cruise ship projects give passengers access to the same technology they enjoy on land
One of the last holdouts against high tech is finally coming around. Cruise ship operators, which have lagged behind the rest of the travel industry in adopting new technology, are now undertaking projects to offer passengers satellite Internet, onboard texting networks, digital signs with touchscreens, streaming video and interactive online gaming.
Later this year, Royal Caribbean will finish building its third smartship, featuring cocktail-mixing robots and passenger wristbands that serve as room keys. And by late 2016, Regent Seven Seas Cruises will complete a project to roll out free unlimited Wi-Fi access for every passenger.
The complexity, technical limitations and costs of upgrading vessels constantly on the move are big reasons cruise lines have been slow to undertake connectivity projects. Project teams face a host of challenges unique to the industry when integrating new technology into cruises.
“No hotel would try to completely overhaul its infrastructure in a 14-day period, like all cruise ships do.”
—Mika Silverman, Silver Solutions, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
“Implementations on cruise ships are far more complex in general,” says Mika Silverman, consultant and IT project manager, Silver Solutions, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Ms. Silverman's most recent project was Crystal Cruises’ new luxury yacht the Crystal Esprit in December.
Complications include getting hardware to the ship, customs issues, securing approval for infrastructure changes from the ship's insurers and coordinating the expansive network of technology systems that have to exchange information.
“Timelines are also ridiculously aggressive in the cruise industry,” Ms. Silverman adds. “No hotel would try to completely overhaul its infrastructure in a 14-day period, like all cruise ships do when they're out of service for maintenance.”
Ships also have specific connectivity constraints. “Plugging in is very hard at sea,” Ms. Silverman says. All connectivity is provided through satellite, which is both more expensive and less reliable than cellular signals. Rough seas are often a forgotten factor, too. Project managers must consider their impact on everything from fiber lines to hard drives.
Then there is the task of overseeing frequent upgrade projects.
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas ship offers an app that lets passengers track every aspect of their trip via Wi-Fi.
“The cutover to new technologies requires that a pilot project be run on the ship prior to go-live to confirm that the application is production-ready,” says Beau Williamson, managing director of Accenture Travel, Miami, Florida, USA. Mr. Williamson consults with major cruise lines on shipboard technology projects. “The scheduling and timing of such events need to be managed in an efficient manner with no impact to future sailing dates.”
Given all these challenges, it makes sense to involve project managers in the decision to greenlight a project. But this doesn't always happen in the cruise industry.
“Project managers unfortunately tend to be involved after the point of purchase—sometimes resulting in a disconnect between the goal and how to achieve it or the goal and the real financial cost,” Ms. Silverman says. The team selecting the new technology often focuses on issues like revenue, marketability and guest experience without giving enough consideration to implementation or project costs.
“The highest success rates are achieved when the project sponsors and management teams drive the delivery through a central project management office.”
—Beau Williamson, Accenture Travel, Miami, Florida, USA
Yet given the complexity of these IT projects, success can depend on putting project practitioners at the center of planning and execution, according to Mr. Williamson. Project management offices can be of particular value, he says.
“The highest success rates are achieved when the project sponsors and management teams drive the delivery through a central project management office that coordinates the design, implementation and deployment of the solution to the ship.”
PM NETWORK MARCH 2016 WWW.PMI.ORG
MARCH 2016 PM NETWORK