Opening a new venue? Here’s how to plan for data

There are few greater opportunities – or challenges – in the visitor attractions industry than bringing a new venue to life. From the moment the ground breaks under the first shovel up to when the scissors glide through the opening ribbon, the journey of creating something from nothing is an exhilarating yet terrifying race to the finish line.

Preparing the technology landscape of a new build visitor attraction involves bringing together infrastructure for the physical site together with core software systems in addition to the processes that front operational functions such as ticketing, membership and retail sales.


Timing onsite infrastructure with the physical build

Though physical infrastructure is only a small piece of the technology architecture, it’s one with strong time pressures as power and cabling will need to be planned and put in place as walls go up. Where possible, it’s worthwhile walking through the onsite visitor experience with the architects and experience designers to plot out insight needs and identify metric points. For example, if there are areas in or around the venue where extensive queueing is expected, the physical environment design can be adjusted to allow for improved data collection and use for queue wait times (a harder problem to solve once the building is finished).

Footfall counters (or for entrances, alternatively ticketing turnstiles) and WiFi access points are the two most important pieces of physical equipment which need to be planned in and installed in time with the physical build. Where possible, counters should be positioned at all entrances (especially if there are separate ones for audiences such as groups), key activation zones (such as core galleries, exhibitions, retail and hospitality areas) as well as high pressure queues. WiFi access points should be positioned in all key visitor facing areas (in larger spaces, a grid pattern may be desirable to offer better triangulation). Remember to select WiFi equipment that is location analytics capable and be aware of the licensing requirements of some vendors.

Other systems such as point of sale terminals, digital donation boxes, connected building sensors (such as for trashcans or parking spaces), digital interactives and video displays will also require power and internet access and the systems which enable these all present secondary data capture opportunities. In addition to must have equipment, the venue may also require additional equipment for other purposes and though some of these may initially look like good data opportunities, consider how they will be used in the live environment and question the impact on data integrity or value. For example, data from magnetometers used in security screening is not useful for footfall counts due to the fact visitors are often required to walk in and out if metal is detected; or data from Bluetooth beacons supporting a mobile app is of limited use to analyze visitor movements given the conversion rate for app users will likely be only a few percent of visitors.



The systems applications shopping list

While the walls are going up, the team’s attention can turn to the software architecture. Most venues will need a ticketing system (even if free admission is planned, tickets may be required for special exhibitions, experiences or events; or advance passes may be required for crowd control in the opening phases). In addition, depending on the business model, the venue will also require Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Point of Sale (POS). Selection for these three core systems ideally needs to start at least a year out from opening day, leaving a quarter for procurement, six months for implementation and the last three months in the busy lead up for organizational change, such as training.

Well in advance of the launch ceremony, the venue will have already required an accounting solution, a website (instrumented by Google Analytics) and a social media presence (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube).

As the build comes alive, a big data analytics system will bring all these systems together to provide for forecasts, insights, dashboards and reports required for both strategic planning and operations management. For new venues, all eyes will be on the numbers especially in the first few days, weeks and months, and rapid time to insight will be crucial to support this. Where possible, cloud based systems with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for the underlying systems landscape will make integrating an analytics solution much easier.



Preparing your team for process and procedure

In terms of timing, all systems should be in place at least three months out from opening. As the last quarter approaches, problems and stress levels will rise – all while the team’s attention needs to be focused on operational preparedness such as staff training and audit checking physical hardware.

The base processes behind these will evolve during the implementation. For example, business rule planning around visitation will inform admissions entry structures as well as reporting processes; whilst the data specification will note if advance passes are required to either manage capacity (even if just in the first few days of opening) or advance cash receipt, then whether passes will be scanned on entry. Post implementation, preparation can dive into the details – such as the advance pass release window or scanning procedures.

As the team enters into this preopening phase, forecasts such as for visitation and revenue will provide a great basis for strategic planning such as goal setting, or operations management such as initial roster designs. Though machine learning models are traditionally trained on historic data, in the new venue these can be trained off common industry experience, which will then be updated as the venue opens and data flows through for models to learn and improve from.

Managing the new venue build program of hardware, software and operations from the strategic vision and operational plan through an analytics program proactively maximizes insight about visitors and their experience and reduces post opening angst in the early operational transition.

Building a new venue? Get in touch with the Dexibit team to learn how to proactively manage visitor experience and insight through big data analytics during the construction phase.