Connect with us

Tech

Interview with the Chief Information Officer (CIO): Lee Cowie, Chief Technology Officer, Merlin Entertainments

Published

on

Interview with the Chief Information Officer (CIO): Lee Cowie, Chief Technology Officer, Merlin Entertainments

Lee Cowie is chief technology officer (CTO), at Merlin Entertainments. He talks about his technology leadership responsibilities while looking at a huge picture of Iron Man. It is a reminder of his company and a visual cue to his feelings about it.

” I get a real buzz working on something relatable,” he said. It’s what motivates me to get out of bed every morning, and that’s why it was the job I chose. It’s the perfect job for me. I’m a big kid at heart. I love what we do. It never feels like work

Cowie is leading a tech-enabled business transformation at Merlin, the world’s second-largest operator of family entertainment destinations. It manages a variety of hotels, resorts and attractions, including Legoland and Sea Life aquariums, Warwick Castle, and Alton Towers. He joined the company from Ericsson in 2017, becoming CTO in January 2020.

” I started my career as an insurance professional years ago, when I was a graduate,” he said. “I believed at the time that insurance is great. Everyone will need it, so I thought this job was safe and wonderful. It’s difficult to relate to selling insurance policies. This job is very relatable .”

Implementing technology change

Cowie reports to Alistair Windybank and is responsible for Merlin’s global technology strategy. He leads a series of technology projects that aim to transform the company.

” I manage all products worldwide,” he said. It includes your corporate IT, ERP [enterprise resource planning], systems, and back-office systems. It also encompasses the more guest-facing systems – our websites, our e-commerce platforms, the booking journey, the systems that take our hotel bookings and the in-park operational systems, whether that’s retail or digital signage.”

Lee Cowie, Merlin: “I get a real buzz from working on something that is relatable. This is what motivates me to get out of bed every morning, and it’s why I accepted the job. It’s the perfect job for me. I’m a big kid at heart. I love what we do. “No day is ever like work for me.”

Some of Cowie’s key achievements include rolling out a global e-commerce project to 128 locations across 25 countries, implementing self-service checkout kiosks at Merlin venues around the world, and ongoing governance and control of a portfolio of more than 90 active international technology projects.

” People ask me about my job and I answer that it involves pretty much anything with a light and a plug.” he said. It’s a wide-ranging job and my team spans the globe. Some of our main attractions have embedded engineers. We’ve got a big presence here in the UK, a big presence in the US, and teams in Europe and Asia-Pacific.”

Taking on new priorities

Cowie recognizes that the role of CTO has been a challenging one, despite all the joy and achievements. When he assumed the role at the start of 2020, he had a “grand vision” for technology-enabled change. The coronavirus pandemic caused priorities to shift dramatically.

“I was made CTO, and the world crashed two months later,” he said. “I don’t think there could have been a more difficult introduction to becoming the CTO in terms of a baptism-of-fire. However, necessity is the mother invention .”

. This is something I believe a lot industries have seen.

“I was CTO, and then two months later the world crashed [due to Covid]..” “I don’t believe you could have received a more harsh introduction to the CTO role as a baptism in fire.
Lee Cowie, Merlin Entertainments

The need to reinvent Merlin was greater than many other businesses. Cowie claims that the company had only one attraction operating at any one time during the pandemic. So, as well as shifting employees to remote working, Cowie and his technology colleagues had to work with the business to think about how they could spin up alternative business models.

” You really need to dig deep to see how technology can help solve this problem. He says that there was a huge, almost instantaneous transition from office-space work to home-based work. Technology had to be able to do this quickly.”

” We were trying to figure out how we can create new revenue streams. We had almost no revenue coming in and were closed. We looked into quickly establishing several dozen online e-commerce shops to sell memorabilia and fan merchandise for our attractions. They were up and running in just a few weeks .”

Improving back-end systems

While all of this innovation was taking place, Cowie’s group also had a number of important technology projects to rollout, including modernising and updating Merlin’s back-end systems. One of these projects included the implementation of a new ERP system based on Oracle NetSuite.

The company added Oracle’s Micros Simphony point of sale system and Opera property management software. Cowie stated that the standardization of Oracle was done to allow Merlin to provide personalized service to customers.

” We want technology to enhance our experience and make people feel special so that the next time they return, we can give them a new perspective of the park. He says that technology is all about personalizing the experience. This gives them another reason to return.

Cowie claims that Oracle won in almost all areas it considered during the procurement exercise. He says that there are many other excellent back-end systems available on the market. However, Oracle met all the requirements (such as price and technical measures) and was a good cultural match.

“It wasn’t the integration part,” he said. When you consider the complexity of Merlin’s business with its restaurants, hotels and retail outlets, without a partner of Oracle .”

, you would spend all your time customizing and integrating systems across a large geographic area. It would be even more difficult if we didn’t partner with Oracle.

