Interview: Noble Coker (CIO, Disneyland HK)

One would be hardpressed to find a person who does not know about Disneyland. But a lot many do not know that behind all that magic there is a lot of IT & Technicality. It was amazing interacting with Noble COker, who is the CIO of Disneyland HK, he is a man without airs and seems to love the challenges that keep cropping up all time. This interaction was published on CIOL, the link is (

‘Magic @ Disneyland

Noble Coker marched into the meeting room. As the CIO of the upcoming Hong Kong Disneyland, this was his first interaction with his local team members. For the meeting, he had prepared an agenda and was ready to thrash it out with his colleagues. Strangely, throughout the meeting the team kept mum. On being pushed by Coker, the team members would only show their appreciation for the project.

“They found it incredulous to tell their boss that he was wrong, while it was much the case in the US,” he recalls. This was Coker’s first cultural shock, but he quickly learnt the ropes and next time round he was prepared with a solution.

To say that Coker is a fast learner, would in no means be an exaggeration, after all during his college days he learnt Lao language from all the refugees who were being resettled in California and later on took classes on the language, “to pay my way through college.” He joined PriceWaterHouseCoopers as an analyst and subsequently was hired by Disney as a programmer. Rising up the ranks, he took up the challenge to oversee the construction of the fifth Disneyland in Hong Kong, and the rest as they say is history.

In a freewheeling interaction with Shashwat Chaturvedi from CyberMedia News, Coker talks about the “magical experience” at the Disneyland and how IT makes it happens. Excerpts:

Can you tell us about the use of IT at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort? How much has been drawn from the other Disney parks in the U.S. and Europe and how has the HK Disney been unique in terms of technology adoption?
At Disneyland, the use of technology can be classified under four different categories, as follows. The first one is business transaction, the use of IT in hotel reservation, merchandise dale, food point of sale, etc. The second category is communication, the use of email, IP telephony for internal communication. The third category and a rather important one for us is the safety and security for our guests and visitors right from food to park monitoring. The fourth one is the entertainment; we use a technology in a variety of ways to enrich the guest experience. Hence, we extensively use IT at our parks.

Giving a precise figure on how the common technology between the Hong Kong and the international parks is a tough call, but I can hazard a guess that it must be around 80:20 international and local mix, respectively. We have used technology in very many unique ways in Hong Kong.

You have often emphasized on creating “magical experience” for the guests, can you share with some instances on how technology is being used to create that “magical experience”?
When our guests walk out of our park, I would rather have them remembering Disneyland for a great magical experience rather than a great technological one. I want people to say, “wow, how did they do this” and our technology is geared towards creating that very experience. Starting from the website, we have created a similar experience much like the one that a guest will experience at the park. At the park itself, we are using a variety of tech applications for instance, at the park there is a wireless broadcast that synchronizes the timing through the park, this ensures all the different elements work in perfect coordination, like the parade and the floats.

We also have piped music that is running through the underlying infrastructure. Or take the case of the newly introduced FastPass at Disneyland. In the past guests had to stand in long queues to be able to enjoy their rides. Now with Fastpass, they can register themselves for a slot later in the day and comeback in that slot and enjoy their ride. This helps the guests spend more time on the rides rather than queuing up. Even our park attractions use technology to reinforce the ‘magical’ feeling. Take the case of Stitch Encounter, based on the Disney character Stitch. He dynamically interacts with the guest and his responses are based on what the guest tells him.

One of the challenges (mentioned by you) was working with multi-cultural team, how difficult or easy is it to work with diverse teams?
To be honest, working with multi-cultural teams can be extremely difficult, if one is not sufficiently prepared for it. I committed a lot of mistakes and learnt through them. Such experiences forces one to remove our filters; filters that one acquires over time. The experience can be quite humbling. For instance, when I had come here, I was trying to achieve things without understanding the significance of different cultures. Typically, Americans have a bad habit of talking first, and listening later and giving away a lot content without much context. I quickly understood these issues and got down to working them out by understanding the people and learning more about their culture.

Do you think current-day CIOs pay much (more than required) attention to this aspect?
Though companies are going global, I still fell that as CIOs, we do not pay much attention to cultural sensitivity issues. By nature CIOs are naturally project driven and focused on getting the job done, and no one frets over such things. But, I personally feel, that resolving these issues can be critical to the success of a team.

What is the IT strategy roadmap for the future, i.e., technologies that are being tested for the future?
Going ahead, we have created a New Technology Group that has representatives from all the major Disney Parks like Hong Kong, France and the U.S. The group examines all the emerging technologies across the world and then uses them at the parks. For instance, some years back, the mobile penetration in Hong Kong was much ahead of what it is in the U.S., so we perfected the mobile applications out here and now they can be cross deployed in the U.S. market.

In the times to come, convergence across varying media will be big thing in the days to come. Today media is ubiquitous; there is a plethora of devices like iPods, mobile phones, etc. The challenge will be to deliver multi-dimensional experience. Guests in the future would want a more enhanced experience, so when they visit the Tarzan tree house, they would like more information on Tarzan or even like to see a movie clip of the film. We are gearing to deliver that enriched user experience. Disneyland will always be magical.

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