The coronavirus pandemic has raised the functionality factor for mobile software, as some fear-filled customers shy away from brands they perceive as not having their social-distancing concerns at heart by providing a digital equivalent for every touchpoint. Woe to the company that can\u2019t create an end-to-end contactless user experience that is seamless, convenient, and \u2014 importantly \u2014 fun.\nOn that score, Aspen Skiing Co. is building safer experiences for guests of its ski lodges by upgrading its mobile application to enable consumers to order and pay for meals and recreational services and by rolling out touchless lift ticket kiosks, says CIO John Lilley, who is leading the digital transformation for the company.\n[ Be sure to learn the secrets of highly effective digital transformations \u2014 and beware the 7 myths of digital transformation. | Get the latest on digital transformation by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletters. ]\nAspen, which operates several high-end resorts overlooking four storied Colorado mountains, complemented the effort with a change management program, ensuring that employees are conversant enough in the new features to help guests should they ask. \u201cThe pandemic has offered us a unique opportunity to accelerate our guest experience roadmap,\u201d Lilley tells CIO.com.\nThe pandemic has provided a stiff test for companies, spotlighting their ability or inability to move nimbly to meet consumers\u2019 needs. In 2021, only 30 percent of customer-obsessed firms will leverage their cloud and platform strategies to harvest the opportunities that surfaced in the pandemic, according to Forrester Research\u2019s 2021 CIO predictions. But the dividends are potentially huge, as these firms will grow up to 3.5 times faster than their average peer, the researcher found.\nThe on-mountain concierge\nOperating destination sites perched atop mountains presents its own unique challenges. Skiing is inherently a highly social enterprise, so what to do when companies must maintain and enforce social distance? Resort operators are strongly encouraging, if not requiring, advance ticket purchases. They\u2019re limiting capacities and reconfiguring ski-lift lines to space people out. Guests who brave resorts must wear masks in lift lines and buildings.\nAspen is no different, with certain challenges that require pinpoint control around its metaphorical moguls. Eager to provide a safer guest experience in time for the start of ski season, Lilley\u2019s team beefed up the company\u2019s Aspen Snowmass mobile app to allow visitors to purchase lessons and rentals, access express lift-ticket reload and order food and beverages while sitting in a gondola. The app also allows guests dining in Aspen on-mountain restaurants to scan QR codes located on table tents to retrieve and access restaurant menus on their smartphones.\nGuests may also sign digital waivers and accrue loyalty rewards and passholder benefits, such as vouchers for friends and family. This \u201con-mountain concierge\u201d also allows guests to track skier days and bowl laps, snow reports, weather updates and parking lot vacancy, among other features.\nAware that guests no longer want to carry around let alone procure and exchange lift tickets from a ticket office, Aspen also installed touchless lift ticket pickup kiosks. Users who pre-registered will scan a QR code from the mobile app to print their lift tickets on the spot. \u201cThink Pez dispensers for lift tickets,\u201d Lilley says.\nThe change management challenge\nNew consumer technology channels can be tricky for first-time users to navigate, but Lilley\u2019s challenge is singularly unique, as Aspen guests fall into two camps: those who want things done for them and those who prefer self-service access.\nNaturally, self-service is on the rise during the pandemic, with guests encouraged to fill out waivers, reserve ski boots and lessons and other housekeeping tasks before they arrive at a resort. But the guests who do little to none of this before they arrive may need a nudge to consume Aspen\u2019s digital channels, including the mobile app. And guests will often ask staff for help navigating a mobile app or another service.\nThe quandary is that staff operating the resort restaurants, lifts and other amenities may not be up on the new channels either, as Lilley says these news tools are rolling out as Aspen is onboarding 3,000 employees to prepare for the holiday rush. To help mitigate user experience issues, Lilley facilitated a change management program that includes delegating \u201cchange champions,\u201d or operations managers who can evangelize the new technology solutions and features to other staff.\u00a0\nAspen also ordered the creation of short video briefs to show how to use the mobile app, lift ticket pickup boxes and other digitally enabled services. Empowering staff to adroitly help others who are struggling with it is paramount; as Lilley says, \u201cIT fails if you don\u2019t gain adoption.\u201d\nRoadmapping and replatforming\nBoosting tech adoption is something that Lilley is particularly passionate about, as he notes that IT was failing at every level when he joined the company in 2014.\nSpending on technology relative to revenues was lower than the industry average. Its monolithic, circa 1980s era data center architecture was an albatross on ticketing, provisioning, fulfillment, and revenue recognition functions. Aspen also struggled to maintain robust network infrastructure, had limited digital capabilities and no innovation pipeline.\nRather than \u201cfire the money cannon\u201d one time at tech enhancements, Lilley plotted a three-year roadmap that banked on building custom applications, including the mobile app, new website and ecommerce system. He reorganized IT, installing an enterprise infrastructure manager and enterprise applications manager. Together, they began revamping IT operations, hiring staff conversant in digital technology and moving systems to cloud software such as Microsoft Office 365 and Azure.\nLilley credits cutting his teeth as the digital tech lead at ski resort giant Vail, where he led the creation of the company\u2019s popular EpicPass digital ski pass. Heading into his seventh year at Aspen, Lilley tips his cap to Aspen\u2019s management, which he deemed \u201cvery tech-savvy\u201d for granting him the runway to make the necessary changes. \u201cThe real story is about making things better for the guest,\u201d Lilley says.