Boosting customer experiences

As Merlin enters the post Covid age,

Cowie continues to work on ingenious solutions to complex business problems. His team had to think hard about how technology could help in order to ensure customer safety as the venues and hotels reopened. This is an approach that was based on bringing people together.

” “Obviously, there were some challenges coming out from Covid,” he said. “We considered quickly deploying mechanisms to order food via mobile devices so people wouldn’t have to wait in a line and could be delivered the food .”

.

Cowie and his team had to consider how to make a fair queue system for rides even when no one was there. He says that the answer was a series virtual queueing systems. They also explored how to stagger people through different revenue-generating areas like restaurants and shops.

“Contactless technology was really important. How can we make it easy for guests to interact with us while still keeping them safe? It was a period of rapid innovation. We installed kiosks and online-checking system so people could check in from their phones. It was an era of rapid innovation

Even more remarkable, these technological solutions had be spun up simultaneously with the business adopting new ways to work. The IT team couldn’t be close to each other due to lockdown. Cowie states that social distancing prevented them from having the whiteboard moments that can spark inspiration and engagement. All of the IT team’s innovation was instead being done remotely.

” We successfully navigated this journey and deployed some really great technology,” Cowie says. Cowie says that while some of the technology was already in place, others were just implemented quickly. Many of the things we had to do because of necessity have now been incorporated into the guest experience. They will continue to evolve post Covid into normal operations .”

Feeling the buzz

It’s fascinating that extreme circumstances have led us to new ways to serve customers using digital technology. These are not only possible without the pandemic but also more likely to create better experiences for future generations.

” It gives you time to reflect on what has happened and helps to clarify things. Attractions are for people who want an immersive experience. They want to be in a physical setting. This will always be true. This is what Merlin is all about. Cowie says that we are increasingly seeing that technology, especially digital technology, can improve that experience.

People come to attractions for the immersive experience. They want to be in a physical environment. That’s what Merlin is all about. We are increasingly seeing that technology, especially digital technology, can enhance that experience.
Lee Cowie, Merlin Entertainments

He says that the company will offer additional features such as the ability to gamify the queue. Customers will join queues for rides and Merlin will create a digital experience through its mobile app and augmented reality technology that gives people the opportunity to experience another dimension as they wait.

“And, I think more, as we go forward, the goal is, how do we stitch digital and physical realms together?” says Cowie. How can we engage our guests in a Merlin ecosystem? It is not only about the attraction, but it is also augmented and enhanced with digital experiences and digital stories which persist after the visit ?”

.

Cowie ends by reiterating his original idea that the buzz he receives from leading technology at Merlin is from helping his team make improvements in a tangible manner. It’s fun to look around at the company’s attractions, and to see the impact digital and data have on the business and its customers.

” We make it better. I love to just stroll around our attractions and look at the places where we have deployed really cool, really great tech and see how it is impacting people’s lives,” says he.

Read More

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tech

Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance

Published

on

By

Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance
Four people in a meeting room video conferencing with four remote participants.



(Image credit: Microsoft)

One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.

The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence. 

However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.

Teams’ howling

Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.

Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting. 

If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.

Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.

The news follows a number of recent updates largely aimed around improving the audio quality on Microsoft Teams calls using AI and machine learning.

The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.

Sign up to theTechRadar Pro newsletter to get all the top news, opinion, features and guidance your business needs to succeed!

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.

Read More

Continue Reading

Tech

Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed

Published

on

By

Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed
Shazam points at someone off camera in Shazam! Fury of the Gods



Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.

Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:

Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).

But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.

1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?

Kalypso hands Hespera the wizard's staff in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

New movie, new villains. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.

Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.

So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.

2. Mythological monsters

A dragon prepares to breathe fire at one of Shazam's fellow heroes in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam isn’t the only person taking flight in Fury of the Gods. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.

Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.

But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.

3. You can’t get the staff these days

Hespera uses the wizard's staff as Kalypso looks on in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

“So I just point it and then what?” (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.

In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.

The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players. 

Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.

4. Prison break

Djimon Hounsou's wizard blows som magic dust out of a prison window in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Time to break out, Mr. Wizard. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.

We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.

Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.

5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?

Shazam flies past some rotating buildings in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Where have we seen this kind of aesthetic before? (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you? 

Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.

Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.

6. Light the way

Shazam prepares to fight Kalypso and her dragon in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

A yellow bolt out of the blue. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.

Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.

Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.

For more DCEU-based coverage, find out where we placed 2019’s Shazam! in our DC movies ranked article. Additionally, read up on the best superhero films of all-time or check out how to watch the Batman movies in order.

Sign up to get breaking news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more, plus the hottest tech deals!

As TechRadar’s entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You’ll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot (opens in new tab).

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.

Read More

Continue Reading

Tech

You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

Published

on

By

You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

Chrome logo on a phone with a lock image over it

Image: Deepanker Verma / Pexels


Author: Alaina Yee
, Senior Editor

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

Read More

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2022 Xanatan