As Director of Operations for the Cincinnati Zoo, John Lucas was responsible for managing all revenue. But outside of day-to-day operations systems, zoo leaders had scant insight into revenue streams, visitor tendencies or marketing returns.
Rather than go directly to IT, Lucas started a project in the board room, a “wish list” exercise that directed a two-prong approach toward aggressive ROI and improving customer experience.
“We went around the room, from marketing to finance, and said, ‘If you could just dream for a second, what information would you like to have. Even if you think it’s impossible to get it, what would enable you to do your job better?’” Lucas recalls. “Because it started from the top down with specific objectives, it allowed us to deploy a business intelligence product very rapidly. And it also helped us get executive buy-in across all departments from the start.”
From planning to IT implementation, it took seven months to introduce a data warehouse and analytics tools synced with all of the zoo’s revenue streams. And Lucas says there were immediate financial scores: arranging craft beer and soft-serve ice cream hours based on peak hours to add thousands of dollars a day in added sales, cutting a $90,000 out-of-state visitor promotion after it registered few legitimate users, and linking customer input with coupons and bonus offers for their favorite animals.
After nearly 10 years at the zoo, Lucas transitioned in December to a consultant role at BrightStar Partners, where he’s tackling the “completely untapped” use of analytics at cultural attractions.
“Most of these cultural organizations haven’t even heard of BI or analytics. They’re almost medieval,” says Lucas, who also has worked as a federal financial crimes investigator. “It’s become a passion of mine … educating other attractions about this because it’s been such a pain point in the industry and people are frustrated getting even the most basic information out of their systems.”
Quotable: “At the end of the day, if you can’t get executive buy-in, I pretty much tell organizations not to pursue it. That’s the top reason in everything I’ve read and seen why BI projects fail. If you can't get your business leaders to understand what BI can do and how it can make their lives easier, you need to reevaluate the project or take a different approach.”
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