Hotel portal delivers security and business benefits

The hotel division of Cendant is investing in web-based identity and access management technology that it expects will yield...

The hotel division of Cendant  is investing in web-based identity and access management technology that it expects will yield business benefits as well as improved security.

The company, which owns brands such as Ramada and Days Inn, is nearing completion of a web portal project designed to improve corporate information access for its 6,500 hotel franchises.

When complete in the fourth quarter of this year, Cendant's Brand Portal site will replace many of the highly manual processes that franchise operators currently use to send and receive information about room rates and bookings, property descriptions, inventory availability and other matters. 

"This is leaps and bounds beyond what we have," said Scott Lunsford, senior director of internet solutions at Cendant's hotel IT group. Unifying the individually operated franchises under a common portal will deliver significant operational efficiencies and give Cendant brands the scale needed to compete better on price, he said. 

"You could say 49% of this is about security and 51% about business (benefit)," Lunsford said. 

Cendant's portal shows how companies can get a tangible return on investment from web access-control and identity management technologies, said Pete Lindstrom, an analyst at Spire Security. 

Generally, companies have had a hard time measuring ROI on many security investments. But the cost savings promised by access-control and identity management products are driving growing corporate interest, said Phil Shacter, an analyst at Burton Group. 

A role-based access-control system using identity management technology from Oblix is providing the underpinning for the portal, which will be accessed by more than 30,000 users. 

Cendant declined to say how much it is spending on the project. But according to Oblix, typical costs average about $15 per user for large implementations. 

Oblix's CoreID technology will allow Cendant to build access policies based on factors such as user roles and property size. The technology will also let Cendant automate much of the business processes and rules related to creating, deleting and modifying identity information and access privileges. 

The centralised management of user information will allow for better authentication and more secure access to multiple back-end applications, including the rate, inventory management and financial information systems that are needed for web-based bookings. 

The new infrastructure will eliminate the need to support multiple access mechanisms and secure identity silos, thereby reducing operational costs, Lunsford said.

Because Oblix's technology also lets end-users perform tasks themselves such as password resets, support and helpdesks costs are expected to be lower as well, he said. 

The franchises will also benefit, said Marcelo Schnettler, manager of web development at Cendant. The portal will allow franchise operators to update rate and inventory information more efficiently than current fax and mail processes.

In addition, operators will no longer need to send separate copies of the information to Global Distribution Systems such as those of Worldspan Technologies and Pegasus Solutions that are used by online travel services suppliers. 

The website will also improve Cendant's ability to alert franchise operators of specific rate and inventory optimisation opportunities, he said. 

Cendant is hoping that the value delivered by the portal will attract other franchises from competing chains, said Lunsford. 

Building the portal has had its share of challenges. The biggest has been the process of assigning roles, and consequently the right access levels, to people who access the portal. For instance, a general manager's job at a small hotel is very different from that of a general manager at a large one, Schnettler said. Accommodating those kinds of differences has proved to be the biggest hurdle so far, he said.

Jaikumar Vijayan writes for Computerworld

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