Customer Data Should Drive IT Decisions

Universal Orlando's CIO challenges market assumptions to drive business in a shrinking economy

By Michelle McKenna
Mon, June 02, 2008

CIO — Perhaps I'm a tech-based version of a split personality. I'm the CIO of Universal Orlando Resort, but I'm also a mother of two and the planner of our family's vacations. In fact, I think of myself first as a theme park customer, second as a senior leader at Universal and finally as the company's CIO.

Recently we were brainstorming new events that would bring more Florida residents to our theme parks during off-peak tourist periods. Our in-house marketing group was pitching proposals, and I offered the idea of a Guitar Hero competition. Everyone loved it. But that idea didn't come from being a CIO—it came from being a mother of two kids obsessed with the Guitar Hero video game (in which players perform as rock stars).

Thinking like our customers and focusing on our company's markets are among the most important ways we can fulfill our responsibility to contribute to informed decision making. In today's contracting economy, it's more critical than ever for CIOs to study market trends and find ways to maximize business opportunities.

Universal Orlando is one of many brands in the travel and entertainment industries competing for discretionary dollars spent by consumers on leisure time and vacations. Our universe is broad—whether we're focusing on our home state of Florida, elsewhere within the United States or internationally. Because our product falls into that discretionary expenditure category, we're often vulnerable to shifts in consumer confidence and virtually any other trend that influences the economy.

Of course, the competition boils down to a market of one—the individual consumer. People often assume that because of our high volume of guests, the experience we provide for them also had to be geared for the masses. But digital technology now enables guests to customize their experience, whether it's a Web-based interaction or an in-park attraction. For example, our new Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster, launching in 2009, will allow guests to customize their ride experience by choosing the music that plays around them while on the roller coaster. When the ride ends, guests will be able to edit video footage of that experience into a music video to keep, share with friends or post online.

As CIO, I drive the knowledge, abilities and technologies to enable our customer-based market focus.

The CIO's Role as Marketer

Our systems have always had valuable market-defining customer data, but we didn't always know how best to leverage it. Fortunately, I've been able to work closely with executive peers to implement business intelligence that triggers a more analytical, customer-centric approach to marketing and sales.

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