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How Cognitive Computing Will Transform Hospitality

by Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor |

Plenty of companies are reorienting themselves around machine learning and predictive analytics. Take Netflix, for example: It uses machine learning to recommend movies or a series you might like based on what you’ve previously watched. But the amount of data available relating to a person’s preferences extends far beyond whether or not you like House of Cards.

Imagine if all the data available about an individual could be aggregated, analyzed and then used to deliver an experience unlike any other?

According to Bret Greenstein, VP of Consumer Business with IBM Watson Internet of Things, it can. It’s called cognitive computing. And it’s not just tech companies leveraging this kind of machine learning; automotive, healthcare, retail, agriculture and just about every other industry are getting into the game—including hospitality.

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“Cognitive computing is basically the intersection between the Internet of things and the Internet of people,” says Greenstein, who will present on this topic November 6th at RSF London at the Amba Hotel Charing Cross. His presentation is titled “Cognitive and Predictive Intelligence: How Watson Will Change Hospitality.”

Greenstein spoke with Duetto in advance of his opening keynote presentation. (To register for RSF London or learn more about the agenda, click here.)

Q: Explain cognitive computing for us. How does it work and why is it important?

A: Cognitive computing is basically the simulation of human thought processes in a computerized model. The systems use self-learning algorithms to better interpret data without having to code it. Before cognitive, computing was all cause and effect. But these systems are trained through interaction, much like a human brain.

Q: How can that information be used?

A: When you’re able to gather data about an individual, you can apply it to his or her experience.

Q: So what does this mean for a hotel?

A: For example, say you walk into your hotel room. You turn the TV on and we learn that you like to watch sports. If we begin collecting that data, and those interactions, we can start recognizing patterns about your preferences and anticipate what you’re going to do, need or want next. Then we can make suggestions based on that information. It means a hotel can know their guest even better and enhance and personalize their experience, which will drive loyalty.

Q: Can you give me an example of how this might play out?

A: I love steak. And I like the temperature of my room to be 68°F. I also like to watch sports. Imagine if the hotel I’m staying with knew all this about me before I even arrived on property. At check-in, they could suggest the nearest steakhouse and remind me what channel ESPN is on. They could even have the temperature of the room preset to my preference. Or they could push a notification to me via the app, suggesting a steak special in their restaurant to keep me on property and increase my spend with them.

Q: What does Big data mean to you?

A: It’s a broad topic. Put simply, it means deriving meaningful insights from large sets of data on a given topic. Big data can help you make better decisions, depending on the analytics applied.

Q: What is the importance of making that data actionable?

A: Before IoT, companies did their best to leverage any data they’d get. But with IoT, there’s additional data that many companies haven’t figured out what to do with yet. I think it’s essential — and can give you a competitive advantage — to figure out what the data means. Once you do, you can maximize an experience and become far more valuable to your guest.

For example, in the hotel setting, it would be useful to know which channels I watch, how long I’m in the room, where I go when I leave the hotel, and where I eat while I stay with you. This will allow you, the hotelier, to create offers or experiences based on my behavior.

Q: What are some best practices for collecting, storing and serving data?

A: Privacy is the most important thing. There’s a line that, once crossed, begins to feel invasive. Any individual that interacts with your business needs to know that their privacy is respected.

From there, you must look for ways to become essential to your users. Too many industries think these experiences can be pushed with a mobile app. But apps aren’t user-serving. You must first establish that you know me and that you care about what I want. You must become useful to me in ways that are free.

For a hotel, you should know that I’ve searched your hotel and I’m looking in your city. Once I’ve made a reservation, you should further engage with me to make my trip easier. Then, when I arrive, we will have already established a relationship. You’ve shown you understand the context of me and you can suggest things that are useful. You will then gain my trust and you can interact with me in ways that add value instead of blindly pushing something on me through an app or with a flier under my door.

Q: How do Big Data and predictive analytics play a role in the digitization of the physical world?

A: With IoT, we’re generating so much data. Take my house for example; look at just what’s connected to my WiFi. There are at least a dozen things connected and they’re all generating data about me. Same goes for all the mobile apps I use, my social media profile and my preferences in the car. Some companies have learned how to engage with me based on this data.

Q: How do you collect this data as a hotel?

A: You must find the source and then buy and analyze it because the more you know the better.

For example, there might be a high correlation between single people and what they do in a hotel versus married people. Most people are buying demographics through third parties. Most retailers know a profile of me. If you acquire that data, you might see those things that would be helpful.

If you know that I’m traveling with my family, it might be more useful to suggest fast casual restaurants instead of high-end expensive dinners. You could present these suggestions at the front desk or through the mobile app in a way that would be meaningful.

Q: What industries have adopted cognitive and predictive analytics well so far?

A: That’s what so fun about this space. Almost all industries are doing something with it, some more provocatively than others. There are fast-followers and others who are slower to adapt, but cognitive and AI are presenting a high differentiation. Just as having an online presence separated the haves and the have-nots, so will machine learning. It’s not a choice of whether or not to adopt it, but a matter of when and how.

What separates the fast-followers from others is what they do with the data and how they turn it into new revenue streams.

Q: How do you see this technology evolving within the hospitality space?

A: I think hotel rooms will become more connected and the experience will become more personalized. I think there will be a consumerization of the experience where we walk into a room and can interface with it with voice controls. I also think Big Data will transform the services side.


Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor

Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor

Content Contributor at Duetto
Joanna joined Duetto in May 2015 as a Contributing Editor with more than a decade of writing, editing and graphic design experience for both print and online trade publications. She is passionate about driving content innovation through blogs, e-newsletter and social channels.
Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor

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Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor

Joanna joined Duetto in May 2015 as a Contributing Editor with more than a decade of writing, editing and graphic design experience for both print and online trade publications. She is passionate about driving content innovation through blogs, e-newsletter and social channels.