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In depth

Cmd-Ctr: operations software to improve theme park efficiency

First Option Software‘s bespoke solution is already proving to be a success at Paultons Park and LEGOLAND Windsor Resort

Matt Clarke First Option Software
Matt Clarke

First Option Software’s Cmd-Ctr, an innovative system for theme park command centre and operations teams, was rolled out to Paultons Park in the UK during last year’s lockdown period and has since proved to be a winning solution for the popular attraction. Now, First Option is also working with Merlin Entertainments, using Cmd-Ctr to make a real difference at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.

Cmd-Ctr is a suite of apps for key members of an attraction’s operations team, bringing efficiency and oversight through automation and workflow management.

Ahead of its debut at IAAPA Expo 2021, blooloop takes a closer look at the solution to find out how it works. We also speak to Matt Clarke, owner and managing director and Owen Jones, product manager, to explore how Cmd-Ctr solves some key issues for operators.

The Cmd-Ctr concept

Owen Jones First Option Software cmd-ctr
Owen Jones

There are four key components to the Cmd-Ctr system: a cloud-based admin portal and three dedicated apps.

Firstly, the central system allows park management to have full control and configure Cmd-Ctr for their park’s needs. This features live dashboards where teams can easily view an oversight of operations. It also stores historical data and generates reports. Under this, there is the Cmd-Ctr Ride App, the Monitoring App and the Training App.

These four elements work together to streamline and simplify operations, replacing traditional, time-consuming paper processes and bringing teams the insights they need at the click of a button.

Data at operators’ fingertips with the Cmd-Ctr Ride App

The Cmd-Ctr Ride App is used by operators and attendants to help them capture key data, ride stats, safety checks and statuses while following standard processes as they operate the ride. 

Speaking about the design of the Cmd-Ctr Ride App, Jones says that the team had front-line team members and ride operators in mind:

“One of the key things we’ve focussed on is usability because this can be make or break for systems used by a wide range of users. If you’re trying to get efficiency, ease of use makes a huge difference, so the ride app is deliberately simple. It’s designed not to distract the operators from the most important job at hand, which is visitor safety and experience. Yet it allows for the capture of a wealth of data, and it also allows easy contact with their managers.”

Cmd-Ctr_Paultons Park_ride_app  cmd-ctr
Ride operator entering data on Ride App

The Cmd-Ctr Ride App also has an assistance function, allowing ride operators to communicate with their team leader/manager. This reduces radio traffic and makes it easier for team leaders to prioritise. It also ensures that team members feel that their employers are listening to their needs.

Ride monitoring and actionable insights

The Monitoring App is where team leaders can get instant access to the data they need, including stats on ride efficiency. It also communicates updates on incidents, downtime, and requests from the ride operators.

“If, as a team leader, you’re responsible for an area of the park or several rides, you subscribe to those rides at the beginning of the day. You will then receive notifications about anything that’s going on at any of those rides,” explains Jones.

With this information readily available, team leaders and managers can make more informed decisions and implement changes quickly. For instance, it can help team leaders to see which rides have higher capacities, which means that when reopening multiple rides, they know which should be prioritised in order to get things moving again quickly and get visitors back to the fun.

The Monitoring App boosts productivity by allowing managers to get a real-time overview of what is happening across the park. This means they can identify areas where operations can be improved, as well as helping them to be in the right place at the right time.

The time saved with digital versus paper-based systems translates into a better experience for visitors. This is because team leaders are out in the park, reacting to data as they get it, rather than wasting time filling out and filing forms.

Speaking of the Monitoring App, Karen Glassey, Operations Director at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort, says:

“I’m so pleased with how Cmd-Ctr has had an immediate beneficial impact. Access to live data, better communication and new insights is benefitting the team as a whole – from ride hosts to managers and beyond. The wider LEGOLAND Windsor Resort team is noticing the positive impacts this system is having and we have the data to prove it.”

More efficient training

Finally, the four components are completed by the Training App, which is designed to make staff training more efficient as well as keeping all the necessary records in one place. With this, training is delivered digitally, and then recorded and signed off within the app. So, there’s no need for paper trails.

