All companies face a new digital reality, where the accelerated pace of change today is the slowest it’s ever going to be. Partnering with EY, Royal Caribbean is taking on this challenge by transforming the once “off the grid” cruise vacation into a connected, tech-enabled experience. I recently attended the Sea Beyond event for a hands-on view of the new cruise experience—all from the shore at the Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn. I walked away from the event with five key takeaways about Royal Caribbean’s digital transformation story:

  • Royal Caribbean is embracing a business transformation. Royal Caribbean’s transformation touches everything from the ships’ engines for improved sustainability to the onboard entertainment technology. Rather than investing exclusively in a new booking app or building out a separate fleet of hi-tech ships, Royal Caribbean is taking a 360-transformation approach that impacts its full fleet of ships and enterprise operations.
  • Customer and employee experience are at the epicenter of transformation. Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain talked about the digital trends impacting all companies in all industries in terms of their guests. Passengers want a friction-less, family-inclusive cruise experience that feels personalized to their interests. One of my favorite unexpected experiences that was on display was a set of six fluidly moving screens (robo-screens) that moved as seamlessly as the dancers in the video being shown. Beyond CX, Royal Caribbean took equal time to show off features aimed at improving employee experience as well; like server trays with smartphone ports and in-app crew scheduling features.
  • The “continuous improvement” culture is in action. Event attendees did not just hear about a lean approach of ‘build, test, learn’, we took active part by testing out the in-app “Drinks Anywhere” experience and experimenting with virtual reality dining experiences. Royal Caribbean has also applied the agile principle of “fast, not perfect”. EY worked with Royal Caribbean to deliver the first MVP of the SeaBeyond app in June, launched the beta in August, and it will be rolled out on 3 ships by December. By the end of 2019, it will be available on all ships, with major system updates planned every 6 weeks.
  • Royal Caribbean is applying emerging technologies to improve the cruise experiences. Royal Caribbean is experimenting with VR to create an immersive booking experience by allowing customers to “test out” excursion options using VR googles (I opted for a lovely gondola tour of Venice). To eliminate one of the biggest pain points of the cruise experience, it has implemented facial recognition technology to cut down the typical boarding time to only ten minutes. Once onboard, AI will learn passengers’ preference to suggest schedules and events that are personalized to individual guests’ interest.
  • EY is orchestrating an ecosystem to deliver. Royal Caribbean’s digital transformation spans ship engineering expertise to designing surprising and delightful customer experiences; neither Royal Caribbean or EY have the breadth of skills required in-house to deliver. While spearheading the technology implementation and integration pieces, EY also orchestrates an ecosystem of existing Royal Caribbean partners, large strategic partners, and startups in areas like microservices and design to round out capabilities.

As I settle back into the reality of winter in New England, keep an eye out for continued research on the role of the ecosystem in delivering digital competencies (with an upcoming report specifically on the role of startups) and how digital studios enable agile partnerships with services providers.