Disney: Personalizing the Experience

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 01-30-2004
How does technology fit into the business strategy at Walt Disney World?

Technology is enormous for us. We've seen technology move from the engineers, up through the supply chain, and then to our front-line cast. Now we're starting to ask how to push technology out to the guests themselves.
In 1990, we began what we called the Disney Decade, essentially building parks all over the world. Now we've entered the digital decade. And the digital decade is really understandable in some of our sister divisions—such as ABC, or our animation department—in terms of digital production, DRM and media-asset management. Technology is extremely important for us in the parks as well. There's a lot we can do to drive the growth of our existing assets and deliver a better guest experience. A lot of that will come from technology.
In a theme park, your context—where you are and what you're doing—is very important. I need to tell you about what's in front of you now. And it's not just who you are, it's where you are, it's where you've been, it's what context you're in. Are you here on business? Are you here with your family? If we don't take all those elements into account, and have both the technical and the human process inside to synthesize that, then I think we'll do ourselves more harm than good. That's really where Pal Mickey came from—the notion of a personal tour guide. He's Phase One, he's the first generation of these little guys, and one of several things we're doing with technology.

What are some other initiatives?
Enough people are bringing their cell phones in that we have new ways to take the hassle out of their park experience. For example, if you have certain characters you're interested in, and you want to know when they're coming out in the park, we can let you know that. If you have reservations for Fastpass, or for dinner, and you want a reminder, then we can let you know that, too. Wireless is one theme that we're spending a lot of time on here. RFID is also fascinating for us. Once we get those costs knocked down [on the chips], we can do some fabulous things.
Another huge thing for us is imaging, especially what you can do when you can take your pictures in digital form. There are more pictures taken at Walt Disney World, by far, than at any other single place in the world. So we are spending a lot of time in partnership with Kodak to see what we can do to make pictures magical and develop the notion of capturing pictures that you can't capture yourself. Wouldn't it be fabulous if you could get a great picture of you and your kid on Dumbo? We can't do that now. Some people try. They'll run and get in front and kind of stretch around. We've also installed broadband connections in our hotel rooms, which opens up an interactive channel with our guests.

You've also recently entered into a strategic partnership with Hewlett-Packard. What role will H-P play at Walt Disney World?
A lot of the work we're doing with H-P is to help us understand wait times better and so give visitors a sense of the best way to tackle this park. We need to know where those lines are dynamically, and there's a lot of information moving around in real time.

What does all this mean for services such as Fastpass? Are there plans to make Fastpass wireless?
No definite plans, but taking Fastpass to the next level is certainly a goal. That is one of the things my team is working on. But we're still at the point of determining what's more important for the guest. A lot of things are technically possible.

How do these endeavors fit in with the Destination Disney strategy?
There are a couple of sides of Destination Disney. One is improving the planning and booking process. So, for example, if I recognize you when you come into one of our contact centers, I don't re-ask you the same 50 questions. That's kind of what people would say is a CRM system.
My take on CRM is a little different. It's about how to use technology in a way that's less about your individual data and more about the things that are happening to you in the parks. I'll try to make you aware of the wonderful things we can do for you, and then let you chose it. At the same time, however, we want to be very clear that we're going to treat your data very personally and very privately. Then there's wireless: You tell us what you want and we'll send it to you. We can use technology to help make you aware of the things that we have, and make it easier for you to get access to those things. Time's at a premium here; the more time we can give back to you, the better.
So, how can we leverage technology so that we are in the right place at the right time when you want us to be? For example, let's say you were an equestrian when you were younger, but you haven't done that for a while. We can use technology to make you aware of our offerings and make it easy for you to do those things in the way you want to do them—not bundled up in some obscure way with a lot of stuff that you don't want.

Won't some customers be concerned about all this data collecting?
We're all tired of junk mail and spam and everything else, and we at Disney are very clear: We are only going to collect data when our guests want us to. It's incumbent upon us to say what value can we provide. The visitor can decide if they want to use it.