Customers "expect more than what you can offer", says enterprise architect at GLH Hotels, Matthew Newton; but simply pushing out apps is not the way to win them over, he tells ComputerworldUK.

“Apps are fun. They are nice, they are tangible. But they always feel like an awful lot of work for something that starts to wither as soon as it goes live”, says Matthew Newton, enterprise architect at GLH hotels - the group that owns the international Thistle, Amba and Clermont hotel chains.

Instead, architects, business intelligence departments and business users need to invest time and money into an API strategy that will maximise a firm’s digital channel, he suggests. 

A recent study found that firms that describe themselves as digital savvy were guilty of developing apps without an API around them, despite proven revenue return

“If you haven’t got an API around an app, it’s an awfully big investment and a lot of work to retool it. An API takes a lot of pressure from the apps team so they can keep it live, plus it needs to be in top form to dovetail into our systems of record. Very few people would use an app for a hotel company without being able to complete a booking - it would lack a certain element”, Newton adds.

Since deploying an API layer through the Apigee platform, Newton said the hotel’s mobile app development went from months to weeks.

As well as making it easier for a third party or internal app development team to update according to the latest popular operating system upgrades, APIs can help firms claw back data from partners to help personalise services and make better decisions.

GLH wanted to form direct connections between its core application, Oracle Opera - which controls reservations, billing and distribution - and major distribution partners like

“We had never been able to get a single picture of what people are actually asking for, or what the availability requests were.”

The firm has now developed the APIs and endpoints to serve any direct connect request from a partner (without going through its Oracle system formerly know as Micros) to collect availability data.

“We now have 150,000 more availability requests that we can trap and analyse. That means we can offer direct rate pricing but also analyse the availability requests and traffic to spot patterns we never noticed before.”

Using a API-as-a-service tool like Apigee, GLH were able to “make tweaks so the backend system wasn’t killed” when a higher than expected amount of availability data and requests flooded in.

GLH is experiencing a massive culture change. Since its new CEO arrived in 2012, the business began to understand that technology was not just a collection of assets on a depreciation schedule, but the core point of contact with your customers - and the area you are most likely to lose money in if ignored.

The firm’s underlying infrastructure has been pushed out onto the cloud, allowing the IT team of 14 to focus on delivering what the business wants in a truly agile manner and learn new skills.

Newton says: “When you start with your lifeblood app and ‘cloud’ that, everything else follows because the taboo is broken. Reasons not to don’t exist anymore.”

Oracle now hosts GLH’s Opera and it has migrated from Microsoft Office Suite to Google apps. All apps deployed since 2013 have been in the cloud and 80 percent of its legacy apps hosted elsewhere.  

“By the end of this year we will be a cloud organisation - we wont own a server.”

By relinquishing responsibility, and building up the API strategy the IT team have become closer to the business, Newton adds, and able to think creatively about how to improve the services it provides to its customers. It hopes that by the end of the summer it can offer an open API to the developer community to see what services could benefit customers.

“Until we started, we didn’t realise the enormity of the new possibilities this could offer. We recognise that internally, we have limitations due to workforce size and a general understanding of what customers want - but third parties out there are figuring that out. So why not cater for them as well as end consumer?”