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Posted: 2/25/2013
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Holland America Line Cruise Line Upgrades BI to Empower Users, Improve Guest Experience, Reduce IT Work

Holland America Line, one of the world’s leading cruise-ship companies, is using Microsoft business intelligence (BI) software to increase revenues and give guests a more memorable experience. By using Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, employees can mine data more deeply without help from the IT staff, giving the IT staff more time to improve IT solutions. The company has also eliminated expensive third-party licensing fees.

Business Needs

For 140 years, Holland America Line has been a recognized leader in vacation cruises, taking tourists to exotic destinations around the world. Its aim is to ensure that guests have a once-in-a-lifetime experience on every cruise.

The company’s onboard revenue team uses business intelligence (BI) to analyze the revenue-generating performance of the various venues and activities onboard its ships. The goal is not only to identify best practices that generate the most profit but to deliver the best guest experience. The onboard revenue team used Oracle BI software, but employees found it cumbersome to use and would typically pour all the data from that program into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet where it was easier to analyze.

Because the tool was difficult to use, the team leaned heavily on the IT staff for reports. “We would spend two days creating a report for a business user, who would then ask for a change and have to wait another two days for us to build another report,” says Greg Yule, Manager, Data Warehouse Architecture, Holland America Line. “When you have a tool that is difficult to use, data gets stale real quick, and IT looks bad.” Holland America wanted powerful BI tools that were easier to use so that more people would use them.

* By using Microsoft BI tools, we can learn behavior patterns by passenger groups and adjust offerings and programs …. This increases revenue and gives customers a better experience. *

Seth Brickman
Director, Onboard Revenue and Analytics
Holland America Line


In April 2012, Holland America was introduced to Microsoft SQL Server 2012 software by its longtime IT partner, Slalom Consulting, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network. Holland America agreed to evaluate the software and worked with Slalom to set up a test environment where it installed SQL Server 2012 Enterprise and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

“At one end of the BI spectrum there are easy-to-use but not very powerful solutions, and at the other end are hard-to-use solutions capable of complex analytics,” says Seth Brickman, Director, Onboard Revenue and Analytics, Holland America Line. “Microsoft BI software strikes a nice balance between the two.”

The Holland America team was particularly captivated by two capabilities: SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services tabular modeling and the ability to present BI results through SharePoint Server. Tabular models are in-memory databases in Analysis Services that deliver fast access to tabular model objects and data. Slalom created SQL Server Analysis Services tabular models that could be incorporated into Excel reports. “Before, there was no way we could look at five years of data easily,” says Yule. “The tabular model opens up a whole new world where it’s easy to promote data to the tabular format. Even business users can implement analytical cubes.”

Holland America used SharePoint Server 2010 to create a BI portal with sections for each onboard revenue team group. All groups post and combine their cube documents to tell a complete story of what happened on a voyage. “We can tell the story from a guest’s perspective or from a revenue perspective and find out how to replicate that success on other ships,” says Brickman. “Currently, ships produce their own reports, as do shore staff, and often they tell different stories. We want to increase the usage of this solution from 50 people to about 350 people so that everyone is looking at the same data.”


By implementing a Microsoft BI solution, Holland America Line has tripled BI use, empowered business users, made more data-driven decisions, and gave its IT staff more time to innovate.

More Business Users Are Empowered to Mine Data

Previously, a handful of Holland America employees used the Oracle BI software. Since deploying the new solution, three times as many users have adopted the Microsoft BI portal. “By using SQL Server 2012, the level of self-service data mining has gone up threefold,” says Lemuel Hebb, Director of IT, Strategic Planning, Holland America Line. “With SQL Server and SharePoint Server, we transformed a process that took many hours for IT staff and made it push-button easy for users.”

Brickman adds, “This solution lets our users analyze data as fast as they can think. Watching a business user working with the SQL Server cube technology is amazing. They can ask as many questions as they want and pursue questions that they wouldn’t have pursued before, because they’re not constantly interrupting their train of thought to ask IT for help.”

Data-Driven Decisions Increase Revenues, Improve Guest Experience

With easy-to-use, powerful BI tools, Holland America can be a more data-driven organization. “We have many talented employees who have been making decisions based on their industry experience,” Brickman says. “By introducing data-based decision-making, we’ve been able to make better operational decisions that benefit both Holland America and guests.”

For example, as ships travel between ports and passenger loads and demographics change, Holland America can segment passengers by demographic and analyze their propensity to spend and participate in spa, photo, retail, laundry, and other areas of the ship. The company can dynamically change its offerings, retail inventory, and activities to match the preferences of the guests onboard. “By using Microsoft BI tools, we can learn behavior patterns by passenger groups and adjust offerings and programs to better reflect passenger preferences,” Brickman says. “This increases revenue and gives customers a better experience.”

IT Staff Gains More Time for Innovation

The IT staff has gained better control over the company’s BI environment and better insight into how data is being used. “By having all our BI on SharePoint Server, we can see which reports are being used and that helps us understand which ones are most valuable,” Hebb says. “Our Microsoft solution also lowers IT costs, because the IT staff no longer spends time creating reports. We have more time to bring in new data sources and improve the architecture of our BI solution.”

Licensing Costs Reduced

Additionally, Holland America is getting a better solution for less money. Because it has a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement license, all of its Microsoft BI software is covered. This means that the company will eliminate the cost of its third-party reporting solution.

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 14000 employees

Organization Profile

Holland America Line has spent the last 140 years perfecting once-in-a-lifetime cruises to all seven continents. Based in Seattle, Washington, the company offers 500 adventures a year on 15 ships.

Software and Services
Microsoft SQL Server 2012

Vertical Industries

United States

Business Need
  • Business Intelligence and Reporting
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Sales Management

IT Issue
  • High Performance Computing
  • Customer Relationship Management


Slalom Consulting