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Data is dead, long live your AI accomplice. - My Green Butler
Dr Christopher Warren was a speaker at the ASTSE Expo on technology and sustainable tourism.

There is a great deal of expectation that data can help deliver more sustainable hospitality, but is it relevant, is it fully used? Firms can be awash with data as they monitor food waste, reservations, energy, revenue and comfort levels, to name a few, but do managers and staff have time to study its implications? We argue that data has no real value on its on; it has to be ‘humanised’ to deliver its benefits to busy people running hospitality firms. It should work as your accomplice. In the following discussion, (based on Dr Christopher Warren’s presentation at the ASTSE Conference in November – see video) we explore ways you can benefit from data and technology to maximise its potential and drive sustainability outcomes. 

As technology has advanced, we have been able to collect, collate, and store ever-increasing amounts of data – however, this thirst for data is, in part, fruitless. Data on its own which is not utilised is ‘dead data’. Often, we get caught up in the chase for as many entries, as many logs, as may data points and graphs and tables as we can get our digital hands-on; but data, in larger amounts can be difficult to use. The search appears to be for quantity, collecting ever-growing digital warehouses of data, rather than interpreting it, identifying connections, and understanding what action to take. Maybe we should push the pause button. What busy executives and engineers need is technological systems that collate, connect the data points, and apply AI to work with you in optimising operations, cutting waste, whilst enhancing service quality.

Data can also be rather dull not engaging staff members, except for the scientists among your team. Data, even if it is presented as a visual display like electricity use monitors, can be ignored.  Processing data into graph and pie charts does help to interpret, but still leaves the question of what to do next, how to prioritise, and often it only is a presentation of historical facts. This does not allow swift change to avoid waste and feature as part of the here and now so relegating it to just “interesting”. Data is for decision making it should be used to enable responsible action promptly, it should be able to ‘speak’ to all involved in a persuasive, it can accelerate change in your firm if it is real-time advice.

Technological solutions should focus on our social practices rather than on the resources alone. Carbon emissions, footprints and energy use are important information, but not ones that people can easily digest and turn into actions to save, reduce impacts or increase benefits from their business. Responsible sustainability technology should recognise the nexus of elements which affect carbon, footprints and resource use, translating them into tangible hospitality staff and guest practices. This then becomes relatable information. Data on its own is not valuable; so using intelligent systems which do the hard work for you in pinpointing critical issues is key, and becomes essential if your staff and guests are going to help your firm reach the Paris Agreement goals.

Tech solutions must ultimately empower people. When we think of technology, we often think of equipment, wires, machines, and computerised systems. This ‘Hard Technology’ can feel like it works in a world of their own, separate from us taking care of things without our knowledge. This is not empowerment. Remembering that empty, unoccupied buildings don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) use resources – people do. It is the staff, managers, and guests who will use electricity, water, gas, fuel, and bio-energy and generate waste. People use resources to enact particular social practices like cleaning guest rooms, maintaining a comfortable temperature inside, or guests taking a shower, eating a meal or altering their room to be cosy to relax in after a hard day. In these situations, people use the systems around them to apply these practices. They are ‘Social Technology’. For sustainable solutions that targeted responsible actions, we need the happy synchronisation of both Hard and Social Technologies (this is My Green Butler’s forte). 

Technology’s impact is limited by its integration, we recommend three key steps to ensure you maximise your investment. 

  1. Fully introduce the system to your team so they fully appreciate what it does. This might sound obvious, but not all your members of staff will have strong carbon or energy literacy. If you don’t, the value of the system might not be appreciated, which makes people less inclined to engage with it truly. 
  2. Staff must be trained and have plenty of time to really use technology and be comfortable with it.
  3. The technology you choose must be meaningful to staff members; they must integrate it into their every activity, it must become a core pillar to their role.

Whilst hard technology can help track resource usage or improve efficiency; resources are consumed and wasted by poorly informed or unmotivated staff and guests. By encouraging behavioural change with engaging advice, equipment, and tools, hospitality businesses can turn their staff and guests into social technology. Synchronising this with existing hard technologies will help businesses improve their sustainability, whilst reducing costs and carbon, and increasing satisfaction. Data on its own, unengaging, left on the shelf is dead data. Pie charts and graphs merely present history. 21st Century post-COVID tourism firms, who strive to meet the Paris Agreement and beyond require a new accomplice, an intelligent system who has done the hard work pinpointing improvements, so you accelerate sustainability’s progress.