When A Message Means So Much
A little known UAE-based tech company hopes to challenge popular mobile messaging apps by staking its claim in the hospitality sector
By Maria Elizabeth Kallukaren, June 25 2016
Given that everyman, and his sister, has a smartphone device, is it any wonder that any techie worth his or her salt is keen on tailoring their technology towards mobile apps?
Getmymessage is one such information technology company based in Dubai, UAE. It launched the app ‘MessageBox’ at HITEC 2016 held in New Orleans, USA, last month. The application is currently targeted at the hospitality industry to help manage hotel operations efficiently and securely entirely from a mobile device.
HITEC or the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference is a tradeshow held for finance, technology and hospitality professionals where the latest products and services for the industry are unveiled. “It can be used in other sectors as well: hospitals, facility management companies, cable operator companies and airline companies, to name a few,” says the IT company’s Indian founder and director Shabu Ans.
Chasing a dream
Chartered accountant Shabu Ans worked for 16 years in the UAE branch of a multinational American bank before throwing it all up to start his own company in 2013. He was spurred by his interest in mobile applications coupled with a desire to be creative with technology. “I had no idea what I would develop,” he says. “But I was just sure that I wouldn’t be able to do anything if I didn’t quit and start something myself.”
The next three years were a steep learning curve, with a few false starts and course corrections. Although his wife and two teenage sons have been pillars of support, the sudden loss of a sizeable monthly income and all the necessary lifestyle changes this entailed weren't easy.
The blood, sweat and tears…
“Begin a business venture on your own and you have to teach yourself or develop skill sets in every possible area,” says the 46-year-old.
“Sales, finances, admin matters, time management… everything matters.
But regardless of success or failure, you have the joy that you at least tried, which possibly 99 per cent of people don’t.”
“Being forced out of your comfort zone, you learn who you really are. Whether that is good news or bad news, we will figure out on the way,” Shabu adds.
What is special?
Cutting through technical jargon, the Cloud-based app MessageBox is a simple application to manage back office operations. It can be launched in five minutes. There is no installation or system configuration required, that entail labour costs. No training is required either. “It's easy for people to adapt to, since it uses the chat form and can send images,” says Shabu.
Rather like creating an email id, a user simply enters his details, adds users and is good to go. “This is quite important when staffing is an issue, retention is an issue and people change jobs. Intangible amounts of money are spent on training. Companies lose out on their staff’s productivity during those days” Shabu adds. “The MessageBox app saves hotel money in the short and long run.”
He knows many hotels - even 5-star ones - that rely on some form of messaging - WhatsApp, SMS, or Blackberry Messenger - to form internal groups and send messages to and fro. “Typically, supervisors and support staff form groups - a housekeeping group, an engineering group etc. to manage customer-generated requests, planned maintenance jobs, or day-to-day ad hoc tasks - to keep their communication lines always open and online,” Shabu explains. “Each will have some 300-400 messages floating around, out of which it’s very difficult to keep track of various tasks… what’s pending, what’s completed. And all this information is out there in the public domain… . There is no scope for reports and analytics.”
Instead, MessageBox offers a more secure and efficient system, where jobs are listed to be assigned along with a deadline. These tasks are reviewed and escalated in the event of non-completion. Every chat corresponding to a task will carry the entire chain of workflow, establishing an audit trail, and lending itself to the creation of service standards. Engineering tasks that involve a variety of scheduled maintenance jobs can also be entered into the app, with reminders popping up on a supervisor’s mobile. “This is a more structured way for hotel professionals to manage work. It gives them all the benefits of WhatsApp but eliminates its inefficiencies.”
“Moving away from South East Asia and the Middle East into Europe and America, staffing is a huge constraint. A 50- to 100-room mid-tier hotel is typically staffed by 10-20 people,” Shabu points out. “So with staffing at a premium, this app is an inexpensive solution that doesn’t keep staff tied to a specific place.”
At $75 per month for the Lite version of the app and $150 for the Premium, Shabu believes that MessageBox is pitched at a very economical price. “It costs only 20 to 30 per cent the cost of competitive technology in the market.” The bulk of the technology he is referring to is either desk-bound, or might be more focused on guest relations and the endeavour at hotels world-over to give their guests greater independence and control in the way they access hotel facilities. The strengths of MessageBox lie in it being mobile-based, relatively cheap and scalable.
“We have pitched the app to a number of hotels and discussions are at various levels. We have received a lot of feedback - not a single negative one,” says Shabu with optimism. He, however, admits that convincing a hotel’s management to use the app has been an uphill task. “The major challenge is in turning their mindset since they are currently managing with some sort of make-do solution.”
There has, however, been considerable interest from South Africa, Singapore and the United Kingdom. Following the HITEC exhibition a number of leads have opened up in the US market. “We feel we are at the cusp of a breakthrough,” says Shabu.
For more information: www.getmymessage.co
A peek into housekeeping
What happens when a guest calls in from his or her hotel room asking for an extra pillow, a cup of coffee or for his laundry?
A UAE-based executive housekeeper working for a reputed chain of hotels (name withheld on request) provides an in-depth view. “We have a Guest Request Centre that acts as a single point of contact for all guest calls” she said. “A small staff of runners handles some of the basic requests. More technical jobs are directed to speciﬁc departments, with a timeframe allotted for each task.
The Guest Centre later follows up on the tasks to check about completion.” All requests are logged into the hotel’s Property Management System. The Guest Request Centre uses Word and Excel sheets to keep track of tasks. A contract with the local telecommunication service has made communication simpler, because it allows the hotel to provide mobiles to key staff. 10,000 intra-hotel network calls are allowed free of charge in a month.
At yet another well-known budget hotel group in the UAE, guest requests are entered into a physical logbook by the Front Ofﬁce desk coordinator. Most housekeeping tasks are given 5-10 minutes for completion, before follow-up action is taken. The desk coordinator also compiles Excel sheets that track room attendants’ locations. Once again, a tie-up with the local telecom service allows for free mobile calls to speed up communication between staff.
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