Friday, June 24, 2016

Robotics are here, just look to my right.

Say Hello to my little friend. 

That little robot to my right is Igi. Igi serves as the mascot for my innovation laboratory at UNLV but also makes a terrific prop as he bows and greets the audience at the beginning of my talk. So much so that I dare say, there were more tweets about the cute little robot than the speaker (me). But I suppose that's ok, since the point of my speech was robotics. 

The conference had titled the session, Robotics in Hospitality: The Future or Just a Gimmick and I was most fortunate to be accompanied on the panel by the CEO of robotics startup company. I delivered a twenty minute lecture on my observations on the state of robotics and in particular focused on one critical point: that the concept of robotics in service industry has less to do with replacing a certain position with a robot THAN in redefining processes because of the multi-sensory nature of the machines. 

The media stories are replete with an image of a humanoid robot replacing a worker at a fast food restaurant. And while that may make for good reading, I challenge that thinking on four basic reasons:

1. The economics. The cost of the technology and the current capabilities are still prohibitive from large scale replacement of humans in basic service roles with robots.

2. Why do it that way anyway? Consider a simple robot. That robot could contain an array of sensors; be completely IoT (Internet of Things) connected and quite possibly be powered by an Artificial Intelligence. What then are the implications of these multiple features? From my perspective it is that the enterprise should consider how this multi-sensor, multi-feature robot may enable it to redefine entire departmental structures and internal processes. The era of the true multi-tasker has arrived. A robot such as this can perform multiple tasks perhaps simultaneously or separately...the master of all trades if you will. So why limit the discussion to replacing an order taker with a machine?

3. Assist humans don't replace them. I have a long tenured experience in the hospitality industry. As in nearly every other industry, the markets are global. The customer segmentation changes in the last ten years are obvious. Today a hotel may see guests from Ohio with the next guest in line from South Korea or Estonia but chances are that front desk clerk speaks only English. Imagine a robot at the front desk that performs many tasks but among them it stands by to assist the agent by instantly recognizing and speaking to the guest in their native language. What possibilities does that open up to provide enhanced services to the guest? Suddenly the front desk is no longer limited to handling the transaction of the check-in and check-out but can market the amazing prix fixe dinner special in the restaurant that evening or the nearby walk to one of the city's finest museums. The team together, the warm greeting of the human and the flawless translation of her colleague, the machine. 

4. Forget about the science fiction humanoid appearance. Robots already exist in highly productive and non-humanoid form. Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best,

With regard to robots, in the early days of robots people said, 'Oh, let's build a robot' and what's the first thought? You make a robot look like a human and do human things. That's so 1950s. We are so past that. 
He is right. Take a look at the automotive industry as the most basic example, the robotics employed in the manufacturing process are non-humanoid machines performing exacting steps in the assembly. 

Another example and the one I used in my speech was the autonomous vehicle. Another popular topic for the media, scarcely a day without reading about self-driving cars. But isn't a self-driving car a robot? By my definition, yes.

While my talk was centered primarily on the hospitality industry it is not difficult to project the implications to nearly any B2C segment. If you are thinking about robotics for your industry then I suggest you start by looking at the processes and not simply the people.

My little friend, Igy represents something very real and quite profound. He represents the development of technologies that we are just beginning to understand how best to apply them. Technologies and machines that should be looked in a different light than simply technology to replace a single human function. We and they are capable of so much more.Robotics are here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hospitality of the Future

Today is the last day of class for my Hospitality Innovation Lab here at UNLV. It has been an amazing journey, along the way I became friends with an amazingly talented colleague and thinker Dr. Mehmet Erdem; some extraordinarily smart and innovative students; and a support network within the International Gaming Institute that redefines how Universities can work. I'm proud to be associated with such a great school and a great program. 

Tonight we debut the first steps for Hospitality of the future.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Midpoint in the semester - 8 solid innovations

Last night marked the midpoint in the semester for Hospitality Lab. The evening also marked the class session where the eight student teams presented two of their innovative ideas. While I can't reveal the extraordinary ideas yet, I can share some of my observations about this talented group of millennial dreamers.

The first thing that is apparent is how differently they view the world and in particularly the business of hospitality. Their lens into the experiences that ultimately drive satisfaction from guests and revenues in the hotel are very different from the baby boomer or gen x. I recall sessions in my career where new innovations were described by their ability to "wow" the guest or impress them with advanced technology...this is not the case with the millennial inventor. Instead they see unbounded opportunity where status quo is an old Latin term of little relevance to them. They don't feel the need to incrementally improve and in fact all 16 ideas presented demonstrated a departure from that incremental innovation theory. The ideas spoke to their own personal behaviors, their likes and their perspective on travel and hospitality. The sociology of the millennial hospitality innovator is fascinating.

The millennial innovator also does not see solutions from a technology perspective, they see technology only as an enabler not as a solution in itself. They are truly digital natives, in that they have always known the Internet, the smart phone and social media. These things have no "wow" potential in them, they are simply factors that enable a higher level of engagement with each other or between a hospitality brand and it's guests. You cannot wow a millennial with technology, period. You cannot engage them with the same thinking you use today. They proved this theory last night.

The ideas ranged from the incredibly simple to large scale. They see hotels not as boxes for honeymoons and conventions but as places where you live temporarily, places that can facilitate whatever it is that you are doing. They become part of the travel journey and no longer the destination.

