28 Aug CIO Leadership Series: Jane Durment, Marcus Corp.
Milwaukee, Wis. – Ten years from now, when people sit in theaters and enjoy digital movies that explode with color and clarity, they probably won’t think much about the people that helped make digital motion pictures a reality. But they are hard at work as movie-goers take in the last reels of film fantasy.
These next-generation difference makers aren’t all situated in Hollywood. One of them is Jane Durment, CIO for the Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp., which owns and manages the ninth largest movie theater circuit in the United States.
Durment certainly has her hands full as a CIO, but as a member of the Technology Committee of the North American Theatre Owners Association, she also is involved with the beta testing of projectors and servers that someday will present digital movies in America’s 37,000-plus movie theaters. She’s also immersed in the development of a digital certification program to avoid interoperability issues from studio to studio.
“This is a huge evolution in the industry, and it will take time,” she said. “It will take years to work its way through the industry.”
Durment will be driving the evolution of digital technology in the industry and within the Marcus Corp., which reported $289 million in fiscal 2006 sales. Marcus is comprised of two distinct business units, Marcus Hotels & Resorts and Marcus Theatres; the latter manages 501 movie screens at 44 locations in four Midwestern states.
While there is digital sound in virtually every movie auditorium, digital cinema is another matter. Not only will digital movies present more vivid colors, sharper color contrast, and higher resolution in mostly two-dimensional formats, it will offer the same quality each time a movie is shown. Film, in contrast, picks up scratches and nicks each time it is run through a projector.
“Consumers may or may not notice it, but with digital you have a pristine, new image each time,” she said. “We’re trying to drive the industry to further and further enhancements with this.”
Already, two animated three-dimensional movies – requiring special viewing glasses and, in some cases, special cinema screens – have been produced in the digital format. They are Chicken Little (Disney) and Monster House (Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis), but the benefits may extend beyond the major studios and producers. Given the lower post-production and distribution costs associated with digital movies, independent film makers that invest in digital technology could find it easier to get their motion pictures into theaters.
Tales from the encrypted
In its drive to replace 35 millimeter reels and traditional film-projection equipment, theaters have a number of technical issues to address. The technology is encrypted, which will require the use of automated keys to show the movies in all cinemas, and individual theaters may have their own issues. Marcus Corp.’s new ultra screens, which are 75 feet wide, require much more light than regular screens, which means some of the company’s digital equipment will have to offer a high level of luminescence.
Needless to say, this and other troubleshooting will require considerable coordination among manufacturers, studios, and third-party partners while equipment is refined to meet Digital Cinema Initiative specifications. “We’re talking about a conversion of the whole supply-chain process,” Durment noted.
The fun part for Durment is that Marcus uses its existing theaters to show digital movies to an audience without announcing it beforehand, and then solicits reaction in a subsequent survey. One movie watcher, who was not surveyed, showed a pretty keen eye and raved about the digital presentation in an e-mail. “He went to our web site and asked us what we did at the theater because he thought it was great,” Durment recounted.
Marcus Hotels & Resorts owns and manages independent and franchised hotels, including resort hotels, throughout the U.S. Among its prized possessions are the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, and the Pfister Hotel, the Wyndham Milwaukee Center, and the Hilton Milwaukee Center.
In the hospitality industry, enhancing the guest experience is the Holy Grail, and Durment said guests increasingly crave technology. A member of the board of directors for Hotel Technology Next Generation and its Guest Room Technology Work Group, she knows why there is such disparity in the quality wireless service from hotel to hotel, and from room to room. Some hotels, she explained, simply do a better job of “engineering” their wireless service than others, and sometimes wireless networks serving nearby hotels and businesses can cause interference.
“You have to build strength into your system with more wireless access points and the size in the pipe going into the hotel and rooms,” she said.
Hotels that stay ahead of the technological curve will benefit immensely. No longer content to check their e-mails or surf the Internet, hotel guests now want to download favorite television programs with Slingbox and watch them on their laptops, which requires high bandwidth.
“This is the type of thing the guest of the future is looking for,” she said.
Working in Tandem
Durment’s past has prepared her for the cutting-edge role she now plays. She has a computer science degree from the University of Illinois and an MBA in finance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Prior to joining Marcus in 1996, she had more than 20 years of experience with technology vendors, including management experience with Tandem Computers, the company that developed fault-tolerant computers.
With Marcus Corp., Durment is in charge of a 31-person technology department that serves 5,300 employees – and counting. In the past year alone, Marcus has experienced employee growth of 26 percent, a function of adding hotels and theaters. If Durment had never branched out into industry concerns, the constant training of new employees, the security concerns that grow with each additional hotel and cinema property, and the need to adhere to industry and government risk-management standards would be enough to keep her busy.
Among her keys to a successful IT implementation are having a “business sponsor” among the impacted staff to foster a sense of ownership and accommodate change management, and accurate (meaning realistic) budgeting for each phase of the project – with the flexibility to adjust the numbers based on the experience of the previous phase.
“The better the planning up front,” she stated, “the better the execution will be.”