While training itself is vital, park operators will know how classroom-based training and the associated paperwork can take up a lot of time. At busy periods, for example in the run-up to summer with lots of seasonal staff to onboard, the time saved through opting for digital learning can have a huge impact.

It is designed to be delivered in the field and recorded in the field. Authentication is immediate.

“Training records are important,” adds Jones. “But traditionally they have been paper-based, where there would be a sheet of paper per ride, per person, per season. The training app removes all that paperwork, filing and the need for long term storage of it. It is designed to be delivered in the field and recorded in the field. Authentication is immediate.”

This way, new team members can be trained and out in the park quicker, keeping operations moving.

Safer operations

Safety is prioritised too, with ride operators only able to log in to a ride that they have been trained on. This enforces the correct workflow.

“We also build in checks. So, when they are opening a ride, it details the steps that they need to go through to make sure that they’re opening safely,” says Clarke.

The system records when these steps are followed. So, the park has an audit record of the fact that they have followed the procedures, for accountability.

“That is the other key function of the cloud-based admin. It provides an audit, and easy access to all that information, both current and historic.” Jones adds.

merlin legoland parks
Cmd-Ctr is now in use at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort

The four elements of Cmd-Ctr work together to streamline day-to-day operations. They also shape strategic decision-making through the collection and analysis of relevant data. More than ever, the ability to quickly spot and take action on issues such as long queues, ride issues and staffing levels is essential, as parks adapt to the post-COVID era.

“Instead of recording and collating paper-based information, our ride managers are identifying operational areas of improvement. They can then see and resolve these as they happen. It’s made our operations much more effective, reducing our operational ride downtime and given our managers more time to spend with their teams to coach and train staff,” says Sam Barnes, Senior Rides Manager at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort UK

Cmd-Ctr and Paulton’s Park

The creator of Cmd-Ctr, First Option Software, is a tech company based near Winchester in Hampshire, UK. It specialises in working out how to convert business problems into software solutions.

“First Option Software has been developing software systems for over 30 years. Historically, this was with a main focus on developing bespoke software applications,” says Clarke. “Over the last five years, we’ve been creating apps and systems for a range of theme parks and getting more involved in the theme park industry.”

“It has always been business-critical software,” adds Jones. “So, what we’ve ended up doing is business-critical systems for the theme park industry.”

Cmd-Ctr came about when Paultons Park in Hampshire, approached First Option:

“They approached us as they couldn’t find any off-the-shelf systems on the market that fitted their needs. They had systems for maintenance, they had systems for ePOS and HR. But for the operations department, they were completely reliant on paper. This was despite the fact that it is central to everything.

“Operations is one of the most visible and impactful departments to guests experience. Yet there was no system in place, and there was nothing on the market available to them,” says Jones.

“There were lots of things that you could shoehorn in that would work in certain ways. But then they wouldn’t work in others. What they wanted was something fit for purpose and specific to the uniqueness of the department and teams.”

Sharing the benefits

While most customers prefer the systems built for them to remain exclusive, Paultons were unique:

Acknowledging that they were never going to compete directly with anybody else because of the physical location of their theme park, James Mancey, Operations Director says:

“We’re very happy for the product to be on the market for other businesses like ours to benefit from. Yes, we put a lot of time with First Option Software developing the system; however, the amusement theme park industry is one where we share ideas.”

Paultons Park Flight of the Pterosaur at Lost Kingdom
Paultons Park is where the Cmd-Ctr journey began

“If everyone else can benefit from what we’ve developed here, I see that only as a positive for the industry. A healthy theme park and attractions industry globally benefits everyone.”

“It was really forward-thinking of them.“ adds Jones. “With us now launching to Merlin as well, the system will only grow. And everyone will get the benefit of it as more and more parks come on board.”

Cmd-Ctr and Merlin Entertainments

The system has already proved to be a success at Merlin’s LEGOLAND Windsor Resort. Here, it has increased ride capacity and minimised downtime, boosting visitor satisfaction as a result. In fact, over the last four months, the park has seen visitors enjoying, on average, one extra ride per person per visit. This is an increase of 10% on last season, despite continued COVID restrictions.

The difference it has made is amazing…This app has given them access to data in the moment.

“The difference it has made is amazing,” says Jones. “They have dedicated team leaders who are passionate about what they do. This app has given them access to data in the moment. Rather than spending time having to collect and process paper, they’re getting all the relevant information straight away.

