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Integrating data a challenge and opportunity for Whistler



In England, a company called QuantumBlack bills itself as a "creative data science agency." Among other things, QuantumBlack has developed software for a Formula 1 race car team that collects data from thousands of variables, analyzes it and then advises the team on strategy. The information includes structured data, from sensors on the team's cars, as well as unstructured data available from various sources.

"We listen to the engine notes of competitors' cars, on TV. That can tell us their settings. The braking profile of a car on GPS as it goes into a corner can also tell you all sorts of things," Simon Williams of QuantumBlack told The Economist's Intelligent Life magazine.

This data could be analyzed by people, but by then the race would be long over. "If you are taking more than ten seconds to make a decision, you're losing your advantage," Williams said. "Really you need to be under the eight-second mark."

And that's what QuantumBlack's software does. It uses algorithms to analyze thousands of bits of data and produce a strategy, or conclusion. In seconds. While the race is going on.

Compare that to the data — and timing of its release — on business in Whistler. Sure, we find out about room nights sold, skier numbers, gross visitor spending and several other useful measurements, but the information comes well after the fact. Why shouldn't every business in Whistler know on the first of each month how much GST and PST were remitted by Whistler businesses the previous month, and how the numbers break down by sector? There could be daily updates of activity bookings, rounds of golf and occupancy forecasts, tied in with weather forecasts and transportation news that may impact people getting to or from Whistler. Media and social media comments about Whistler could be monitored; with a matrix of strategies for responding should the comments reach a certain threshold.

Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb are doing many of these things now. But much of the data generated in Whistler is kept in silos. For example, the PST the provincial government is collecting. And each hotel has its own system and deadlines for reporting data. Restaurants and retailers carefully guard their information from their competitors, and everyone else. Trust is, alongside of cost, one of the biggest obstacles to a centralized system of gathering and analyzing data.

Many years ago a former business person of the year suggested at a meeting of Whistler retailers that they all lied to one another about how their business was doing out of fear of giving the other guy an advantage. Why not have everyone write down on a piece of paper how much their business was up or down over the previous year and put the numbers in a hat? The results — strictly percentages that couldn't be linked to any business — would give an overall indication of retail business at that moment.

Nobody dared to take up the challenge.


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