John Lucas thinks analytics is for the birds. It’s for the monkeys, cheetahs, popular cartoon mice and waterpark slides, too.
For the last year, Lucas has worked as an industry consultant for BrightStar Partners, applying BI and analytics at zoos, cultural attractions and museums. It’s a market of hundreds of national zoos and aquariums, more than 17,000 museums and topping 300 million people in annual attendance, according to BrightStar estimates. It’s also an industry “completely blind” to the information prospects available to their institution, says Lucas, one of Information Management’s “25 Top Information Managers 2012.”
“Cultural attractions, big and small, are surprisingly blind to the information management possibilities and insight into their campuses,” Lucas says. “Most of them haven’t even heard of BI or analytics. They’re almost medieval.”
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Lucas comes from a place of experience. Last December, he came to the consultancy after nearly a decade at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, where he was most recently the director of operations responsible for managing all revenue. There, he spearheaded the implementation of a data warehouse and analytics tools as a program framed first in the board room and brought to IT only when implementation neared. The seven month planning-to-implementation project quickly connected with all of the zoo’s revenue streams and tied into financial returns on everything from the best time to sell ice cream, to dismal returns on an out-of-state promotion, to marketing wins with members’ favorite animals.
Before this initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden was like the “vast majority” of U.S. cultural attractions without even basic notions of business data that are very familiar in other industries, Lucas said. On the consulting side, he’s seen large-scale amusement parks with no real business-side reports on their data, and renowned U.S. zoos using complex BI systems for “very rudimentary in-house financial means.” Cost concerns can be tough for attractions, many of which are on shoe-string budgets or are connected with municipal funding. But Lucas says the biggest problem is the lack of knowledge from the business side of BI and metrics and how they can lead to drastic returns with these tighter budgets.
“It’s been such a pain point in my industry that people are frustrated getting even the most basic information out of their systems. Watching them see live what they can do with BI is very rewarding for me,” Lucas says, later adding, “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.”
His background also includes a stint as a white collar crimes detective, which, combined with his business-side position at the zoo, results in “some strange looks” from executives expecting the typical analyst with a computer science degree. While analytics and detective work are quite different, he said both good business data crunching and reporting and seeking out financial fraud involve the “relentless pursuit of the root cause of something.”