February 18, 2004

Hotel Case Study

VingCard is the world's leading manufacturer of card operated locking systems for the hotel....

Posted: August 26, 2002 Printer-friendly version

Solution Overview
Customer Profile
One of the world's leading manufacturers of card operated locking systems for the hotel and cruise industry, VingCard provides the locking system for more than two million locks in properties in 135 countries.
Business Situation
VingCard wanted to provide its customers with a quick and easy way to upload and download software and data from locks on hotel doors and other secure areas.
Solution Description
The solution consists of software running on Microsoft Windows CE supported by hardware devices from a variety of manufacturers. Individual devices connect to a front office PC running Microsoft Windows.

* Easy-to-use system for uploading and downloading lock data allows hotel staff access to instantly access information about room use. Access to lock data to check for unauthorized access and reduced hotel customer fraud and possible theft.
* Scalability and extensibility system adapts to other uses in the hospitality industry.
* Familiar Windows user interface with easy-to-recognize icons makes VingCard's system usable in locations around the world.

Software and Services
Microsoft Windows CE

Vertical Industries


VingCard is the world's leading manufacturer of card operated locking systems for the hotel and cruise industry. More than two million locks are installed in properties in 135 countries. The company's international network consists of 12 subsidiaries and another 75 distributors, employing more than 600 people.

Its technology effectively means that the locks in most hotels are miniature computers which only access only to specific card holders and which store information about who has entered the room and when. One of the keys to the success of such locks is a system which enables the uploading of software and data into the lock and which can then retrieve information about room use whenever necessary.

Card operated door locks aren't especially new -- most large hotels have been using them for the past ten years. But the technology used to implement and administer these systems has progressed as portable computers have decreased in size and increased in capacity.
Searching for a Compact, Easy-to-Use Solution

Matt Rydn, product manager for VingCard, describes the earliest solution. "In the beginning we had large Epson computers which fitted into a briefcase - they looked like something out of a spy movie," he says. "We then moved on to early Handheld PCs which were reliable and robust, but weren't especially easy to use. You have to remember that the devices have to be suitable for the needs of front office staff or even hotel managers who may themselves be based at smaller establishments."

The company looked carefully at the solutions available and considered a number of hardware and operating system combinations before it settled on Microsoft Windows CE and Palm-size PCs (P/PCs) from Compaq and Everex.

"Microsoft is a pretty well accepted nearly every where," says Rydn. "But we wanted to allow different regions to be able to choose the hardware platform which offered the best support in that part of the world. Hotels can also adapt Windows CE and the software to their own hardware."
Choosing a Palm-size PC Solution

The choice of a Palm-size PC solution offers a variety of features that allow hotels to program locks quickly and easily, and then use that software to closely monitor who goes in and out of rooms. Hotels are able to retrieve logistical reports that support maintenance of the locks and enable problems to be nipped in the bud. Management can for example obtain readouts of remaining battery life in the locks' computers.

In the first instance, the hotel uses a PC running VingCard software -- based on Microsoft Windows 98 or Microsoft Windows NT operating systems -- to configure the general properties of the hotel into each lock's program. Members of the hotel staff move through a number of simple menu screens to set information such as the number of floors in the hotel and the number of rooms on each floor. They then set the individual lock data. This describes, for example, which cards can be used to access the lock and how long the lock stays open once it is unlocked.

All this information can then be loaded onto a Compaq 1500 P/PC. This is taken to each of the locks in question where the user enters the room number and the lock software, and data is uploaded via a standard RS-232 cable connected to the lock, or by using the infrared port on the P/PC.
Additional Benefits

Apart from replicating an old-fashioned metal key and lock, the internal computers allow hotels to further increase guest security and staff convenience, and dramatically reduce all kinds of deficiencies in guestrooms or storage areas.

"It keeps an audit trail of up to the last 200 events involving that lock," says Rydn. "For example, which cardholder has accessed the room and when, and whether or not the room was locked from the inside. This makes it very hard to deceive hotels about unauthorized access and stolen goods. In the past if a guest said that something valuable had been stolen from their room in their absence, the hotel often had little choice but to pay up and claim it on its insurance."

Rydn adds: "For example, if a guest claims that someone entered their room and stole an expensive camera while they were eating breakfast, the hotel management can quickly use the Palm-size PC to retrieve data from the lock in question and find out whether or not someone else was in the room that morning. In fact many hotels also use the same lock and technology for protecting expensive alcohol or silver services which are stored in rooms with limited staff access." The audit trail function works both ways: it adds security and convenience to the hotel operators, as well as for the hotel guests.

The latest lock series from VingCard, the DA VINCI series, further utilizes Windows CE and the P/PC by adding "Lock logistics" and "trouble shooting" to the menu. This drastically reduces maintenance time and cost for the hotel staff by enabling instant readouts of lock data containing such parameters as battery capacity, reading failure, number of openings, time to next service or even brake in/tamper attempts.

VingCard's DA VINCI lock system

Rydn emphasizes that choosing Windows CE wasn't a difficult decision: "Apart from the fact that Microsoft operating systems are widely used, we had to consider the ease of use of our solution -- this was the bottom line. In the past we had to settle for solutions which met our business requirements, but which almost required a science degree to be used properly. The system also had to be accessible to people from all parts of the world. That meant we needed an operating system with clear, recognizable icons and graphics. Windows CE is a superb solution for this system."

Scalability and compatibility were also issues. The fact that the two main VingCard software components run on scaled versions of the same operating system on both the front office PC and the Palm-size PCs makes implementation a lot smoother.

The Future

As for the future, Rydn is considering the use of wireless technology. "This means that a lock could automatically report to a P/PC carried by patrolling staff or to the main PC without being wired up. In theory, it would be able to monitor room entry in real time and look out for unauthorized or unexpected visitors."

Rydn adds that they also will extend the use of Palm-size PCs to work on products from VingCard's sister company Elsafe, which manufactures in-room safes. In the future the hotels will be able to use the same Palm-size PCs for servicing, uploading and retrieving logistical data from hotel room safes in the same fashion.

He also believes that the technology could be introduced to other marketplaces. "Similar systems could be used for remote check-ins at airports by waving a smart card at a Palm-size PC with a smart card encoder," he says.

He also believes that the technology could be introduced to other marketplaces. "Similar systems could be used for remote check-ins at airports by waving a smart card at a Palm-size PC with a smart card encoder," he says.
For More Information

To learn more about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (800) 563-9048. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. More information via the World Wide Web is available at the following Web sites:
# Microsoft Corporation http://www.microsoft.com/
# VingCard http://www.vingcard.com/

Microsoft Case Studies: VingCard

Posted by Craig at February 18, 2004 05:51 PM