Electronic locks going mobile in 2015

VingCard Elsafe’s Allure electronic locking system uses RFID to create a minimalist, “invisible” lock.

VingCard Elsafe’s Allure electronic locking system uses RFID to create a minimalist, “invisible” lock.

Starting last year, mobile keys made a splash and that trend will be in full swing this year. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide started testing out virtual keys at the Aloft Harlem in New York and Aloft Cupertino in California last year. The company plans to roll it out to other hotel brands this year.

As a means to improving the customer experience, mobile keys will continue to dominate the electronic locks discussion in 2015. “It’s the only thing customers want to discuss this year,” said Alastair Cush, director of product marketing at Kaba Access & Data Systems.

Driven by the biggest player, the smaller players are looking to adopt mobile keys as well, said Christophe Sut, VP of product and marketing at ASSA ABLOY Hospitality. “All type of players will see this as bringing value—it’s very convenient and it creates a unique customer experience,” he said. 

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While mobile key is the newest innovation, not all hotels will want to use the technology, said Matthew Mrowczynski, VP of global hospitality at Salto Systems. He sees a new trend for this year of curbside check-in with hotel tablets. “Five-star hotels want to offer personalized hospitality—they don’t want guests sneaking in the back door,” he said.

Online systems for electronic locks have been an evolving technology as well. A few years ago, only the larger Las Vegas properties and large city properties used online locks, but smaller hotels are exploring the technology as well, said Cush. Labor savings come into play for those smaller hotels. Instead of deploying staff to manually check electronic room locks when an employee leaves, the hotel staff can use the online system to bulk disable a key.

With online systems, electronic locks can integrate with energy management systems, other workforce management systems and give hoteliers data to use efficiently.

Sut believes that invisible door locks that encase the electronic hardware in the door itself will continue to grow in 2015. Architects and designers have seen traditional locks as an obstacle, Sut said. “This is a much trendier, more attractive option.” Among the panel screen features, properties can tailor the screen to be unique to the hotel or to the guest.

But mobile will dominate the discussions for most hoteliers this year, but there will be factors to consider. “The high-level technology questions are being answered but there are more things to consider,” Cush said. “There is an impact on hotel operations; an impact on the guest experience;  and an impact on room allocation, legal, security. There are many other questions that need to be answered. There’s a lot of preparation hoteliers need to do.”

Security and technology coming together

Lock companies, such as Salto Systems, call for greater security amid the rise of mobile access locks.

Lock companies, such as Salto Systems, call for greater security amid the rise of mobile access locks.

Many electronic lock manufacturers strongly recommend evaluating and focusing more on security if a hotel is making the move to mobile access locks. This new technology can come with risks, warned Christophe Sut, VP of product and marketing at ASSA ABLOY Hospitality. “Poor implementation can be a risk,” he said. “Whenever a new layer of technology is added, security needs to be increased as well.”

“The higher level of technology, hoteliers need to make sure their security is up to the task,” Sut said. “They will need lots of time making sure the level is secure.”

Security and technology are coming together as best they can but hotels still need to be wary, said Matthew Mrowczynski, VP of global hospitality at Salto Systems. The security of a mobile door lock is part of a larger challenge of guest security as hoteliers have access to more guest data.

“We need to be cautious,” he said. “When we roll out these programs, we need to be prepared in all aspects. Certain people are always looking for reasons to sue. There are very bright people out there that are eager to deceive.”

Mrowczynski cautions hoteliers to increase security at the back-end of the hotel—employees can be a threat to security with mobile technology as well. He also said every room lock should be bench-tested. “As long as everything is researched, tested and retested, everyone will be fine,” he said.

Is your property ready for mobile access locks?

Near-field communication (NFC) has enabled mobile phones to be used as a hotel room key.

Near-field communication (NFC) has enabled mobile phones to be used as a hotel room key. 

While the mobile access hotel door locks trend is starting to boom this year, the technology may not be right for all hotels. Access control company Kaba Access and Data Systems, which provides the Saflok and ILCO electronic locks, wrote a white paper for hoteliers to determine their readiness for mobile access locks. There is a three-step process that hoteliers need to answer.

1 Is your property equipped with RFID door locks? Is there demand from your guests for secure mobile access? Will mobile add value?

2 Identify your motivation for going mobile. There are marketing benefits, such as becoming an innovation technology leader, and creating a stronger branded loyalty program. There are also operational benefits, such as lighter front desk check-in and reduced labor costs associated with that.

3 Evaluate the implementation process for a secure mobile strategy. Steps 1 and 2 are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mobile implementation, said Alastair Cush, director of product marketing at Kaba. The technology involved and operational steps required for a smooth, well-executed rollout lie beneath the surface.

There are six elements of the decision process that should be considered:

* Open a dialogue with your PMS vendor on the criteria needed to develop a function mobile key interface. 

* Develop a process with your PMS vendor that addresses your company’s process to manage and message virtual check-ins on day of arrival.

* Verify your loyalty program is able to interact with guests who book and use your hotel app.

* Analyze the impact of mobile access on your other systems.

* Evaluate app development. Examine ease of use and security features.

* Address non-technology issues, such as marketing and communication, security procedures, legal issues and how you will issue additional keys for non-mobile guests or children.

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