I just returned from my family’s first trip to Disney World in Orlando. It was a truly special week for my two kids, especially my nearly six-year-old daughter. But what stood out to me is how expertly Disney has merged the physical and digital worlds to create one, connected and memorable experience.

This merging of the physical and digital worlds is one of Mendix CTO Johan den Haan’s top predictions for 2016. This trend is being driven by the rapid proliferation of sensors and connected devices, aka the Internet of Things (or just IoT). Digitally savvy organizations are able to effectively harness the IoT and the deluge of data it creates to transform their operations, products and services and even business models.

Disney’s MagicBand Bridges the Physical and Digital Worlds

Disney Magic BandWhat’s Disney’s secret to merging the physical and digital worlds? It all starts with the MagicBand, a colorful, waterproof wristband for each family member that uses Radio Frequency (RF) technology. MagicBands seamlessly connect your physical experience at Disney parks and resorts to the MyDisneyExperience web and mobile apps, integrating pre-trip planning, on-site activities, post-trip memories and more. In the process, Disney has created new and enhanced customer experiences, as well as new digital products and services.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • Disney PhotoPassNo tickets, no keys, no problem – MagicBands are automatically loaded with all your hotel reservations, park tickets and other experiences (e.g. character meals such as Cinderella’s Royal Table). They can be instantly activated at a resort or park, simply by touching the MagicBand to a sensor called a touch point.
  • Skip long lines – Remember wandering aimlessly around the Magic Kingdom, searching for rides with tolerable lines? While you still have to tolerate some long waits, Disney allows you to book FastPass+ timeslots for popular rides through the website and mobile app. Show up at your scheduled time, tap your MagicBand and skip to the head of the line.
  • Cash and card-less payments – MagicBand also serves as a payment mechanism, which means you no longer need to carry cash and credit cards around the resorts or parks. And because MagicBand payments require a PIN, you don’t have to worry about someone charging up your account if you lose a wristband.
  • Instant digital memories – When Disney photographers take your photos at various locations throughout the parks, they show up automatically in your MyDisneyExperience app a few hours later, including some fun augmented photos like the one to the right. With the Memory Maker add-on, you can instantly download these digital photos to cherish forever.

Disney has done a great job of merging the physical and digital worlds to make their customer experience both more convenient and more memorable. In exchange for shorter lines and the biggest smile you’ve ever seen on your kid’s face, they’re able to collect a vast amount of real-time data that they can use to fine-tune their operations, increase share of wallet and innovate new products and services.

Ideas for Enhancing Disney’s “Digical” Magic

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Disney further optimizes this “digical” experience. Here are a few ideas based on my own experiences last week:

  • Multi-Channel, Multi-Surface – MyDisneyExperience is a seamless experience across the web and mobile app. Going forward, how can Disney incorporate additional channels or surfaces, such as smart watches, kiosks, digital displays, etc.? For instance, imagine if your child was personally greeted by a character on a digital display in the FastPass+ line. The challenge here is leveraging new channels without having to rebuild application logic for each one. Moreover, users must be able to move seamlessly from one channel to another, based on their needs.
  • Smart Apps and Predictive Recommendations – It will be interesting to see how Disney can make their apps even smarter using machine learning and predictive analytics. While FastPass+ is a great service, imagine if the mobile app offered a personalized and optimized park itinerary based on your children’s ages and interests, as well as real-time and historical data about ride wait times. The app could trigger push notifications saying, “The line for Space Mountain is the shortest it’s going to be all day. You might want to head there now.”
  • From Internet of Things to Internet of Experiences – So far, Disney has done an excellent job leveraging IoT to optimize the customer experience. Considering they’ve basically built self-contained worlds, it will be fascinating to see what else they’re able to bring online through sensors and beacon technology. One immediate use case that comes to mind is real-time info on shuttle buses that transport customers between Disney resorts and parks. Plus, considering all the shows and parades happening throughout the park on any given day, I’m sure there are opportunities to optimize all the moving parts through greater connectivity.

While Disney and the broader travel and hospitality industry is clearly at the forefront of the “digical” trend, there’s enormous potential for countless others, including retail, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, education and government. In the insurance industry, we’re already seeing carriers use connected devices like Fitbit and telematics to collect real-time data and offer innovative usage-based products. And one of our customers is leveraging IoT to transform its business from manufacturing light bulbs to delivering greenhouse optimization as a service. Sensors collect data on light, temperature, soil, weather and more, which is then fed into machine learning services that help optimize plant photosynthesis along with energy consumption and greenhouse maintenance.

Digical Innovation Requires Fast, Iterative Development

Regardless of the use case, capitalizing on digical requires fast, iterative development of new multi-channel applications. For most organizations, this is unchartered territory so you need to be able to test new ideas quickly, flexibly and at low cost to see what works and what doesn’t. And when you find a winner, you need to be able to scale it instantly, while having the real-time insight and processes required to continuously innovate. Last but not least, you must be able to seamlessly leverage IoT and machine learning services to build intelligence into applications.

The Magic Kingdom may be “the most magical place on earth,” thanks to its masterful merging of the physical and digital worlds, but your retail store, shop floor or airport terminal could soon give it a run for its money.


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