Think Like a Theme Park

Think Like a Theme Park

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November 13, 2013
Think Like A Theme Park CIO

What IT can learn from a theme park

Hold out until you can rip and replace. For many IT leaders, this mantra served as the best way to eke the most out of costly investments. But Enterprisers like Build-a-Bear Chief Interactive and Information Officer Dave Finnegan are tossing aside that antiquated approach in favor of a modular strategy he calls “the theme park model.”

Theme parks don’t change every 15 years. They roll out a new ride every year or every two years,” Finnegan says, adding his company acts similarly. “Stores will get new modules so that the Build-a-Bear experience in local malls continues to improve.”

Founder and CEO Maxine Clark reiterated this mission in a New York Times article introducing the company’s new concept store in St. Louis last year. “Kids see our stores and run up to them,” she told the New York Times. “We didn’t want to change that.”

Hugging the digital world

The retailers’ more than 300 stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico are being outfitted with new technology that Finnegan has been instrumental in developing and deploying. For instance, customers at some stores now meet all the characters available to be stuffed via an interactive play station rather than a static wall display. Once their character is made, they can take it to a virtual bathtub, powered by advanced technology from Samsung and Microsoft, to “fluff it” and ready it to get dressed and head home. Even the outfit station, which used to feature clothing on a wall, is now an interactive, customized experience for customers. Click here for a virtual tour.

This generation is completely different than the generation when we first started Build-a-Bear because digital is so important to their world,” he says. “Not only do I love the fact that I get to make a difference in making kids smile every day, but we do it through a digital lens.”

Stomach for success… and failure

By modularizing innovation like a theme park, Enterprisers are able to test exciting new projects like those at Build-a-Bear without as much exposure to risk. If they have to redesign a module or even scrap it they can do so without impacting the entire store. However, this does require a tolerance for some degree of failure, which can be jarring to some IT leaders.

Deloitte debated the sensitive topic of whether the CIO’s role in business innovation is to sustain or disrupt. While one side of the argument suggested that CIOs should focus on sustaining innovations that address today’s growing concerns, the other pointed to the CIO’s unique technology insight. “Social computing, mobility and the cloud aren’t just changing society, they’re disrupting business. Who’s better positioned to help take advantage of these tools than the CIO?” according to Deloitte’s counterpoint.

And for those that insist a CIO’s role is to focus primarily on the efficiency and effectiveness of existing systems? “It’s worth the deliberate sacrifice of some efficiency gains to achieve the potential long-term advantages offered by disruptive innovations,” the counterpoint noted.

Partner up

Finnegan warns though that an essential aspect of the theme park model – or any new model for that matter – is a detailed understanding of the business goals and the customer’s needs as well as a close collaboration with other key executives such as the Chief Marketing Officer.

With the rollout of digital for every demographic and the CMO’s need to figure out new ways of experiencing the brand at different touch points, the relationship between the CIO and CMO is more important than it has ever been,” Finnegan says.

In fact, Finnegan and CMO operate a combined digital budget. The questions they focus on as they introduce new theme park modules: “Are we selling the right stuff? Are we providing the right experience? Are we doing it with the right brand voice?”

When it comes to the stores’ new features, Finnegan can check the box on all three.

We took the best of the traditional high-touch experience guests have with Build-a-Bear and brought digital into it,” he says.

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