The Extranet Trilogy: Past, Present & Future

The Extranet Trilogy: Past, Present & Future

Over the last couple of years, a lot has changed within SmartHOTEL. This blog series -like any story nowadays split up into three parts- will focus on the evolution of our Extranet, our gateway into the world of channel management and our core product, used by our hotels, partners and ourselves. We’ll travel back to its past, take a look at the present, and take a glimpse into the future.

Part 1: Past

Once upon a time in an office in Reeuwijk, effort was being put into the development of a new Extranet, with technology that was brand new. At that time, hoteliers still had access to a simple online Extranet in which they were able to update their rates and availability, and check the reservations that they had received from the different OTAs (online travel agencies) they were selling their rooms on. Although not much is known anymore from that era, memories of some simple white screens with hotel data still linger. In the background a support tool was needed to maintain all hotel account settings for our hoteliers, which was called “the Backoffice”. This internally developed Windows application was written in Delphi, a programming language that was introduced in 1995. The Backoffice was needed by the support team to create new hotel accounts and set up all necessary hotel and OTA configurations and features. Over the years, the Backoffice grew from a small application to a full-fledged management tool for which quite some channel management knowledge was required. The ‘white’ Extranet merely stood in the shadows of this beast.

 

Figure 1: Backoffice: an overview of the room types in a hotel Figure 1: Backoffice: an overview of the room types in a hotel

 

It was a time in which the software industry was booming, and new technologies were popping up like daisies. One of those technologies was Silverlight, an application framework that made it possible to develop rich internet applications. Advanced HTML5/CSS3 features (which developers currently use to create flashy websites) were not present at that time, and Silverlight promised (and delivered) a lot of great tools to let software developers play around for the years that followed. The Silverlight fever also reached SmartHOTEL, and not much later, development started on a newer version of the Extranet: the Silverlight Extranet. Implementing this new framework went well, and not much later, the old Extranet became a relic of the past.

 

Figure 2: Silverlight Extranet: rates and availability Figure 2: Silverlight Extranet: rates and availability

 

Now for a really techy part: a VB.NET web service was developed as well, because the Silverlight Extranet is not that smart at all! It actually doesn't do much more than display data and allow for data input. Let me elaborate… whenever the Extranet needs to display information, it makes a request to the web service, a piece of software that is located at (a datacenter of) SmartHOTEL. This web service contains all the logic to successfully retrieve the correct data from the SQL database. It makes sure that only data (such as reservations) for the requested hotel is being retrieved, and not for all the others. It also works the other way around. Whenever a user makes a change in the Extranet (e.g. the price for a particular night), this change is being sent to the web service, which in turn updates the database (and also triggers price updates to the OTAs the hotel is connected to)… still with me?

The outcome of all these developments is that the Silverlight Extranet became a success, and many customers quickly adopted to this new way of channel management. Even now, after many years, the Silverlight Extranet is still being used. But in a world in which technology is changing rapidly, Silverlight is nearing the end of its lifecycle anno 2016. Silverlight depends on a browser plugin, which was never fully supported in Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, and therefore requiring customers to use Internet Explorer, the only browser in which it worked without any issues. Why Internet Explorer? It only requires one guess to know who's behind the Silverlight technology. But even in today's world, Microsoft is ignoring Silverlight in its latest browser Edge, caused by security issues related to browser plugins (although the Flash plugin took the biggest hit), and the arrival of HTML5 and CSS3, which would change the way websites were being developed.

Due to the lack of browser support of the Silverlight Extranet, SmartHOTEL was looking for a new way to develop the Extranet. It was clear that HTML and CSS would be the way forward. To get this done a.s.a.p. we decided to outsource the creation of a HTML version of the Silverlight Extranet all the way to a development team in India. This shouldn’t have been so hard, however they failed to deliver a version that was acceptable to use. The source code was a mess, and although the HTML Extranet did

look similar to the Silverlight version, it was plagued by bugs. There was no doubt that this version could never be released to the public. So, it was back to the drawing boards for us!

 

Figure 3: HTML Extranet based on Silverlight Figure 3: HTML Extranet based on Silverlight

 

Next time in this blog series: we're on our way to the present, with new faces, new designs, new interfaces, smart events, going Knockout, and... Valentine?! (And just to be clear up-front: nobody got turned down violently!)

Bewaren

Bewaren

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By Basil February 04, 2016