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How Royal Caribbean Cruises manages IT on a floating city

Matthew Heusser | Jan. 4, 2013
Royal Caribbean Cruises deploys and uses software to manage a fleet of 30 of the largest ships in the world. Every week, data for thousands of guests is offloaded alongside luggage and souvenirs. Find out how Royal Caribbean manages data on land and at sea now--and what its plans to do in the future.

The Java conversion is its own kind of open-heart surgery, albeit a continuous one that takes several years. To do that, the team is continuing to experiment with Agile and iterative models.

Neena Vicente, program manager for the company's IT transformation effort, says the company has two types of projects, traditional waterfall and Agile. Aside from standup meetings, the Agile projects are true experiments, each trying a variety of methods. Specifically, project manager Ajay Singh tells me about a recent $1.5 million project that 16 team members finished in 21 two-week sprints. The team built, regression tested and deployed to production at the end of each sprint.

Management holds the programming techniques with a loose hand, allowing the developers to try different things every sprint. Singh says some teams do test driven development, but not all. Instead of requiring formal pair programming, Singh connected every new programmer to a subject matter expert programmer. These experts are expected to spend 30 percent of their time on new development and 70 per cent mentoring junior developers; this provides training and collaboration at the same time. On the same project, QA got involved before the programmers started writing code. This gave programmer the "answers" for what would be tested and let them program to those precise requirements.

iPad Security on a Boat: Treat Tablets Like Linens

After talking about agile, we spoke for a few more minutes about how the company deals with emerging technologies.

Shortly after Royal deployed in-room interactive televisions, Apple created the iPad. Tablet technology suddenly became viable-and the interactive television looked old and obsolete.

Instead of fighting the change, Royal embraced it, creating one native iPad application to help customers select wine and appetizers and another native "folio"-like app for everything from scheduling excursions to ordering room service.

Royal's next step was providing an iPad in each suite on board the Allure and Oasis of the Seas. Beatriz Rivero, the project's program manager, describes operational challenges such as testing streaming video on multiple devices on a floor running simultaneously. (To address this, Royal added routers and reserved extra bandwidth.) The devices also have cameras, which pose a privacy risk: Next week's guests seeing last week's guests personal photos. Royal deals with this by treating an iPad like a pair of bed sheets-each device is replaced with a fresh one and wiped. Meanwhile, the technology group is working with vendors to lock down local-save features.

Moving Data As Important As Moving Passengers

In addition to the problem of getting 6,000 people on and off a ship. It turns out that Royal Caribbean has another challenge in getting data on board. There's the off-loading of credit card data, the final folio, customer loyalty preferences, pictures, health records and any and all behavioral data that can be stored, aggregated and used later to predict passenger behavior or otherwise optimize the customer experience.


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