Imagine a small, bustling city with a population of 6,000. Now imagine that the entire population of the city leaves, a new group of citizens arrives and the city trades all the goods and materials it needs to survive for a week-all in a six-hour span.
That's the kind of logistical problem Royal Caribbean International faces every time one cruise ends and another begins. So when I got the chance to visit the staff at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE: RCL), both at the IT office and aboard its largest ship, to see how it addresses logistics with software...well, let's just say it wasn't a tough decision.
All Aboard Allure of the Seas: Timing Matters
My visit starts at guest relations when Allure of the Seas is docked in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I meet Jose Machado, director of software engineering, and James Defendis, an IT manager within software engineering. After a quick trip through customs, we board the gangplank and set foot on the floating city.
The first thing I learn about the ship's software is the split in ownership of product. STX Europe, the ship's manufacturer, provides all the navigation software; this includes everything in the bridge that covers propulsion, fuel, weather, navigation and so on. Royal Caribbean provides the software to run the hotel, from reservations to guest relations to point-of-sale software at the shops. RCL also needs to provide Internet for guests, email for employees and, among other things, software to count the number of checked-out towels at the pool.
My second observation is just how much technology is integrated into the customer experience. The company is the first I've seen to adapt touchscreen technology for this purpose and not just to create efficiencies at the point of sale. Every floor of the ship has a 32-inch touchscreen that can give interactive directions to guests' staterooms (they just enter a room number), help them find events sorted by time or type or locate the nearest restroom.
Defendis shows me the technology, then explains how RCL built it:
I note how quickly Royal brought the product to market, as I know of few companies that could develop the expertise on emerging Linux touchscreen technologies, integrate them with a database and have them in production right now. Defendis explains that the company outsources development of new and emerging technologies, then takes over maintenance.
Anything a guest can see or touch needs to be new; the company essentially "rents" expertise to accelerate the development process. The applications that will never be seen by guests, on the other hand, including staff email, the reservation system or the towel check-out, have a lower priority, he says. They need to function, and the cost of maintaining them needs to be stay lower than the cost of a rewrite.
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