Disney hopes to improve the theme park experience with RFID bracelets and new smartphone apps tied to its customer management system.
The New York Times has an important story on Disney's plans for a major implementation of technology that includes scan-able wrist bracelets aimed at making rides more interactive and smartphone apps to help visitors cut the wait time for rides. The plan is part of an estimated $800 million to $1 billion Disney's spending to make parks less daunting, writes Brooks Barnes.
Writes Barnes: "Disney in the coming months plans to begin introducing a vacation management system called MyMagic+ that will drastically change the way Disney World visitors -- some 30 million people a year -- do just about everything."
The heart of the system is an optional, RFID-enabled bracelet, called a MagicBand, that links to the MyMagic+ vacation management system, the Times reports. Depending on the information visitors choose to provide, the bracelets can be used to buy goods with a credit card or access their hotel room, or it can provide a child's name so that characters at the park can greet him or her by name. The system will also let people pre-register for three FastPasses that let visitors jump to the front of the line for certain rides.
Disney can then collect data from guests who opt in about their preferences in the park and use that information to fine-tune promotional offerings. Barnes says the new MagicBands will start appearing in parks this spring.
Disney's MagicBands plan provides a pixie-dust-sprinkled reminder that CIOs in 2013 need to focus on technology that's relevant to customers.
Disney's not at the forefront in using wireless and mobile technology to enhance its customers' experiences. For example, since November 2010, Vail Resorts has offered RFID chips in lift tickets to let skiers and snowboarders track how much they've skied, where they went on the mountain, and even let friends know where they are. Royal Caribbean has been experimenting with iPhones and iPads on its cruise ships. Those tests include putting iPads in guest rooms to let people browse and book events and letting guests rent iPhones for onboard use.
I asked Royal Caribbean CIO Bill Martin whether people don't just want to unplug, get away from technology and relax on a cruise ship. Only a small minority, Martin says. Most say they're looking for better technology to enhance the experience.
We're seeing other industries deploy wireless and analytical technology to change the customer experience, everywhere from tractors to lumberyards.
Customer-facing IT is hard, and it can destroy the experience just as surely as it enhances it. Disney's plan is so interesting because Disney is a cautious, conservative company, and because the risks it faces give it every reason to take a wait-and-see on this kind of customer-facing technology. Disney faces a backlash from parents and regulators if it mishandles any data it collects about children. The company meticulously manages its theme park experiences, making tech glitches a big new variable.
So Disney's decision to still push ahead with such a big initiative raises an uncomfortable question for business leaders still on the fence about customer-facing technology: If the Mouse is doing this, why not us?