In our previous article on selecting guest management software we talked about selecting online booking software, and how that choice can help to resolve questions about the property management software. This installment will talk more about the considerations in selecting the property management system, itself.

Got Choices?Since it is also possible that your consideration of online booking solutions has not narrowed the field for property managment software (perhaps because you are considering systems that “play nicely” with several online booking platforms), we will consider property management software regardless of the type of online booking software it supports. If your preferences have eliminated one or more of the options, you’ll be able to just skip along to the next section.

Online systems vs. installed systems

Speaking very broadly, property management systems for smaller properties fall into two camps: those installed on your computer, and those that exist on an internet server and are accessed via a web browser (usually Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or others).

It can be challenging to try to directly compare an online system with one installed on your PC, as there are some feature unique to one type, which the other doesn’t match well. On the other hand, there are features that should be available on either type.

Consequently, the first question to resolve is whether there is a reason to greatly prefer one type (online or installed) over the other. Stated in the negative, is there a valid reason to refuse to use one or the other?

The pros and cons are almost exactly opposite for the two types of systems. The benefits of the online systems are:

(a) they can be accessed from any location where you have an internet connection

(b) security of the data, and responsibility to backup the data, rests with the provider (not with the property owner)

(c) there is almost always a direct connection between the property management system and the online booking system, and

(d) there is rarely an up-front cost (sometimes there is a setup fee, but it is usually much less than the purchase fee of the installed software), but there are almost always significant monthly fees.

The disadvantages are:

(1) if you do not have an internet connection (for any reason at all), you can not view the bookings or availability information

(2) if the provider isn’t able to secure the system, or its backups fail, your data is lost (or worse, your guests’ data may be in the hands of a hacker), and

(3) you do not usually have a choice of online booking/availability systems.

For installed systems, the pros and cons are a mirror image of the online system. The benefits of the installed system are:

(a) you can view the bookings and availability even if your internet connection is unavailable (as long as your computer has power)

(b) you provide the security and backups for your guest data (for some innkeepers this is an advantage, while for others this would be a disadvantage), and

(c) you usually have a choice of online booking systems which will coordinate with your property management software, and

(d) there is often an up-front cost, and ongoing charges for support, but ordinarily no monthly fees (though some companies do have creative pricing strategies that bundle “free” software with monthly fees for additional products)

The disadvantages of the online system are:

(1) they can be difficult (or impossible) to access when you are away from your property (we’ll have more on how to make this work in another post)

(2) you must secure and backup the guest data, even if you aren’t comfortable with that responsibility, and

(3) many property management systems do not “play nicely” with all online booking systems.

In the past, most technical people, being comfortable with their own security and backup roles, would prefer to have an installed system. However, with the ability to access internet systems via mobile devices, including smart phones, an internet-based system becomes much more attractive. The biggest negative for those systems is the incompatibility with other online booking and/or availability systems.

This move to online systems is consistent with the push by Google, Microsoft, and others to what is known as “cloud computing” (storing documents and other data on remote servers, to make them accessible to other people and from remote locations). Like anything else, such technologies should not be blindly adopted because of their popularity, but only if they make sense for your business, considering security, convenience, guest privacy, legal restrictions, practical usage, and the way you conduct your business.

At least one installed system (RezOvation GT) performs remote backups of reservation data to its own remote server from your computer. They also seek to provide the best of both the installed and online systems, with a web-enabled version, as well as other means of providing remote access to your reservation system. This may be seen as an effort by an installed system vendor to avoid losing business to its online competition, or, as the company may say it, to offer properties more flexibility in managing reservations.

Unless you have a particular bias for — or against — either installed or online systems, you should consider the pros and cons of each, but withhold your decision until you consider the specific features (and costs) associated with particular products.

We’ll look at features and comparisons in the next installment.