August 8, 2022

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Lee Cowie, chief technology officer, Merlin Entertainments


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Lee Cowie, chief technology officer (CTO) at Merlin Entertainments, chats about technology leadership responsibilities in front of a big photo of superhero Iron Gentleman. It’s a vivid reminder of the variety of business he is effective for and a visual clue to his feelings about his part. 

“I get a real buzz from working on some thing that is relatable,” he says. “That’s what gets me out of bed every morning and that’s why I took the part. It’s like the greatest position for me. I am a major kid at coronary heart. I just enjoy what we do. No working day ever really feels like performing for me.”

Cowie is foremost a tech-enabled small business transformation at Merlin, the world’s 2nd-premier operator of loved ones enjoyment locations. It operates a vary of resorts, accommodations and attractions, which includes Legoland, Sea Daily life aquariums, Warwick Castle and Alton Towers. He joined the company from Ericsson in 2017, turning into CTO in January 2020.

“I started off my job in coverage as a graduate decades back,” he states. “I considered at the time that insurance coverage was great – everybody’s often likely to require insurance, so the task is harmless and this is going to be pretty. But it’s seriously tricky to relate to providing coverage guidelines. And the point about this job is that it’s definitely relatable.”

Utilizing engineering transform

Cowie, who reports to chief economic officer Alistair Windybank, is accountable for the world-wide technological know-how approach at Merlin. He is primary a programme of engineering jobs that are aiming to change the organization for the far better.

“I operate all solutions globally,” he states. “That encompasses very a lot every thing you would find in a ordinary enterprise – your corporate IT, your ERP [enterprise resource planning] techniques and your back-business office techniques. It also encompasses the a lot more guest-experiencing units – our web sites, our e-commerce platforms, the scheduling journey, the techniques that acquire our lodge bookings and the in-park operational units, no matter whether that’s retail or electronic signage.”

Lee Cowie, Merlin: “I get a genuine excitement from functioning on one thing that is relatable. Which is what receives me out of bed just about every early morning and that’s why I took the position. It is like the greatest task for me. I am a massive kid at heart. I just love what we do. No day ever actually feels like functioning for me”

Some of Cowie’s crucial achievements incorporate rolling out a worldwide e-commerce venture to 128 places across 25 international locations, applying self-company checkout kiosks at Merlin venues all over the world, and ongoing governance and command of a portfolio of more than 90 active intercontinental technologies tasks.

“People check with me what my career includes and I say it’s pretty much anything with a plug and a flashing mild on it,” he suggests. “It’s a wide function and my group is scattered all around the world. We’ve bought embedded engineers in some of our major points of interest. We have bought a significant existence in this article in the United kingdom, a large existence in the US, and teams in Europe and Asia-Pacific.”

Getting on new priorities

Cowie also recognises that staying CTO, despite all the satisfaction and all his achievements so significantly, has not been an quick experience. When he assumed the function at the get started of 2020, he experienced a “grand vision” for technological know-how-enabled change. On the other hand, priorities shifted radically with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I became CTO and then, two months later, the environment collapsed,” he claims. “In conditions of a baptism of hearth, I never imagine you could have experienced a significantly harsher introduction to becoming the CTO. But essentially – and I assume it is some thing that a lot of a whole lot of industries have viewed – necessity is the mother of invention.”

“I grew to become CTO and then, two months later, the environment collapsed [due to Covid]. In conditions of a baptism of fireplace, I really don’t feel you could have had a much harsher introduction to remaining the CTO”
Lee Cowie, Merlin Entertainments

The need for reinvention at Merlin was increased than in several other firms. Cowie claims that, at one particular place all through the pandemic, the business only had a single attraction open across the globe. So, as very well as shifting employees to remote functioning, Cowie and his technology colleagues experienced to operate with the company to imagine about how they could spin up option company designs.

“You genuinely start out digging deep to understand how engineering can solve this challenge. We had a large, practically overnight, transition from office-house functioning to household-based mostly working that we in engineering experienced to empower at extremely brief detect,” he suggests.

“We were looking at how do we build new income streams. We had been shut and we had pretty much zero income coming in. So, we seemed at speedily developing a dozen or so online e-commerce retailers and providing memorabilia and enthusiast products for our sights. We spun them up in a matter of months.”

Improving back again-stop devices

While all this innovation took put, Cowie’s team also had a series of essential technologies initiatives to roll out, together with updating and modernising Merlin’s back-close devices. A person of these assignments bundled the implementation of a new ERP method based on Oracle NetSuite.

