I was sitting next to Catherine Blieka, product and client services manager for Optii Solutions, as we watched Donna Gallyon schedule the housekeeping staff for the day.
Gallyon, who is operations manager for the Rocky Gap Casino and Resort in Cumberland, Md., was discussing the schedule with housekeeping supervisor Becky Bunnell as she made a few clicks on the green and orange blocks on her computer screen. Then she was done.
“Normally I spend about 20 minutes setting up the housekeeping staff,” Gallyon said. On this day it had taken a little longer because she was explaining what she was doing to this eWEEK columnist, who was watching her every move. Once Gallyon was finished assigning housekeepers, she assigned the supervisors, including Bunnell. Then she was done.
Lest you think that assigning the housekeeping staff to its daily rounds is a trivial task, it’s worth noting that housekeeping is about 90 percent of a hotel’s overall operational costs. Any improvement in housekeeping efficiency directly improves the hotel’s bottom line. By using Optii Keeper housekeeping software, the hotel has cut housekeeping costs by about 25 percent, according to general manager Skylar Dice.
Optii Keeper is a set of applications created by Optii Solutions that links the scheduling program on a Windows computer in the office with Apple iPod Touch handheld devices and iPads. The iPods, which are controlled by IBM’s MaasS360 secure mobile management system, run a dedicated application that the staff can’t change. The hotel’s IT department has an iPod for each employee in the housekeeping department, plus a few spares.
Next, we went to the morning meeting of the housekeeping staff, where trainers read a list of items that cropped up consistently in the previous day’s inspections, including making sure trash cans in the rooms were positioned in the right place and windows were cleaned properly. The trainers also read off a list of things that the staff was doing consistently well when the rooms were inspected.
It turned out that the same Optii Keeper software that Gallyon was using to schedule the staff is also used by inspectors when they check to see if hotel rooms are cleaned and prepared properly. Later, when I followed housekeeping supervisor Bunnell around, she used the same software Gallyon had been using, but with a different set of functions.
Optii Keeper works by sending a personalized schedule and task list to each member of the housekeeping staff via their iPod. Initially, the tasks are arranged in the order staff members would follow as they worked their way down the halls in their sections of the hotel.
But task priorities listed on the device can changes as needed. For example, the housekeeper might start by cleaning rooms that were being vacated that day first so newly arriving guests will have a place to stay when they get there.
Once the rooms of departed guests are cleaned, then the housekeepers move on to clean the rooms of guests staying another night.
Maryland Resort Cleans Up With Optii Mobile Housekeeping App
From time to time, they’re given rush assignments that jump ahead in priority—for example, when a VIP guest arrives. The prioritization is shown on each cleaning staff member’s iPod. This minimizes backtracking, so the staff moves from one room to the next on down the hall, where possible.
But the ability to change and prioritize assignments also eliminates the previous paper-based methods of housekeeping management. Blieka explained that in the past, changes in room assignments or in priority meant a constant stream of housekeepers and managers moving between the floors and the housekeeping and operations offices.
This was a dramatically slower and more error-prone operation. In addition, without the integrated ability to track the activities of the housekeeping staff, there was no effective means of eliminating consistent problems. As a result, guests frequently were finding issues such as table lamps that didn’t work or trash cans that weren’t empty.
“The biggest change has been in guest services aspect,” Dice said, noting the reduction in guest complaints and the near elimination of guests waiting for rooms. He said it also allows the maintenance staff to stay on top of problems: When there’s something physically wrong with a room, the housekeeper can simply take a photo with the iPod’s camera and send the photo to the maintenance staff, security or wherever else it might be needed to fix the problem.
While there are other hotel management applications from other companies, currently Optii Keeper is the only mobile app that’s so focused on housekeeping management.
The integration of mobile technology into the day-to-day operations of the most costly part of the hotel’s staff means that the amount of time needed to service rooms is reduced dramatically. This can make the staff more productive because there’s less wasted time.
The change also helps the hotel’s management be more effective because they’re wasting far less time finding their housekeeping staff and managing their priorities. Because the application runs on standard iOS devices, it also means that there’s a very small learning curve. One member of the staff told me that it took her less than 10 minutes to learn her part of the application.
Optii is used globally, in a wide variety of languages, so it can be used by a diverse, multilingual housekeeping staff. The color-coding and simple interface makes the application easy to learn, even by people who aren’t familiar with the iPod.
While managing a hotel staff pushing lumbering housekeeping carts perhaps isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about mobile technology, it is in fact a mobile application. By making that process work better, the housekeeping operation is contributing directly to an improved bottom line.
According to Blieka, the same mobile processes that are currently being used in hotel management can be translated to other types of use, ranging from health care to theme parks. All of those uses are mobile, and mobile technology is a clear answer to making those tasks more efficient.