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Left in the Dark: Avoiding the Carnival Mutiny

The Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph is a shining example of when a risk management plan goes right but the end result is disastrous for the company. When an engine fire caused the ship to lose power (and thereby be stranded at sea), the risk process the company put in place immediately began – but as with any risk management plan, there were unforeseen elements and human errors which led to bad press and a negative impact on the company.

As indicated in an article by Dov Gardin, the response by Carnival was “robust, indicating that the cruise line had planned for handling disabled ships in advance and was prepared to take action.” And take action they did—the fire was rapidly put out, the Coast Guard was contacted, the CEO publically apologized and offered refunds, cash, free flights, and booked hotel rooms for the stranded passengers.

While we in IT might not be in the cruise line business, it’s safe to say that most CIOs can recognize when a plan comes together well. The actions of Carnival are envious by IT standards: they had a well-defined plan that executed exactly as designed. When the “error” occurred, the team and organization as a whole responded precisely and efficiently.

But as many in IT know, it’s not what you prepare for that does the damage – it’s the elements that are unprepared for that cause the most trouble. Carnival experienced this firsthand.

As it turns out, Carnival didn’t take into account how to communicate with passengers – and how those passengers chose to communicate with the media. As Gardin explains, it was the reporting of the passengers which the media latched on to, not the excellent response and incident management processes that Carnival enacted:

Passengers claimed it took several hours before they were informed about what was going on. This created fear amongst some passengers, who called their loved ones on shore to express their concerns. The media picked up on some of the more dramatic of these calls, notably from a 10-year-old girl who called her mother, begging her to come take her home because she was afraid she would die. Several similar cases were highlighted in the news, most from very young or aged passengers, whom society sees as the most vulnerable.

And this, in particular, is the lesson for IT: during a critical error or event that negatively affects your customers – how are you communicating? The CEO of Carnival did issue an apology, but passengers expressed that it seemed rehearsed and dry. Gardin goes on to explain that, during a press conference, the Chairman “made almost no mention of the difficult conditions on the boat and did not formulate and deliver a response meant to counter the negative media blitz.”

How often have you as the CIO reached out personally to your customers during a failure and expressed concern, apology, and active involvement? How much trust and good faith can be preserved if your organization communicates effectively with customers who are experiencing trouble? Carnival didn’t effectively manage this area of risk, and now they must face the repercussions.

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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