The Walt Disney Company is undeniably a creative place and a customer service whiz. But folks there want you to know it has the magic touch with analytics, too.
Much of the analytics knowhow resides in an internal consulting team that is part of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Orlando. It all started back in late 2008, as Cameron Davies, director of management science and integration at Disney Parks and Resorts, recounted for me recently.
"About four years ago, we were trying to get some capital approved for some analytics projects, and during that process, senior leadership realized just how much value we bring to the Parks and Resorts side. So the question came from senior leaders, 'Could you do this for other parts of company?'" he said. "And, of course, we said, 'Yes' and put together a pitch to form a little internal consulting group."
Over the years, that group has grown from seven to almost 40 employees ("cast members," in Disney parlance). The group, part of Disney Parks and Resorts' revenue management and analytics team, serves Disney's far-flung empire, including The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Consumer Products, Disney Interactive, and Media Networks businesses like ABC and ESPN. It gets support from 15 to 20 data scientists on Disney's centralized decision sciences team, Davies said.
The projects his team handles vary from business to business. For example, it will handle yield management for hotel booking, sales sequencing for customer service, and scoring and segmentation for banner ad delivery. But whatever the type of project, the goal is the same -- "to help other parts of the company become more data-driven and analytical in their decision making and processes." It's not that folks within Disney were doing anything wrong. "But analytics is a tool, and we could put more tools in their tool belts and help them be even more profitable."
As further evidence of the value Disney places in analytics, about a decade ago, it launched an annual analytics conference for employees around the world involved in disciplines like forecasting, pricing, industrial engineering, planning, and revenue management. It did so with three purposes in mind, Davies said.
- Education: "We want to bring in the best and the brightest and help our cast members get smarter about what they do with analytics, learn about the latest methodologies, and discover what's out there."
- Inspiration: "We want to say to them, 'Look at all the really great stuff you can do with analytics. Look at how it's being used in this line of business. Look how this hotel company or this consumer products company is using it. Look at these places you wouldn't normally think about and see how they're doing analytics.' We want them to get juiced by how it's being used."
- Validation: "We want to show them that they're not alone out there, and that Disney is on the leading edge -- everybody knows we're a great creative company and a great customer service company, but I don't think people realize we're also a phenomenal analytics company. We want to inspire our cast to continue to push that message out there and get excited about what they do."
With that validation theme in mind, about four years ago, Disney opened the conference to external participants. Internal and external analytics professionals will convene again this week, Aug. 30 and 31, for the Disney Analytics & Optimization Summit 2012 at Disney's Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The event will feature presentations from Disney employees, analytics executives from other companies, vendor representatives, and business and industry thought leaders. External speakers will include executives from SAS, this site's sponsor. In a joint presentation, Radhika Kulkarni, vice president of research and development with the Advanced Analytics Division at SAS, and Randy Guard, vice president of sales development and product management, will discuss new technologies like high-performance analytics and advanced visualization. Tom Lehman, SAS Solutions OnDemand director of business development, and Jody Porowski, social media analyst, will discuss mood state analysis, a method for analyzing unstructured social media data.
In addition to high-performance analytics, data visualization, and social media analytics, the topics will include big-data and integrated marketing and analytics.
At this week's event, Disney expects about two-thirds of attendees to be internal employees and one-third to be external, Davies said. The conference "helps us grow and keep moving forward -- enabling cross pollination and a recruiting opportunity. Plus, it lets us push forward the perspective that Disney is a great analytical company.
"We're pretty doggone good at it."