By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2004-08-25 Print this article Print

The Grand Plan

Early on, Finch had drawn up a detailed deployment schedule. In September, while in France, he trashed it. The rooms he needed to get into were under construction, and he couldnt bring in equipment until the shipyard released them, one room at a time. "The key to a project this size is not so much having a beautiful project plan," Finch points out. "Absolutely, the key is being flexible."

While working with the shipyard foremen and workers, he had a huge advantage. He was a French native and spoke their language. "Being able to take a guy aside and say, Do me a favor was more useful than any formal meeting," he says.

Still, after days of negotiating his way into a room, he often found his key wouldnt work, or there was no power. "There were countless instances where it took four days to get a circuit breaker turned on," Finch recalls.

When a room became available, just finding it could be a challenge. Standard clues, such as room numbers on doors and "you are here" diagrams, werent there. Finch carried a book about the size of a paperback that contained the ships plans and wiring diagrams broken down by deck and fire zone.

Every cabin needed an interactive TV controller hidden in its cabinetry. Every shop and restaurant needed to be equipped with PCs and point-of-sale terminals.

With a network switch between every pair of cabins, connected by 100-megabit Ethernet to larger routers in the wiring closets adjacent to each fire zone bulkhead, the ships network left plenty of room for expansion.

The QM2 would also offer passengers network services through an Internet cafe and wireless access points throughout its public areas. With this ship, Cunard wanted to reverse a pattern of losing money on Internet access by leveraging Carnivals buying power for satellite bandwidth and implementing better access metering software.

Finchs big gamble was a $4 million interactive TV system from IDF GmbH of Hamburg, Germany. Where most hotel and cruise ship interactive TV systems use computer-controlled racks of videocassette players to deliver pay-per-view movies, IDFs system treats movies like any other digital content, storing them on hard disks. Passengers can stop playback of a movie before dinner and resume at the same spot later in the evening, or even days later. The system supports other interactive features, such as the ability for passengers to send and receive e-mail, make restaurant reservations or order a bottle of wine for dinner.

IDFs system had been deployed only on ships with about a tenth the passenger capacity of the QM2. Carnival officials wanted a simpler analog system, since IDF s product cost twice as much—a difference of a couple of million dollars. Several years before, Carnival had installed a digital version of its Fun Vision system that never quite worked properly. But Finch wrote that off to inadequate network capacity and immature software.

"I was strongly encouraged to put in technology that in my opinion was obsolete 10 years ago, and I absolutely refused to do it," Finch says.

He had the support of Richard Beliveau, who was responsible for the ships software. As manager of business and fleet solutions, Beliveau had to get the TV system and many other shipboard applications integrated with the core passenger data system from Discovery Travel Systems. Created with Progress Softwares database and rapid application development tools, the software was modified to Cunards specifications by DTS.

Integration work was supposed to have been completed long before Beliveau joined Finch in France at the beginning of November. But he was still waiting for the function passengers would use to book tours, with the options displayed on the TV and the choices recorded by DTS. The real problem was that he was implementing a new version of DTS shore excursion module, and the two vendors were working out the interface on the fly.

"History has always told you that you dont bring in a brand-new system," Beliveau laments. Still, DTS and IDF got their systems synchronized, although later than he would have liked.

The one technology challenge that really caused his heart to skip a beat came from a system he hadnt thought to worry about.

In January, when the QM2 began a series of two-day shakedown cruises, passengers immediately started reporting being locked out of their rooms. Something was wrong with the QM2s system for controlling the electronic door locks.

Onitys Tesa Entry Systems had been identified as a crucial integration point early on. Instead of the hotel front desk procedure of encoding key cards one at a time, the Tesa system had to be coaxed into exporting batches of security codes. DTS would then combine the key codes with a passenger account number and passport data, allowing the same card to function as a shipboard charge card and ID.

But something had been missed during testing. For cabins with more than one passenger, Tesa was generating a separate key code for each person. But the door lock only recognized one combination at a time.

Thankfully, the purpose of this cruise was finding and eliminating problems, and most passengers were employees and their families. But soon paying passengers would be boarding.

"That one went down to the last four days," Beliveau says. In other words, it wasnt fixed until the day Queen Elizabeth dedicated the new ship on January 8.

After that final crisis, Beliveau flew home, exhausted. Finch and a small team stayed with the ship for her maiden voyage, working out smaller kinks along the way. Sadly, the project leaders are now likely to be among the 180 people laid off as part of a decision Carnival announced in July to combine Cunard operations with those of Princess Cruises.

Next Page: Personalization features within the first-class technology allow for a true holiday.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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