Royal Caribbean Cruises CIO: Get comfortable being uncomfortable

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New rules for the CIO

One of the biggest mistakes IT leaders make is trying to control all technology throughout their organizations, according to Mike Giresi, CIO at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. In part one of a two-part interview, he gave readers a behind-the-scenes look at the digital transformation process at Royal Caribbean Cruises. In part two, he explains his vision of IT's future, and why most technology executives need to change their approach.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): You've noted that the cruise industry has not seen a lot of technological change over the past 20 years. If change is coming now, what's driving it?

Giresi: The challenge is that customers have changing expectations. They've all used Amazon and Uber. And every time a new mobile app or service or platform comes along or offers a new feature, that becomes the new standard. It's the standard customers apply to every mobile experience they have. So if you want to impactfully change things, you have to look at companies outside your own.

TEP: What companies did you look at when planning Royal Caribbean Cruises' digital transformation?

Giresi: We looked at what Starwood went through. We looked at Disney and what worked and didn't, and we looked at Marriott. [Starwood Hotels and Resorts, whose brands include Westin and Sheraton, was acquired by Marriott in a recently completed transaction.] We're looking at other companies – Google is a great example. They have a lot of hits, but they don't do everything right. When they miss, they miss big.

TEP: If your goal is to make technological changes rapidly in an industry where that isn't the norm, how do you make it happen?

Giresi: For my IT team, they have to become very comfortable being uncomfortable. We're going to be constantly changing and iterating. That means we need brand-new behaviors around how we bring technology into the marketplace. It's about embracing this concept that the way you can make the most progress is not by trying to control but enabling instead.

In fact, this is where IT engages as a principal driver of the change. IT is not the sole owner. IT must be comprised of people who understand the business and work as strategic partners and provide a point of convergence across the business. All information flows through IT, whether it be a website driven by marketing, or HR software, customer-facing applications or even email. IT must work collaboratively versus trying to control everything. It's not about egos or whose name is attached to it. It's about succeeding together for the business.

TEP: How do you create collaboration between the business and IT?

Giresi: Part of working collaboratively is changing behaviors so that they begin to look through the lens of the business. This means shifting the traditional IT mindset by 180 degrees and taking a strategic, outside-in approach. What do our customers want? How can our technologies enable agile and informed business decisions and a differentiated vacation experience for our guests? How can we work with teams across the business to accomplish this? With a more comprehensive view, collaborating teams are often able to identify or develop solutions that one or the other may not have found on their own. They can disrupt before being disrupted. Together, we are more impactful.

TEP: It sounds like you're encouraging IT leaders to allow or even embrace shadow IT?

Giresi: One of the biggest mistakes IT leaders make is talking about non-centralized IT as shadow IT. This has been a buzz term in the IT space for several years, and often a cause of conflict with other teams such as marketing, who are increasingly driving digital initiatives. Some in the IT space see this as a threat. I disagree with this concept – IT shouldn't have full control. It's about collaborating, playing to each other's strengths, and IT understanding the business and working together as a strategic partner, as opposed to the sole owner. For example, with data, IT must ensure that the right data is collected and that it's reported in a way that teams like marketing can use to make strategic decisions.

There are generations of people coming into the workplace who have had a lot of experiences with technology as to how they learn about it and how they operate it. It's not central IT and shadow IT; it's all technology. We have to provide access to technological resources.

TEP: Doesn't that raise concerns about data loss prevention and security for vital systems and information?

Giresi: There are certain things, like finance and accounting, that you want to have controlled. But the idea that everything technological goes through one group and you have the capacity and resources to manage all that is ridiculous. In ten years, IT is not going to look the way it does today. Technology is going to be spread through the whole organization.

Seeing IT as an enabling, not a controlling function is a hard concept for a lot of technologists because they often view the world in black and white. But it's not black and white, it's all shades of gray. And many other colors as well.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.

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