No more paper-based systems

The park was previously using a paper-based system to collect and record ride information. Now, with Cmd-Ctr, LEGOLAND’s ride managers can identify areas of improvement and resolve issues as they happen. These are the people who need to make fast decisions on a micro-level, so accurate, live data is key.

Since its implementation at the resort, Cmd-Ctr has led to more efficient operations and less downtime. It also frees up team leaders to spend more time out in the park, supporting and coaching their teams. The digital solution allows for a more joined-up way of working. All teams are able to access the live data, insights, and communication tools that they need, on one platform.

Cmd-Ctr_Manager_using_monitoring_app Cmd-Ctr
Team leader viewing status of their rides using monitoring app

“We have, effectively, changed the whole way they work. They have moved from being paper-based and having the only means of communication being radio, to digital,” says Clarke. “This means they get immediate feedback, and the information is immediately logged.

“There is no paper to get rained on and blown away. There is the opportunity for immediate communication with their manager. Even if that person is elsewhere in the park or at a different ride. They have the ability to communicate with them through the app. So, they can log something, or simply say, ‘I need a comfort break.’”

“You’ve got happier ride operators because they don’t feel they’re being ignored or forgotten,” adds Jones. “Concerning downtime, a notification is pushed through, so if there’s any closure reason it gets jumped on quickly. We also create dashboards, so the engineering department can have a dashboard up in their building. They can see closures as they happen rather than relying on radio communication.”

A bespoke solution

Every park has unique needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach is not ideal. However, First Option Software’s bespoke approach means that it can develop Cmd-Ctr to different operators’ stress points, as well as integrating it with other systems. For instance, at Paultons Park, the system integrates with the existing queue time signage. It also works with the park’s mobile app which shows queue times.

“There is also potential to integrate with maintenance and HR systems,” adds Jones. “We’re doing that with Merlin. We’ve got all these parts, but there are ways that we could switch them out and replace them.

CmdCtr Operations and Coaster Cmd-Ctr

“With the ride app, for example, if you’ve got systems to count throughput, we can put it into a different mode. This means that rather than asking the operator for that information, we’re showing it back to them. We can also help them to compare it to the previous day, and so on.

“There is more room for giving the right information to the right people to improve efficiency.”

First Option Software and COVID-19

CmdCtr Logo Cmd-Ctr

The pandemic created an interesting situation for First Option Software, as Jones explains:

“We launched the system to Paultons Park in 2020 during the first half term. That February, there was a different storm every weekend. The weather was pretty horrendous, so they tested the ‘closure for weather reasons’ heavily that week! Then we went into full lockdown.”

While on paper the pandemic was not an ideal time to push the solution out, Jones says:

“The reality is that COVID gave all the operations directors some downtime. It was a chance to look properly at how to improve things. So, what it has done is focus the attention, because of all the challenges that have come out of it.

“For Paultons, with this system in place, they were able to change the checks on all their rides to include COVID procedures when they opened again. They were also able to update their training. It was all instantaneous.”

For those who didn’t have a similar system in place, contending with the restrictions and challenges that have been thrown up has made the inefficiencies obvious:

“That is where we’re now getting people interested in trying to see what they can do better for next year.”

Discover Cmd-Ctr at IAAPA Expo 2021

The team will be at IAAPA Expo, which runs from 15 – 19 November 2021.

The company is speaking to various parks who want to see Cmd-Ctr in action at the show:

“It’s an unbeatable opportunity to meet with operators in person, solidifying relationships and starting new ones,” says Jones.

Too often operations get overlooked. But as we’ve discovered, they’re the hidden heroes and within that lie some invaluable efficiency savings.

“We’ve had so many invaluable conversations with theme parks and attractions during the last year. We can’t wait to chat more and really delve into what their needs and problems are within operations,” adds Clarke.

“Too often operations get overlooked. But as we’ve discovered, they’re the hidden heroes and within that lie some invaluable efficiency savings.”

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Lalla Merlin

Lead Features Writer Lalla studied English at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University. A writer and film-maker, she lives in rural Devon with husband, children, and an assortment of badly-behaved animals, including an enormous but friendly wolf.

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