Technology growth and consolidation in the vacation rental industry have exploded over the past five years. In a market where there were only five to ten core property management system (PMS) providers, there are now over a hundred. Some older players have left the market, while others were acquired or sunset. There are also multiple providers who offer only pieces of the comprehensive functionality that legacy enterprise PMSs provided in the past.
What the current systems do (or do not do) is diverse and complicated. Understanding how all the different solutions integrate and knowing who to call when something is not working is no easy task.
With technology playing an increasingly strategic role in the vacation rental marketplace, it is important that companies make the right technology decisions.
Many companies grew with a core team of operators and made their technology decisions along the way based on what was available at that time rather than on a long-term business and technology plan. Hiring an IT lead as a permanent member of your business team is an important and strategic decision that can help your company grow to the next level.
An issue for small- and mid-sized businesses is whether they are making the right technology decisions and making the best use of their current technologies to grow their business while increasing efficiencies and improving employee, owner, and guest experiences. Growing technologies like mobile, cloud, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence can provide opportunities to serve customers in new ways—and those opportunities are easier to spot with an IT person embedded on your team.
An IT leader who understands your business, not just technology, is imperative. They need to be part of the budgeting process, involved in developing your strategic plans, engaged in marketing and business development projects, and fully versed in how your business operates day-to-day. They should map the entire customer journey (guest and owner) and work with you to determine the areas for improvement.
A dedicated IT leader can help you navigate all the options and work with cloud providers, vendors, and outside contractors. Someone once told me that their PMS system took only 1 percent of their time to support but 100 percent of their time when problems arose.
Are you willing to step away from running your business and serving your guests to fix an outage? An IT leader will know how to negotiate a contract with a cloud service provider that includes all the uptime, redundancy, failover, and security requirements to support your operations with penalties for outages or breaches.
How much should a property manager spend on technology?
According to a Flexera 2020 survey, the average IT spend across all industries is 8.2 percent of revenue, with an average of 18 percent of that spent on cloud-based technologies. Compare that to your spend to see if you are investing enough in your company’s success.
What Type of Role Should You Hire?
IT has almost as many disciplines as medicine. When you are sick, do you need a general practitioner, a physical therapist, or an orthopedic surgeon, and how do you know?
Your business might require the assistance of these technology roles: end-user support, help desk technician, network technician, network engineer, systems administrator, systems engineer, database administrator, telecommunications technician, developer, cybersecurity engineer, IT manager, and more. A senior lead on your team will know which type of support your company needs and who to contract or bring onto your team.
Suggestions for Finding the Right Leader
Hire Someone Who Speaks Both Languages
A pure information technologist will not understand your business. Someone who has worked in the vacation rental industry in technology or technology consulting will be a better fit.
Hire a Senior Role
The position needs to have an equal voice on the management team. They should be able to communicate well and explain technology in a non-technical manner, including the benefits your operations will gain. They need to be able to negotiate with vendors, maintain strong vendor relationships, and possess a strong customer service mentality. Hiring someone in the $40–$50K salary range, depending on your location, is not going to get you the skills you need. Use Salary Monster or other online hiring tools to find the appropriate salary range for your market. If this level position is not in your budget, consider a part-time role that still sits at the executive level. This is sometimes called a virtual CIO.
Check Their References
This is so simple but people often forget to do this. An IT résumé may look impressive, but the reality may be different. Talk to prior employers or customers. Technologists can be great on systems but hard to integrate into a team. Look for experience in both areas.
Give Them Some Rope
Even a seasoned professional will need to learn your unique business model and operations. They need time to watch and learn. If you can, put them through a two-week boot camp during which they work a few days in each department. Do not expect big results immediately.
Measure What Matters
Each department has different goals. IT is not going to have a business development goal. Track project successes, on-time or under-budget delivery, cost savings, and new efficiencies. How they control and contribute to change management (which is a whole other article) should be a priority. Employee satisfaction with IT services is a good measure as well.
Strategic leaders at growing companies know the challenges they face and the outcomes they hope to achieve, but they may not know all the options for getting there. Technology is now central to building a strong company, but the technologies themselves have become more complex and difficult to understand. To keep pace with fast-moving solutions, you need a technology leader on your business team.