Using IT to Make Vacationers Happy

At Royal Caribbean Cruises, CIO Bill Martin says IT is aimed at improving the guest experience on the high seas, including robust Internet connectivity

No one books a cruise because they have to. So while airlines and hotels sell to both business travelers and vacationers, we focus intensely on the vacation experience. That means making sure the technology on our ships stays relevant.

"I was asked recently about injecting business value into all the things IT does. That's the only way I've ever thought about it."

-- Bill Martin, CIO at Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Consumers today don't want to be disconnected, even at sea. They want to see their home security camera or keep up with friends on social media. Guests now want to travel and bring their own content to the resort environment, whether that's on their phone, tablet or laptop. That's how the next generation gets their entertainment.

We offer state-of-the-art Internet connectivity--we're second only to the U.S. Navy in terms of capacity. But we've also dramatically improved it through low-latency, high-bandwidth satellite connectivity that increases capacity several hundredfold and offers fast, fiber-like speeds. Now our guests wouldn't think twice about sharing their vacation experience with friends and family, even Skyping, in real time.

This is a huge change that makes us even more compelling in the resort vacation market. When one of our guys got to meet Michael Dell, for instance, he said he'd never been on a cruise -- he just couldn't be that far away from the office for that long. With our new technology, this isn't an issue any more.

We're also improving the guest experience on the operations side. We've streamlined emergency drills through electronic mustering, and we've prevented any lines at our onboard restaurants by using digital signage.

Guests can view restaurant occupancy and select locations that aren't full. Using facial recognition software, we've made it easier for guests to find and purchase photos of themselves taken by the cruise photographer. It's reduced the time spent in the photo gallery by 80 percent and increased purchasing.

When I came to IT from the business side seven years ago, there was a disconnect between the business and IT. I was teamed up with the CTO and the head of strategy, forming a three-legged stool of IT leadership. It has required changes in our IT organization, and we've invested heavily in a business change-management program.

We built a transformation road map and are entering year three of a five-year technology modernization effort that spans our reservation system, data center and IT architecture. We need to be faster to market and reduce the cost of enabling new functions that the business asks for, so we're moving to an enterprise services bus--what I call the "integration hub"--that dramatically reduces the amount of coding we have to do.

We've also replaced the pricing engine connected to our reservation system with a business-rules engine. Instead of database-driven pricing, our marketing teams can now create targeted offers, and it's all handled logically inside the rules engine.

Customers will be able to enter codes to unlock a wide variety of promotions, such as a discount on a purchase or a credit they can redeem on board the ship.

I like technology -- if someone has a new mousetrap, I'm more than willing to try it. I was asked recently about injecting business value into all the things IT does. For me the answer seemed obvious: That's the only way I've ever thought about it.

Bill Martin is vice president and CIO at Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

Download CIO's Winter 2021 digital issue: Supercharging IT innovation