Merlin Entertainments uses Oracle technology to build personalized experiences for customers

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels May 6, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
From Legoland to Alton Towers, Merlin CTO Lee Cowie says the effective use of digital systems and services across its attractions keeps visitors engaged and happy.

Image of a family on a rollercoaster ride at a theme park
(Image sourced via Merlin Entertainment)

Merlin Entertainments has implemented a range of Oracle systems to create a consolidated technological platform for long-term improvements to customer services.

The company, which is the world's second-largest owner of family entertainment destinations, operates resorts, hotels and attractions, including Legoland, Sea Life Aquariums, Windsor Castle and Alton Towers. Lee Cowie, CTO at Merlin, says technology is crucial to how the business engages with its customers and he describes his future vision to diginomica. Cowie explains: 

I would love for our guests to not even notice the technology. What we really want to do is stitch everything together across the guest journey from the point of booking on our websites to when the guests arrive and move around the park. We've got to get out of the way and the technology has just got to work.

As part of this ongoing vision, Cowie is using a broad range of Oracle systems to create a consolidated technology platform for business change. He says the company had quite a fragmented IT estate until recently. Merlin has a history of being an acquisitive business and those acquired organizations bring with them legacy systems and technologies. Cowie recognized the company needed a different approach. He says:

We ran an exercise four or five years ago to select a preferred vendor to provide operational line-of-business systems, which included retail electronic point of sale (EPOS), food and beverage EPOS, the hotel system and then, more recently, NetSuite ERP. The recent activities we’ve undertaken are focused on a concerted effort to consolidate on Oracle systems, replacing some of our older technology and standardizing around Oracle’s hospitality suite coupled into the NetSuite ERP.

Merlin recently added Oracle’s Micros Simphony POS technology and Hospitality Opera Property Management technology. The company selected Oracle after a competitive tendering process. Cowie says the aim of his team’s standardization process is to make it easier for Merlin to serve customers in a more personalized manner. Delivering that outcome is a cultural as well as a technological challenge. The company’s larger theme parks are “the size of a small town”, he adds, covering a broad geographical footprint that includes hotels, retail outlets and entertainment facilities. Cowie says: 

One of our key goals is to turn our theme parks with hotels into resorts, so you feel like you are part of an immersive experience from the point at which you arrive until the point at which you leave. Technology's part in that is to be frictionless – to not put barriers in the way of the guest.

Cowie says the big benefit that comes from standardizing business processes around Oracle’s set of tools is the high level of integration. Guests, for example, can manage reservations from their mobile devices using the Opera technology. The aim, from EPOS to hotel systems and onto ERP technology, is to create a joined-up view of Merlin’s customers. Cowie adds:

We can start to bring together our view of guests. So, when they move into the park, they can start charging purchases back to the hotel room. We can stitch it into the initial booking journey. And we can gather their information, so that they can then start checking in online before they even get to our resorts and pick up their keys.

Visitors can use a mobile app connected to Simphony to order and pay for meals in advance. Simphony also includes restaurant analytics that help ensure kitchens across the company’s hotels and parks receive orders quickly and in a timely manner. At the Legoland Windsor Resort, for example, a visitor can pre-order food and have it delivered at a set time. Cowie explains:

It’s all about personalizing the experience to customers from the point at which they arrive. And by having the really good foundations in place, it allows us to sprinkle some digital magic over the top and start making guests feel like they're the only people in the park, even though they're one of 10,000 people in one of our attractions.

Removing friction from experiences

Merlin continues to develop its joined-up personalization approach. One of the key things Cowie’s team is looking at, for example, is how they might push room keys to customers’ mobile devices. They are also thinking about how it will use some of the other Oracle technologies to drive further improvements in service levels. Cowie says:

When customers are in the park, the integration between mobile ordering and our kiosks or the kitchen display systems allows us to be really efficient and effective in prioritizing guests’ orders and making sure we're serving the guests in a timely way. It’s all about cutting down queues and removing the friction from an experience that could otherwise be quite stressful. We can buy the technology, we can install it, it natively integrates, and then we don't have to worry about the system. It just works.

One of the other technological advances that Cowie is looking to push is gamification. He says Merlin wants to use technology to help create richer experiences for customers. The aim is to use a confluence of existing and emerging technologies to give visitors to the company’s attractions a reason to keep coming back. He adds:

And that's through gamification of the whole experience – you managed to get on 10 rides this time, your top speed was 50 miles per hour, you're ranked third in all-time riders, so come back and see if you can get to number one. 

And I think by having this technology suite, by looking at the interface between mobile devices, but also digital signs and kiosks and the guest experience, we can really start to drive an agenda of personalization, of augmenting the physical experience with digital and just making things better than they otherwise would be.

Cowie advises other digital leaders who are thinking about working with Oracle to focus on ensuring the IT team builds strong bonds with the account management team and other specialists around the business. Then, if issues arise, the company’s prepared. He says:

There are challenges in every tech you deploy. The thing that I've always been pleased about with Oracle is that they've said, ‘Yeah, we've got a problem. We'll fix it.’ And then they get on and do it. I think it's the same with any large tech company – they can be massive; they can be multi-headed and they can be multi-featured. But if you can get to the right people, you can navigate all of that.

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