities to integrate with third-party e-commerce platforms.

Intouch offers both, says general manager Casey Parliament. “Intouch offers a fully integrated e-commerce solution, which is designed and optimized to support modern consumer expectations and does not require dual administration of products and/or pricing,” he says. “Plus, we have exposed APIs, which allow clients to build custom e-commerce experiences or integrate with other third-party platforms.”

Resorts can customize the Intouch e-commerce store using standard configuration tools to directly administer content, images, fonts, and logos. For more advanced levels of customization, resorts can utilize Intouch’s API suite in conjunction with partially or fully-customized front-end applications.
The store also supports native dynamic-pricing concepts in which product pricing tiers and inventory thresholds are administered and exposed online, and are updated in real time as inventory is consumed.

The Inntopia Commerce platform’s e-commerce solution is also fully customizable, says Blanchard. “On the simple side, we give every user the ability to add their own CSS, HTML, and Javascript to customize the layout, look and feel, and functionality of their e-commerce booking engine,” he says. “On the more advanced side, we have an API library that allows anyone to build their own custom e-commerce experience using our technology.”

Inntopia hosts its clients’ e-commerce on its own servers rather than the clients’ web servers, for two reasons: 1. Inntopia recently achieved ISO 27001 certification, which is a big deal in the world of data security, in addition to being PCI-DSS compliant; and 2. It allows Inntopia to keep the marketing and e-commerce funnels separate in its analytics platform, leading to more accurate reporting, according to Blanchard.

The accesso Passport e-commerce store, says Larmore, checks all the boxes: comprehensive e-commerce functionality, fully hosted, mobile friendly, and easy to use.

It’s also customizable. “The Passport e-commerce store serves as an overlay on top of an existing marketing site, ensuring guests don’t run into newly opened tabs that make them feel like they are ‘leaving’ the resort’s website,” Larmore says. “The solution was designed to provide a seamless experience that prioritizes continuity.”

It, too, supports dynamic pricing, says Larmore, for lift tickets, lesson packages, rental packages, and more. “With the use of accesso solutions, prices move through operators’ pricing tiers automatically as products sell.”

SnowCloud. According to Hession, e-commerce is one of SnowCloud’s most powerful modules. “We’ve always looked at e-commerce as a very important step in building a cohesive guest experience,” says Hession.

SnowCloud is fully white-labeled and very configurable, since it’s all OpenAPI-based. Hession says a custom front-end could be developed using almost any other platform or combination of technologies.

Dynamic pricing is also supported and can be configured many different ways. For example, in its iteration at Snow Operating’s Big Snow indoor ski dome, the dynamic pricing and inventory model is configured into 15-minute time-slot intervals, all updated and adjustable in real time.

Aspenware Commerce is that company’s flagship software offering, Clark says, and resorts can manage their offerings, pricing, and content via a full administration suite and content management system.

“Aspenware Commerce integrates the brochure site’s header, footer, and style sheets,” says Clark. “It is proven that a coherent look and feel between the brochure site and e-commerce site is required to maximize conversions.”

In addition to its native dynamic pricing engine, Aspenware Commerce also supports Liftopia’s “Pricing as a Service” option. Resorts can combine the power of Liftopia’s pricing engine with Aspen Commerce’s capability of selling a host of products, with deep integration to a resort’s fulfillment system and point-of-sale. Clark points out that Aspenware’s “dynamic packaging” capabilities are equally as important. It allows guests to customize their vacation by building a package of various products—tickets, rentals, activities, and more—rather than sifting through large lists of categories and products to find what’s right for them.

What’s New? What’s Next?

To help resorts provide both guests and staff with the best possible user experience, software suppliers strive to keep in step with the fast-moving world of software. “Think of your iPhone, bank app, or a Tesla. Software needs to be constantly growing and adapting to the changing world,” says Hession.

SnowCloud, which just debuted last year, is already prepping a new iteration—SnowCloud CORE. “It is entirely modular, developed on top of our own REST APIs and, most importantly, will continue to evolve every six months,” says Hession. The team plans to offer a full suite of modules and some extensibility using SnowCloud REST APIs.

Accesso is working on a major architectural transition to further modernize its applications, including a new version of its Siriusware POS ticketing system, which is used by more than 125 ski areas worldwide. “This transition encompasses updates to our administration platform, middleware application, mobile apps, and utilities,” says Larmore.

In addition, accesso is rolling out updated platforms for retail inventory, group/private lesson/resource schedule administration and calendar, and rental inventory—all with a new web-based front end and new features.

Inntopia, Blanchard says, views security as a top priority. “We’ve seen the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry,” he says. “The last thing ski resorts need right now is a widespread data breach.”

Inntopia’s ISO 27001 certification shows the company takes data security seriously. The company is entirely cloud-based, and its platforms gather and centralize guest data to give marketers the ability to send hyper-personalized messages to guests, and also provide front-line staff (call center, front desk, ski school, etc.) the tools to personalize their guest interactions.

Intouch is going to be busy over the next couple of years, Parliament says. “Our 12- to 24-month roadmap includes an aggressive overhaul of our software stack to fully leverage cloud and Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings from Microsoft to simplify development, delivery, and management of our total solution,” he says.

This includes adopting new APIs for all front-end applications to connect to back-end data sources, providing consistency for both Intouch applications and other third-party platforms. Intouch is also focusing on creating a great customer experience for both internal and external system users. “Resort clients will benefit from this new model through streamlined deployment, administration, and management of the total solution,” says Parliament.

Aspenware will continue to enhance its integration hub, Unity, that integrates to all major POS systems. This will include “additional capabilities and fulfillment systems over time, and enabling other vendors to integrate into the architecture,” says Clark. “We are also continuing to enhance our systems to provide a consistent, seamless experience through the planning, booking, pre-arrival, and arrival phases of the guest journey.”

Enhancements to Aspenware Commerce include focusing on making the purchase flow as easy as possible for transient guests, and enabling a more personalized, identity-driven engagement.

Enterprise Software Suppliers

accesso: accesso.com

Aspenware: Aspenware.com

Connect&Go: Connectngo.com

Inntopia: Inntopia.com

Intouch: Connectintouch.com

ResortSuite: Resortsuite.com

RTP One: Activenetwork.com

SnowCloud: Snowcloud.ski