Royal Caribbean Sets Sail With Niku

By Allen Bernard

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After 9/11 Royal Caribbean, like the rest of the cruise industry, went from boom times to bust literally overnight.

RC is dependent on the airlines to get passengers from all over the country to its docks, so when the government shut down the airlines immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the cruise company was stuck with thousands of bookings but no one to fill them.

Because of this, the company's IT department had to go from supporting a booming business to one where the future was completely uncertain. RC shut down all but the most essential IT projects, i.e. security, laid off staff and hunkered down into the role of a support organization, said Richard Shapiro, manager of RC's IT Program Administration Office, which tracks and supports all the company's IT projects.

"This company got very, very badly hurt after 9/11, as did many others," he said. "We're in the travel business and when the airlines shut down, customers couldn't get to our ships. We were instantly in a battle for the survival of the company."

Without Niku -- which makes RC's portfolio and project management software, Niku 6.0 (renamed Clarity with the release of Niku 7.0) -- this shift would have been far more painful and far less successful, said Shapiro.

"Niku helped us understand how to stop projects where they were; how to hold onto those plans and those efforts," he said.

With the visibility Niku provided Shapiro and others into the workings of RC's IT department -- where resources (people, money, man-hours) were allocated, to what projects and at what stage each project was in -- Shapiro could logically and systematically end those projects and reallocate resources to other areas or, in some cases, eliminate them altogether. This was no small task since RC's IT basically supports a large hotel chain on the water. But with Niku, the shutdown was orderly and took about three weeks.

"We couldn't have reacted so quickly without having the (Niku) tool," he said. "If you think of any large hotel chain, a Marriott, a Hilton, with hotels all around the planet then we have to meet all of those requirements plus one wrinkle -- our hotels move."Since 9/11, things have picked up again and RC is on track this year to meet or beat its projected 2001 performance. Again, Niku is playing a pivotal role.

The ability to track and managed IT projects, requests and resources via one product suite allows Shapiro and his team of portfolio and project managers to, once again, logically and systematically allocate to, and perhaps more importantly, share resources between competing projects and priorities.

But Niku doesn't do it all. RC also uses Remedy's infrastructure and application management software to see how well the company's IT systems are functioning and where trouble spots exist. Combining this data with Niku's portfolio/project management functionality gives Shapiro a clear view into how well things are working and what projects are on track, waiting to be approved or just plain dead.

"Between the two of them we've got a fairly good handle on the products suite, how they interrelate and what the TCOs are," he said. "Niku's a magnifying glass. It's going to show you all the stuff in the supply side and all the stuff in the demand side, and if it's out of balance, its going to show it out of balance. You couldn't do it with spreadsheets."

There are a couple of drawbacks with the product, however. One, poorly written training materials, is fairly minor and being worked on by the company, said Shapiro. The other is getting people to use the system. Leading a horse to water, as they say, is the easy part. But, in order for the product to work effectively, everyone has to buy in and this takes time and effort.

"[I]f you forced me say what's the weakest point of this right now, it's the human end of it," he said. "It's getting people trained and understanding they can't do business on spreadsheets anymore."

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