The remaining half of the semester is devoted to taking the highest scoring idea of the two they presented and then developing a prototype or a simulation to prove the concept in a start up pitch format. The hard work of taking a dream and executing on a minimum viable scale now begins. Along that path, I will include mentors who can help, guide and advise them as they put real design effort into these ideas. And at the end, produce something wonderful.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Robots in hospitality

Session 4 - Bring in the robots

Roughly four weeks into the semester, we have completed the first module. That module focused on developing an understanding of the problems and opportunities within the hospitality industry. The course has built a framework that began with that understanding and now transitions to ideas.

So cue the robots. Thanks to a great relationship I have with UNLV's state of the art Drones and Autonomous Systems Lab (DASL), I was able to schedule the entire class session at their lab. My students were immersed in robotics and drone technology. Which in turn allowed me to frame the technology as an innovation to be applied to hospitality. Technology aimed at basic research is a noble academic pursuit but technology applied to solve a problem in an industry as large and diverse as hospitality is profit. 

Imagine robots not simply as the animatronic entertainment piece but as functional elements in the service delivery process. Assisting humans in the performance of their duties or perhaps freeing humans from the more mundane and repetitive roles and allowing that human resource to enhance the guest experience through more interaction. Freeing human capital to elevate guest facing services. Now that is an innovation with huge implications to profit. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Session 3 - UNLV Hospitality Lab

Leading a first ever hospitality innovation lab requires some rather innovative thinking. To ensure the students were guided on the journey in developing and applying innovation to the hospitality industry, I designed the course to follow an approach where each session builds upon the prior session and ultimately prepares them to start developing an idea. In most cases of startup innovation this may be contrary to conventional practice.

The course itself is divided into four modules with each module filling approximately 4 class sessions. These sessions overlap and follow a logical sequence to the final pitch presentation, much like a startup pitch to an accelerator except that all of the pitches will be applied innovation to hospitality and all teams will have followed the same path.

Now in the first module we are sharing knowledge. Knowledge of both the hospitality industry and of innovation itself. In addition, we educate them on value propositions and a business model. I think it it is critically important for the students to view innovation in the context of the customer, the competition and the unique nature of the hospitality industry. The objectives as you can see above are to build a level of background knowledge of the hospitality industry and then refine that by zeroing in on the key problems for example, a long line at check in or engagement of millennials. My intent was to narrow the scope of ideas to ideas that actually solved significant problems in the industry. Second to that was to identify the major opportunities to innovate for example, robotics or predictive analytics. This foundation would therefore be strong and the student teams would be prepared for the second module: ideation.

Coming up with ideas is the easy part.

So I don't hang them out on this, I bring in mentors at this stage. True hospitality experts who can help mentor the teams on their possibilities. Provide them with the key insights or the go/no-go feasibility checkpoint on disruptive ideas. This actually take us to the mid-point in the semester where the student teams pitch their ideas to a panel of industry experts who score the ideas on a standard set of criteria similar to a pitch night but with more structure.

The highest scoring idea per team then becomes a project for the balance of the semester. Their deliverable on the last day is a final pitch, more refined and based on either a simulation of their idea or a prototype test plan.  What happens after that, well thats beyond the scope of my post but suffice it to say, I see this becoming integral to the startup process.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Session 2 of the Hospitality Innovation Lab - the deep dive

The bar is high. Very high. Not only from the perspective of building upon the highly successful legacy of the Gaming Institute's prowess in generating innovation to the casino industry but also the expectations of this supercharged group of students. So, what does one do? Go for it!

Through the extraordinary cooperation and support of Caesar's Entertainment Group, we took a deep dive into their millennial targeted integrated resort, The Linq, on the Vegas strip. We began the evening with a series of presentations designed around the three key themes in our applied innovation program:

  1. Mobile Platforms and Applications
  2. Big Data
  3. The Guest Room Experience
For Mobile and Big Data, we received a couple of outstanding presentations that allowed students to understand the "state" in the large integrated resorts and establish the baseline of one the largest brands in hospitality. Secondly it would facilitate a base understanding of the industry for my non-hospitality majors. Both presentations were outstanding leading to so many questions that we actually had to make that "only one more question" call. 

Following the two presentations the class went hands on, a tour. We started with a stop at the new check-in kiosk's at the Linq's front desk. Not simply to see the technology but to understand its impact upon the guest experience and satisfaction. And then into the elevators for a visit to a standard guest room and one of the Linq's very cool suites. Now visiting a hotel room with one of the leaders of the hotel has benefits in itself but when you also gain a keen understanding of the target market and how the decor and amenities of the rooms are designed with that target audience in mind, well you just elevated the knowledge x 10. As with the presentations a constant flow of questions from the students. 

They were thinking. The ideas were already beginning to take shape.

Over the next two class sessions we will build upon this foundation with a lineup of guest speakers who can elaborate on the themes.  We will be moving the students towards development of their ideas as solutions to problems within this immense industry. Problems that can be solved by innovative minds...more to follow.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hospitality Innovation Lab Debuts @UNLV

The first session of the International Gaming Institute's Hospitality Innovation Lab @UNLV debuted last night. The class which is the first of its kind will guide students in the development of applied innovations directed at the global hospitality industry. By having the Las Vegas Strip as an extended laboratory, we will have an unprecedented opportunity to transform an entire industry.

The class itself will be focused on three primary "theme" areas for ideation and innovation:

  1. Mobile platforms and applications
  2. Big data and predictive analytics
  3. The guest room experience of the future
I selected these theme areas to narrow the scope for the students and provide them with key insights to apply their innovations in the areas most likely to create economic value for the hotels. 

The class will run for the Spring semester and conclude with a "Shark Tank" like pitch presentation of their ideas to select senior hospitality industry professionals. Who knows maybe the next Uber for the front desk?

more to follow....