Mr. Ellis

Revenue Management

Cloud Best Practices

11 Strategic Questions for Hoteliers Considering Moving to the Cloud

By Bernard Ellis, Vice President of Industry Strategy, Infor Hospitality

The benefits for hoteliers of moving business applications to the cloud are numerous. Initial costs are lower because there is no need to purchase additional hardware or expand IT headcount. Systems can be deployed faster, changes can be easily made as business needs expand over time, and the long-term return on investment is higher because the technology vendor will handle potentially costly system upgrades and enhancements. Disaster recovery of data is also easier, as information is backed up in the cloud rather than on physical servers.

Additionally, selecting a solution that delivers the same robust, hospitality-specific functionality as an on premise system supports globalization for hotels, resorts and casinos. With access via the cloud, users, partners and suppliers at locations across multiple continents can share real-time data on everything from guests to revenue. Information flows more freely and managing daily operations becomes easier as teams are able to connect from different properties and departments. This also enables better-informed decision making, as hotel managers have visibility into comprehensive data and an enterprise-wide view of how their organization is performing and operating.

Many information-critical industries, including pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, must weigh the potential pros and cons associated with moving to the cloud. But hoteliers are in a unique position because guest satisfaction, not the delivery of a physical product to market, is the top priority. Compromised guest data including contact and credit card information would mean a serious blow to revenue for a hotel chain or casino, as guests would no longer feel that their identities were safe while staying at the property. With more ways than ever for customers to voice feedback, including social media and online rating sites, news of a security breach would travel faster than ever before.

Because of the guest's distinctive control over hoteliers' success, it is even more important for companies to vet a vendor's approach to cloud security before selecting a provider for their cloud technology. Hotels own and manage the data, but it is the technology vendor's job to protect that data. Technology providers should instill confidence in customers that best-practice protocols and a thorough, continuous improvement approach will be utilized for any cloud-related projects.

However, many hoteliers are hesitant about moving to the cloud because with 24/7 guest interaction, a back-end system glitch could have negative implications on customer satisfaction. Compromising guest profiles or credit card information could be disastrous, making many hospitality companies uncertain about cloud deployment. In order to ensure security when utilizing SaaS-based business applications, hoteliers should focus on vendor selection and best practices for network safety. Selecting the right technology provider who employs these practices and is transparent on how and where data will be stored is critical in minimizing any risks associated with utilizing cloud technology.

Ensuring security in the cloud is a two part endeavor. Hoteliers must take steps internally to safely store and transfer data, but software vendors must also take measures to assess potential threats and implement effective security controls. A detailed look at the vendor's security approach is essential to confirm that a company will be thorough and follow necessary protocols. Effective security also begins with development and the proper training of staff. It should include a multiple layer strategy, as well as physical and operational processes that support protection. Knowing what type of monitoring processes and infrastructure-related measures will be taken to minimize safety risks is essential to when running business applications in the cloud. Vendors are the direct source for each of these security measures. Hoteliers should view technology providers as a partner in facilitating data safety in the cloud, and as such should carefully examine answers to the questions above when moving to a SaaS-based system.

With security top of mind for cloud deployment, decision-makers should ask these questions before choosing a technology provider for their project.

1. How in-depth is your security strategy?

Make sure that the vendor employs an in-depth defense strategy and does not rely on a single security technique or device. Data assurance should be confirmed through a multiple layer approach with overlapping security controls.

To proactively defend against an attack, the cloud architecture should include different levels to protect against specific strikes like a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack, as well as more general information attacks such as vulnerability scanning. Real-time monitoring of potential internet threats and firewalls is also crucial in order to isolate critical components and prevent access from an external network.

2. How are your products developed to enable security in the cloud?

Security parameters for each product should be established from the beginning to guarantee that they are architected into the software design. Vendors should also conduct routine testing to identify potential vulnerabilities and problem areas, as well as code reviews that allow developers to collaborate on safe coding practices. In order to verify that developers are kept up-to-date on these practices, confirm that the software provider also conducts regular security training sessions to make sure that all security policies are followed.

3. Will the cloud network be separated from the general corporate network?

Independent networks that exist autonomously from the general corporate network provide additional security against data corruption. Solutions can also be customized to better meet specific security and performance needs when they are deployed separately from existing networks.

