Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where is Disney Going with Mobile Technology

In 2001 while working for a Big 5 consulting firm I was involved in a project to update Disney's content management.  At the time my firm did tens of millions of dollars of consulting work each year for the Walt Disney Company.  As one of the lead architects for our eBusiness team I was asked to sketch out a view of how the Disney Company could take advantage of mobile and web technologies to improve the guest experience at their theme parks worldwide.  As a result I developed ten ideas which we presented to Disney leadership.  Unfortunately SarBox came along and as the auditor for Disney we were suddenly no longer able to provide consulting services to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.  The good news is the ideas did not die and in fact have lived on in the form of Disney's NexGen project.

Although I have had no involvement in NexGen I have to believe either my ideas were shared with the team by Disney leadership as their view of the future, or it's another example of the convergence of thought such as when both Alexendar Graham Bell and Elisha Gray invented the telephone filing for patents just hours apart.  However I am confident that my strategy document predates anything from NexGen.

Here are the ideas that as of now have been implemented through the web and mobile devices:
1. On-line reservations
2. On-line itinerary for trip planning
3. Robust electronic guide map with estimated queue times and parade times (now available as the My Disney Experience app)
4. Games to be played in line during longer waits
5. Location based themed scavenger hunt

The ideas not implemented
1. Disney.com email addresses for the public (who wouldn't want one?)
2. Electronic diary including drop-in professional photos and GPS location. Data would be uploaded to an online vacation portal (extension of on-line itinerary) with photo albums by visit including user uploaded photos, user diary, and complete GPS based walk-thru of the park for every visit (now this could be done via a Disney version of facebook).  Each album would be available in hard copy (sponsored by Kodak) showing a map based on the actual GPS route followed mixing in user uploaded and professional images.  There is a very simplified version of this available but only for the Disney PhotoPass pictures.
3. Location based dining reservations whereby table availability and reservations are managed by GPS location.  If a person is too far to make reservation on time they can confirm or cancel and others nearby can be pinged with an open table offer.  Intent was to decrease impact of voided reservations.
4. Bluetooth wallet for fastpasses.  One person could contain the fastpasses for an entire group so there would be one check-in by one person.  It could also represent room keys and park tickets as well.  This idea could use RFID as a cheaper option however the interactivity would be reduced.
5. Reservation based attraction access (fastpass 2.0).  The idea was to let people check into a ride via Bluetooth (now it could be done with a FourSquare app) at which point they would be given an estimated ride time.  They would then be able to explore a given area while the system optimized the lines.  Once a fixed place was defined the person would be notified of the time to enter the line.  Similar to fast pass, this model would completely do away with traditional queues.  When you entered the line your wait would be 10-15min every time.  You could check in to multiple rides at a time and if conflicts occurred the system would figured out a coordinated plan of attack.

Realizing half of the ideas have been implemented, I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the second set will be.  Perhaps not for idea #1.  I doubt Disney will give away Disney.com email addresses at this point.  I think it would have been a smash hit had they done it a decade ago but that ship has sailed.  In fact I'm still amazed Disney stuck with go.com for all their addresses, as if go.com means anything to anyone anymore (in fact it never really did).  I think idea #2 will happen whether Disney is involved or not; I've thought of developing the idea myself.  I think Disney would benefit greatly from idea #3 which would enable them to get rid of their new solution, to charge a no-show fee on voided reservations.  Idea #4 should happen in some form to make managing fast passes easier for people and groups in particular, and it sounds like at least some part of it is happening with FastPass+.  My favorite idea, after #1, is #5.  Nobody likes waiting in line.  The guests don't like to stand around and move like cattle.  Disney managment doesn't like having their guests waiting in line when they could be buying more trinkets or consuming more food and beverage. 

It's good to see a great company like Disney moving in the right direction with technology.  Properly applied mobility solutions can greatly enhance the guest experience.  Disney theme parks have never been fast movers.  Look at how long it takes between the emergence of a new character and any attraction based on that character.  I hope they are thinking along the lines of my next generation ideas:

1. attraction enhancement - letting users select the back-story, storyline soundtrack, images, etc. of an attraction or interact with the attraction via a mobile device or RFID.
2. unencumbered views - stream parades, fireworks, concerts and special events so people with limited viewing access can enjoy them as well, even if they are on the other side of the park.
3. virtual wallet - no brainer! extends the bluetooth wallet to include credit cards too.
4. premium content channels - streaming of movies, games, etc. for a per day fee to keep children engaged.
5. virtual tours - providing content rich, location and context aware tours on a self-paced basis for a per day fee

The future will tell.

UPDATE 04-16-2017:  I realized I need to give Disney credit for additional developments.  The Magic Bands used RFID technology to act as a virtual wallet for park tickets, fastpasses, payment and room keys.


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