Future Focused - Unlocking the guest journey: an interview with Allan Nelson

Published on

March 13, 2024


Allan Nelson

From data to Bill Clinton (yes, really) and AI, Allan Nelson – CEO of For-Sight, the hospitality focused CRM system – reveals the secrets of their success to Bray St. Founder and Managing Director Danny Dagher.

Allan Nelson and Daniel Dagher

Hi, Allan. To kick things off, can you tell us about For-Sight, including the motivation behind establishing the business and the unique offering it brings to the hospitality industry?

“For-Sight is a modern hotel CRM and marketing platform. It was launched in Edinburgh in 2007 as an extension of our original marketing communications business. At that time, we embarked on a bespoke project for a prestigious five-star resort here in Scotland. They needed a single guest view, clean data for personalised communications and an intuitive online application to access this data seamlessly. 

So, we built the platform and gained invaluable insights. Recognising its potential impact, we made a pivotal decision: to take For-Sight to the broader market as a product. We’ve been scaling it ever since, through several iterations of technology and an evolved platform with wider market trends.

Today, we’ve successfully exited our marketing communications business and have concentrated on growing For-Sight. Since then, our revenue has more than doubled and we have a global market opportunity in front of us. We’re very proud that we have self-funded the whole journey and have got it to this stage with no external investment, bar some brilliant assistance from Scottish Enterprise.”

Can you tell us specifically about the product and technology behind For-Sight and how it differs from the rest of the market?

“To paraphrase Bill Clinton: ‘It’s the data, stupid.’ Unlike other vendors, we see ourselves as a data company first, whose job it is to get the guest data fit for a wide variety of uses – multi-channel messaging, analytics and insights, and seamless integration with other hospitality applications. It’s cutting-edge tech for our customers, meaning they are always at the forefront of what’s possible and exposed to e-commerce and retail-level functionality.”

How has the software evolved over the years, and can you share some of your most pivotal advancements?

“We’ve gone from a single-customer application to a fully-fledged product. Our original V1 product was a series of copy and paste websites. In hindsight, we were learning about the early-adopter customer base and the various integrations needed. It was a very fragmented ecosystem with a large number of vendors in play. 

About 10 years ago, we redeveloped the product from the ground-up. We standardised the database structure as well as the inputs and outputs. This allowed us to scale and automate in a more sophisticated manner. It was a classic web front-end and SQL back-end arrangement and worked well for us until we moved to the Cloud. Ever since, we’ve been breaking up the legacy with modern APIs, microservices, new reporting via Tableau and so on. That work continues and the product set is still evolving. We have an excellent product function now with very clear product goals of engagement, rationalisation, simplicity, automation and extensibility. Everything we do gets measured against these.”

What can your customers expect in relation to software advancements in the future?

“We’re evolving from being a CRM to a CDP and are taking hoteliers on a journey towards true ecommerce and retail functionality. We want data to be accessible, expandable, flexible and secure. The CDP will sit at the centre of the stack, contain all the information needed about the guest and have suitable applications. Our product will continue to incrementally improve, both in the back-end and the front-end. We released a brand new front-end late 2023, based on Google Material Design, which focuses more on desired goals and outcomes, rather than as a powerful sandbox. That was a series of deliberate decisions that has been well-received by our customers. We’re also grateful to Bray St, whose contributions to this process were invaluable.”

What challenges have you faced on your journey so far – and how have you overcome them to achieve success?

“All the usual things – people, process, technical hitches, gaining and retaining new customers, and dealing with new competitors. In the hotel space itself, the legacy technology, the fragmentation of applications and vendors holding on to data were all issues. Thankfully, most vendors are now a lot more open. 

Hotel budgets do get squeezed on occasion and it can lead to an elongated sales cycle. The impact of Covid was obviously huge and very stressful. However, the industry has come out strong after that dark period. 

There were also challenges on my own leadership journey. It was a steep learning curve going from our old agency and mail production model to running a fast-growing tech company, so I immersed myself in a learning journey for the last decade. My role has evolved into a high-level ambassadorial one that every ambitious business needs. Being the founder also means I’m thinking about the business all of the time and have had to learn to manage the mental load, even though I’m less involved operationally due to our great people doing their jobs.”

Tell us about your experience with long-term partner Bray St.; how has the agency supported you for the past five years?

“We first engaged with Bray St in early 2019 following an intro from our recently-hired Marketing Manager. Danny came in and ran a brilliant session with us. He managed to get everything out of our heads and onto the wall in three hours. That day, his approach of establishing a brand based on where we wanted to be, not where we were, was excellent and something that has stuck with me. We got the new brand identity agreed and set about deploying across our estate. 

It has continually evolved over the last five years and the most recent example is our microsite, which has really captured what we are about. Danny and team have supported us all the way through, and he even attended a couple of internal strategy sessions. That really helped him get under the skin of the business.”

Can you tell us about any exciting plans for 2024?

“2024 is all about getting the data ready for AI.  We’ve a lot of work to do on APIs, back processes, synchronisation of data and speeding everything up to real-time as much as possible. Our front-end application will continue to evolve, too, and deliver more value for our customers.

We’re also expanding internationally. We now have customers in the US, the Middle East and Australia. We have partnerships with businesses with a global footprint and will be leveraging these as we broaden our horizons.”

What’s next for the hospitality tech industry and For-Sight more specifically?

“The arrival of generative and potentially general AI is the big industry topic at the moment. We’re already getting ready for this shift, closely monitoring the resolution of technical, commercial and security challenges. Beyond that, it’s the move to adopting more e-commerce and retail technology, the evolution of the marketplace model, personalisation in guest interaction and countering staff shortages with automation. I’m confident that we can rise to meet them, and For-Sight will play a pivotal role in this transformation.”

Discover more about For-Sight

written by

Danny Dagher

Founder & Client Partner

Bray St.

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