I’ve just returned from a couple of days in Orlando, where I attended the Disney Data and Analytics Conference. (The annual conference is aimed primarily at Disney employees but is also open to outsiders, and it has been running for more than 15 years.) In many ways, Disney is the gold standard in creating travel experiences that inspire loyalty from fans around the globe, and analytics play a huge role in that success. Here are my top three takeaways from the conference:
- Analytics success may be more about adoption than cutting-edge tools and techniques. One thing that struck me was that the Disney presenters went beyond the usual conference fare of cutting-edge techniques using the latest and greatest technologies. Instead, much of what was discussed (at least in an open forum) was more basic, such as an introduction to machine learning. The presenters also consistently talked about not just sponsors for their work, but the other roles and teams that would be impacted by their recommendations and making sure they were engaged in the analytics process in appropriate ways. Overall there was a theme of engaging stakeholders and addressing change management and adoption issues—topics that often are ignored at other conferences.
- Scale matters. Roughly two-thirds of the conference’s 1,500 attendees were Disney employees. That’s right, Disney brought about 1,000 people from all over the world to this conference from every business unit in the company: parks, cruises, ABC, ESPN and so on. They came from all functions, not just analytics but also IT, operations and line of business. Disney is clearly investing in analytics on a scale that few other companies can match, and they’re bringing analytics to every corner of their business by teaching analytics best practices to employees across its divisions and companies.
- Invest in your people. Winning with talent is about more than just hiring for the right skills. As a highly sought-after employer, Disney can attract a lot of talent. But Disney goes well beyond hiring people with the right skills. The company invests in its people, and this conference is a prime example of that. Disney also has a diverse group of people in analytics across age, ethnicity and gender. I had never seen an employee group focused just on women who do analytical work before, but Disney has one. Finally, the company provides autonomy for even junior people to spend a portion of their time investigating business issues they encounter where there could be an analytical solution. One of the sessions focused on how two relatively junior analysts ended up optimizing delivery schedules after doing a side project to see if there was business value to be gained from improving the schedules.