House Of Cards

Systems integrator Saflok offers this advice for VARs: Get Smart. The company showed during a recent installation that smart cards could be the wave of the future in the hotel industry.

Electronic lock manufacturer and systems integrator Saflok has grown annual sales to $70 million by adhering to a paradox. Saflok satisfies customers with consistency while – at the same time – the company embraces change.

For example, Saflok pioneered magnetic-stripe keycards 15 years ago and continues to sell that technology to hotels worldwide. But the company has now upgraded its electronic locks to work with smart cards, credit-card-sized cards with embedded computer chips.

Saflok practiced its philosophy during a recent installation at the Hilton East Brunswick and Towers in central New Jersey. Saflok manufactures and sells microprocessor-driven electronic locks to the hotel industry. The 240-employee company is also a reseller and integrator of technologies associated with its locks.

Headquartered in Costa Mesa, CA, Saflok maintains U.S. offices in Troy, MI; Orlando, FL; and Las Vegas. International offices are located in Belgium and Singapore. Saflok is a subsidiary of Masco Corp., a $3.6 billion company that targets the building and home-improvement industries. Age was the main problem afflicting the original electronic lock system at the 405-room Hilton East Brunswick. The magnetic-stripe card system was malfunctioning regularly, and obtaining replacement parts for the outdated locks was time consuming.

Who You Gonna Call?
The Hilton East Brunswick requested bids from several manufacturers who could replace its electronic lock system. Among those companies was Saflok, who has installed keycard lock systems at hotels for 20 years. With two decades of experience, identifying the Hilton East Brunswick's problem and making the sale were not complicated. "It was pretty much a straightforward installation," said Henry F. (Phil) Wilder, Saflok's director of marketing. "We've done a number of hotels over the years, so there aren't many surprises any more."

After Saflok was asked to submit a bid, company representatives visited the Hilton East Brunswick to analyze the installation. Saflok then developed its plan, demonstrated its product to Hilton decision-makers, and made phone calls to the hotel's regional and national offices. Four months after the Hilton asked for bids, Saflok was chosen to install its Saflok MT (Multi-Technology) electronic lock. "Ten years ago, the sales cycle ranged from six months to a year," Wilder said. "Now, electronic locks have become so accepted in the hotel industry that the sales cycle usually ranges from a week to a couple of months. One reason we won the Hilton bid was because we gave the hotel options. They could use either a smart-card system or magnetic-stripe cards with our locks."

Saflok installed the entire system and trained the Hilton staff in just three weeks. "The hotel gave us its reservation schedule, and we scheduled the installation around the times when the hotel was not at full capacity," Wilder said.

Because the existing electronic locks at the Hilton East Brunswick were similar in size to the Saflok MT, installers needed about 30 minutes per room to install the new system. Don't expect the installers to return to work at the Hilton East Brunswick any time soon. Wilder said the Saflok system could last up to 10 years before needing to be upgraded or replaced.

Saflok's Message To VARs: Get Smart
Saflok's system includes the Saflok MT, a PC computer that tracks lock activity, and smart cards from Bull. Bull's U.S. Smart Cards and Terminals division is based in Billerica, MA. Here's how the system works: Information related to the guest's stay or to hotel staff is stored securely on a card. The information can be read and updated as needed to support a wide range of applications.

For example, many hotels have loyalty programs, and the smart-card system can track the points earned by a guest. Frequent guests at a hotel chain can be rewarded with special discounts or free room upgrades each time they book a room.

Smart cards can also provide audit trails of the card's use and automate room check-in, allowing the customer to bypass the front desk. Eventually, an all-in-one hotel smart card could work as a customer's loyalty card, credit card, airplane ticket, and amusement park admission ticket. And, of course, it would still work as the guest's hotel keycard.

"The smart-card program is so new that we at Saflok look at ourselves as a piece in a much larger puzzle," Wilder said. "A smart card can do more than open door locks. How far a hotel wants to go with its smart-card system is limited only to the imagination of its marketing people."

Jim Roddy