INFORMS NEWS: Disney hosts Roundtable’s winter meeting

By Pete Buczkowsk

The 2013 Roundtable Winter meeting was held Feb. 10-11 at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The meeting theme was “Customer-Centric Analytics,” focusing on O.R. applications that analyze information and draw conclusions at the customer level. The meeting agenda had a mix of six talks from well-known companies that focus on customer analytics, coupled with a variety of fun events.

The meeting kicked off on with a special “behind the scenes” tour of the Magic Kingdom, the flagship park at the Walt Disney World Resort. The tour started at the newest turnstile concept at the front of the park. This open-entry concept uses RFID and biometric technology to significantly speed up park entry while providing a more welcoming start to the day. We then played with the newest interactive adventure game, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. Using state of the art technology, guests roam through the park while interacting with “magic portals” to defeat villains using the Disney character-themed spell cards.

Next on the tour was the Haunted Mansion attraction. Prior to riding the attraction, the group enjoyed the many elements of the interactive queue, which entertains guests as they wait in line. The group then went on a guided tour of the Be Our Guest restaurant. This gorgeous new facility is the first park restaurant that offers casual dining by day and table-service dining by night. The tour finished with a walkthrough of the famous tunnels under Magic Kingdom, including an inside look at the central command center.

Dan Soto, director of program management at Disney Parks, delivered the opening talk Sunday evening. Over the next several months, Walt Disney World will be rolling out a collection of tools called MyMagic+ that will give guests more opportunities to customize and personalize their entire visit. Soto provided an overview of these exciting future guest-centric features in the parks and how analytics will play a role in optimizing the guest experience. The evening was capped off with a private dessert reception and viewing of Illuminations at Epcot.

Monday’s meeting started with the introduction of the attendees and a brief discussion of how their companies are applying customer-centric analytics. Bruce Miller, director of Workforce Management Decision Support at Disney Parks, gave a talk about how analytics are used to forecast, plan and deploy cast members throughout the parks. Next up was Rainer Dronzek, director of operations research at McDonald’s. Dronzek provided an overview of the Innovation Center, and then shared some neat technological advancements for capturing metrics and predicting guest behavior. Cameron Davies, from Disney Revenue Management, shared how he built a team from the ground up into a powerful organization executing on O.R. applications in non-traditional areas, including ESPN, ABC and other businesses within Disney.

The afternoon session featured two talks from high-profile companies Marriott International and SAS. Stephan Chase, vice president of Customer Knowledge at Marriott International, shared his teams’ approach to increase sales through an objective-oriented strategy uniting analytics, systems and customer treatments. Kathy Lange, senior director at SAS, finished off the presentations with a discussion about analytics in social media. Her analysis on Twitter data related to Pop Tarts caused a mad rush to the snack table. After a short business meeting, the meeting concluded with a Dutch treat dinner gathering at Iron Chef Cat Cora’s Kouzzina restaurant.

The meeting was well received for balancing excellent speakers with Disney’s excellent service and entertainment.