A Big Data-Driven Disney

On the morning of July 27, 2014, I took one last deep breath before backing the car out of my driveway to embark on a family road trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

My kids, Bryce (6) and Bailey (3), were excited beyond belief; however, it wasn’t until that moment in the driveway that I actually processed what was getting ready to transpire! In addition to hearing “are we there yet” every 10 minutes for the next 7.5 hours, there would be excessively long lines for the amusement park rides, challenges of navigating the maze that is Disney itself, and of course, the small fortune it would cost just to enter the park.

Now, the irony of this story is that I anticipated this family vacation to be a life-altering experience for my kids; however, it never occurred to me how much I would gain from the experience as well.

From the moment we approached the park entrance gate, the data-driven Disney experience was set to begin. We were each given access cards with embedded RFID chips, and my wife and I (since we are slightly over 10 years of age) were required to have a fingerprint scan taken using a biometric reader. The fingerprint technology was actually introduced in 2006; however, the new RFID cards are used to make entering the park and boarding rides a simpler process . A Disney spokesperson stated that the technology is used primarily to prevent ticket swapping; however, it’s not far-fetched to imagine this information being used for security purposes in the near future (i.e., Scanning felony databases).

After making it through the front gates, my son Bryce wanted to go on the Buzz Light-year ride, so my wife pulled out her iPhone and opened up the My

Disney Mobile App. As usual, she was two steps ahead of me and had made reservations online for a number of rides the night before. The system is called FastPass, and it allowed us to literally walk up to the gate, bypass the line, and get right onto a ride.

As an example, when we approached the Buzz Light-year entrance, I just knew we were going to get attacked by an angry mob of onlookers, but the Disney representative ushered us down the hall and before I knew it, Bryce and I were shooting aliens in a spinning spaceship.

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In addition to the line-jumping FastPass feature, we also used Disney’s free Wi-Fi network (which spans 40 square miles) to access the My Disney App to check queue times for all of the rides and attractions in our area. This functionality was truly a game-changer! By providing visibility to park data in a user-friendly mobile interface, we were able to strategically plan and adjust our experience in real time! Not only did this maximize our park experience, but it also reduced the amount of wasted travel time, which was an added bonus for me since I spent a significant amount of time carrying my 3-year-old around the park!

By this point, I was in complete amazement because Disney had created a mechanism for eliminating the most frustrating aspect of the amusement park experience for me – waiting in line.

What I didn’t realize at the time though was that there was yet another data-driven experiment underway, which is called MagicBands. This wireless-tracking wristband resembles a bracelet, but functions as a room key for Disney Resort guests, an access card for the park entrance and the FastPass attractions, and a purchasing card for food and merchandise.

In the same manner that Disney is deploying real-time big data solutions to improve customer outcomes and optimize its operations, GE is helping industrial firms in sectors such as aviation, oil and gas, and mining maximize the value of data in their respective industries.

At GE, we believe that data is the new fuel for productivity and regardless of the industry or the application, getting the most out of existing assets and operations is the new priority.

All of the Disney systems sited above are part of a $1 billion dollar bet that the organization is making to enhance the experience for its 30 million annual visitors. Only time will tell if this sizeable investment will pay off for shareholders, but as for me and my clan, we were the beneficiaries of a seamless user experience that I hope becomes more ubiquitous within the entire amusement park industry.

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