'No such thing as an IT problem'

Hong Kong Disneyland implements a biometric-based ticketing system to minimize security and privacy issues.

SINGAPORE--It may have applied a huge dose of creativity to create the endless fairy tales and wondrous fantasies for kids and adults alike, but when it comes to the adoption of technology and IT security, Disneyland takes a strictly pragmatic approach.

The world-renowned theme park and entertainment resort implements technology only if it is able to derive real business value, said David Shek, senior analyst of IT security, Hong Kong Disneyland, in an interview with ZDNet Asia. In town this week as a speaker at the Secure IT conference, Shek oversees IT security at Hong Kong Disneyland and is responsible for the company's IT security policies and strategy.

"[At Disneyland], there's no such thing as an IT problem. It's always a business problem," he said, describing the approach to IT that his CIO adopts. "We believe that IT or IT security, by itself, has little value. It's how you apply IT in relation to the business that matters."

It is with this philosophy in mind that prompted Disneyland to take a closer look at its deployment of biometrics.

Hong Kong Disneyland this week launched a fingerprint scanning technology that would not require an overly tedious process of safeguarding its customers' fingerprint data and privacy.

Dubbed Ticket Tag, the ticketing system takes 50 points of a fingerprint--captured in numerical value-- and runs the numbers through an algorithm and adds encryption to it. The biometric system also detects physiological data "underneath the finger" to monitor blood flow and cartilages, so prosthetic or fake fingers are not allowed to pass through.

Shek said: "We didn't want to take the customer's entire fingerprint [image] and have to implement a security structure to properly protect that data." This, he said, also allows Disneyland to avoid having to deal with privacy concerns.

First deployed at Disneyland World in Florida, U.S., Ticket Tag is currently available to Hong Kong Disneyland's Annual Pass holders at two ticketing turnstiles at the park's entrance, Shek said. But, he added, the technology will eventually be implemented in every turnstile.

With Ticket Tag, Annual Pass holders no longer need to produce a photo ID card to authenticate their identity, he said, adding that this enhances the experience of the park's visitors. He noted that customers, who still have concerns about using their fingerprints, can choose to continue using a photo ID card as a form of identification.

Officially opened in September 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland is the fifth and newest member of the Disneyland park family which, Shek said, has its advantages. For instance, it took the Hong Kong site just three years to be completed, when it usually takes five years to complete a Disneyland park.

"Advancements in IT had allowed us to build our site faster," Shek said. "We were also the most successful [in terms of our] implementation of IT, where no major [business] operation went wrong." This experience is unique, he added, compared to the other Disneyland sites which had to deal with some major ticketing and operational issues when they were first launched, and customers were affected.

"We were able to learn from the lessons that our other sites had to offer," he said. "We had teething problems, but they were small and our shows didn't have to stop [and customers didn't have to put up with any significant downtime]."

Spread across 126 hectares of reclaimed land, Hong Kong Disneyland is also the first site to adopt a fully converged Internet Protocol (IP) network--having no legacy systems to worry about, Shek said.

The Hong Kong park has some 80 IT professionals, supporting more than 100 servers and a gamut of the latest technologies, including VoIP (voice over IP), RFID (radio frequency identification) and Wi-Fi.