4. Will the network remain protected, even if users do not employ security best practices?

Hoteliers cannot confirm that each user at every location is running up-to-date anti-virus protection software and does not have a compromised system. Therefore, the network should be designed on rigid protocols that enforce security, even when employees do not.

5. What physical measures will be taken to protect the infrastructure?

If working with the same vendor to establish the data center, hospitality companies should inquire how the data center will be physically protected. Will there be registered guest restrictions, locked cage spaces or biometric safeguards? How will they monitor, detect and alert necessary IT staff and decision-makers if there is a physical intrusion?

Additionally, traffic within the network should never be broadcast using an antenna or wireless transmitter. A virtual private network should be required to protect data from interception by third parties.

6. What mandatory IT infrastructure requirements will be used to support security?

Before selecting a vendor, make sure that their strategic IT services include mandatory security requirements. These could include automated logging of security events, continuous management of backups, and administration of limited user-account permissions. Services must be built and administered in compliance with the security standards required for global data centers in order to enable the highest level of safety. Data should also be encrypted to ensure that the information of hotel guests is protected from potential threats.

7. What operational practices will be utilized to support security?

The system should provide options for tiers of user access within the network, allowing hotel staff to see only the information that is required to complete their daily activities. Access should be structured to reflect specific team's roles and responsibilities under the principle of least privilege. Additionally, the vendor should not allow hotel users to tap into supporting operating systems or lower functions, but rather requests should be managed in different network segments, and then sent to protected back-end databases.

8. Does the vendor have staff dedicated exclusively to its cloud technology?

Check that the vendor has a specific group or business unit tasked with the implementation and deployment of cloud technology. This confirms that those working to build and launch the system have extensive experience with SaaS-based implementations and are more likely to have received extensive training on cloud security. Having a group dedicated to cloud technology also indicates that it is a priority for the vendor, and that they will actively work behind the scenes to enable the security of your data, as well as continue to develop system protection enhancements.

9. What monitoring processes will be implemented to track potential security threats?

At the most basic level, the system should maintain centrally managed passwords to protect administrative access points to the cloud network. The technology should also alert network management staff to unsuccessful password attempts and patterns that could potentially indicate a security breach. The system should always have the ability to authenticate the server, which ensures that all user sessions are authenticated.

Additionally, vendors should log and monitor security incidents to certify that the system has not been compromised. By collaborating with hoteliers to investigate intrusion attempts, vendors can become a critical ally in mitigating safety risks.

10. Is the system ISO-27001 compliant?

Vendors should demonstrate compliance with this internationally recognized credential for a securely designed information management system. This is often the first, and most concrete, box to check when selecting a technology provider for your project. ISO-27001 is designed to enable the security of financial assets, intellectual property, employee details, and third-party information, which for hoteliers includes guest-related data.

11. Does the vendor conduct business everywhere that you do?

While cloud technologies have taken a lot of responsibility off of the plates of hospitality IT executives, achieving the 'last mile' of property-level broadband connectivity in a global enterprise has grown as a challenge that rivals those of local sourcing of food and labor. Local ISP offerings should be vetted for reliability, speed and security, and local data privacy and storage laws need to be researched and accommodated. Your cloud provider should make this easier by offering a network with multiple points of presence around the world, not only for shorter hops, but to allow multiple options for the storage location of your data.

In spite of all these concerns, the hospitality industry's adoption of cloud technologies has accelerated at a rapid clip in the past few years. The SaaS model is a great fit for the industry's fragmented ownership structure, and generally allows a larger IT investment than would have otherwise been the case. Today's growing array of options allows hotel companies to tread carefully, without having to tread lightly.

Bernard Ellis, Vice President of Industry Strategy is responsible for defining the go-to-market strategy of the entire Infor product suite for the hospitality industry vertical, including product positioning, messaging and partner relationships. Mr. Ellis also directly oversees product management of hospitality-specific solutions, and ensures the alignment of all hospitality sales, marketing and product management objectives. Prior to Infor, Mr. Ellis held executive positions with IDeaS, a SAS Company, SynXis, now part of Sabre Hospitality, and Micros-Fidelio. Mr. Ellis can be contacted at 202-232-3839 or bernard.ellis@infor.com Extended Bio...

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