The corporation lately additional Oracle’s Micros Simphony issue-of-sale procedure and Opera home management technological innovation. Cowie suggests the aim of standardising on Oracle is to make it easier for Merlin to provide buyers in a additional personalised fashion.

“We definitely want to use technologies to augment our practical experience and make folks sense special, so that subsequent time they arrive again we can give them a diverse viewpoint on the park. It is all about how technology personalises encounter, so next time it’s distinctive to the last time and we give them one more motive to arrive again,” he says.

Cowie says alignment around digital innovation intended Oracle arrived out major in “pretty a great deal all” the locations that Merlin regarded during its procurement work out. While he claims there are other fantastic back-end techniques on the current market, Oracle protected the difficult measures – this sort of as price and technological steps – and also provided a very good cultural healthy.

“It was the integration piece,” he states. “When you appear at the complexity of the Merlin company, with its accommodations, dining establishments and retail shops, if you didn’t have a husband or wife at the scale of Oracle, and the suite of know-how it has, I would be expending all my time integrating and customising systems spread out throughout a truly massive geography – and it would be substantially more difficult if we weren’t partnering with Oracle.”

Boosting consumer encounters

Cowie has continued to concentration on ground breaking options to intractable organization difficulties as Merlin enters the publish-Covid age. As its venues and motels have reopened, so his staff has had to assume diligently about how technology can support to prioritise client safety in a business design that is based all-around bringing men and women with each other.

“Obviously, we experienced some worries coming out of Covid,” he says. “We seemed at speedily deploying mechanisms for ordering foodstuff on cellular products, so that people today didn’t have to have to be a part of a queue for the foodstuff and we could deliver the food safely to them.”

Cowie’s workforce also had to believe about how to build a fair queuing technique for rides when individuals weren’t bodily existing. The respond to, he suggests, was a series of virtual queueing units. They also looked at how to stagger people as a result of a variety of revenue-creating parts, this sort of as dining establishments and outlets.

“Contactless engineering became genuinely vital – how do we permit the attendees to interact with us but really feel secure? We place kiosks in and on line-checking techniques, so that folks could examine in properly from their cell with out needing to interact with us. It seriously was a period of time of very speedy innovation.”

Even more impressively, these technological options had to be spun up at the very same time as the small business was adopting new techniques of doing the job. Lockdown meant the IT team was unable to be in near proximity with every single other. Cowie claims social distancing intended they couldn’t have the sort of whiteboard moments that guide to sparks of inspiration and engagement. As an alternative, all of the IT team’s innovation was getting pushed by remotely.

“We properly navigated that journey and deployed some actually excellent know-how,” claims Cowie. “Some of that technology was constantly in the prepare but we just brought it ahead definitely swiftly. A ton of what we experienced to do through necessity has now come to be an integral section of the visitor working experience and will carry on to evolve article-Covid into ordinary functions.”

Sensation the excitement

What’s intriguing, hence, is that severe conditions have led to clean strategies of serving prospects by way of electronic technologies that not only could possibly not have existed devoid of the pandemic, but which are also very likely to assistance make far better activities in the future.

“It gives you a authentic pause for reflection when issues like that occur and it crystallises matters. Persons come to attractions since they want a terrific immersive working experience – they want to be in a physical natural environment, and that will normally be the circumstance. That’s what Merlin is about. But I assume, increasingly, we’re observing that engineering, and electronic technological know-how in unique, can make that experience far better,” suggests Cowie.

“People appear to attractions due to the fact they want a great immersive working experience – they want to be in a bodily environment, and that is what Merlin is about. But progressively, we’re seeing that engineering, and digital engineering in certain, can make that encounter better”
Lee Cowie, Merlin Entertainments

He suggests the enterprise will give access to further characteristics, this sort of as gamifying the queue. Consumers will be part of queues for rides and Merlin will generate a electronic practical experience as a result of its cell application and augmented reality know-how that offers people the prospect to encounter yet another dimension as they wait around.

“And I assume increasingly, as we move forward, the aim for us is, how to sew electronic and actual physical worlds jointly,” says Cowie. “How do we engage our company in a Merlin ecosystem that is all centred all-around the attraction but is augmented and improved by electronic experiences and digital stories that persist after the pay a visit to and which are also related to your next take a look at?”

Cowie concludes by returning to his initial suggestion that the buzz he gets from leading technology at Merlin will come from serving to his group to make advancements in a tangible way. He claims it is pleasant to walk close to the company’s points of interest and see the change that digital and knowledge are producing to the small business and the shoppers it serves.

“We make the experience superior, and I adore just wandering all-around our attractions on the lookout at where by we’ve deployed some seriously appealing, definitely terrific tech, and observing how it is impacting people’s life,” he claims.



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