Ski Resort Gets A Lift From Business Intelligence

By John Gowers  |  Posted 2008-07-30 Email Print this article Print

A business intelligence and performance management initiative transformed disparate pieces of data into actionable business information to help boost Blue Mountain Resorts’ bottom line.

Blue Mountain Resorts, Ontario’s largest mountain resort, is a four-season recreational and conference destination. As the third-busiest ski resort in Canada, it accommodates more than 1 million guests each winter and employs 1,065 full-time-equivalent workers. In addition to ski slopes, Blue Mountain, located in Collingwood, has mountain-biking trails, gondolas, tennis courts and the nationally ranked Monterra Golf course.

In 1999, Intrawest, a publicly held North American operator and owner of resorts, purchased a 50 percent interest in Blue Mountain Resorts. When it became part of a large public chain, Blue Mountain needed a more efficient way to report on profitability across its 13 different lines of business, including restaurants, ticketing, call centers and lodging. To achieve this reporting standard, the resort embarked on a business intelligence (BI) and financial performance management initiative led by John Gowers, Blue Mountain’s director of IT. Here, Gowers discusses how the resort streamlined its budgeting process and moved away from its legacy spreadsheet model.

With 13 diverse business lines, Blue Mountain Resorts needed a business intelligence (BI) and financial performance management system that could examine workflows quickly and, with minimal effort, analyze labor costs and revenue, while drawing from different data sources and types of applications. Also, because our IT staff consists of just three people, we needed a technology solution that would require little installation time and would be easy to maintain.

Our old spreadsheet-based system was unable to handle all the resort’s input, and we did not have an employee dedicated to updating and maintaining this technology. Because the system was not automated, IT was spending more time waiting for reports from disparate sources. We knew that we had to replace this manual, time-intensive process.

My team and I outlined what needed to be incorporated in a proficient, structured information management software solution. Bottom line: We needed to reduce the stress on the IT staff by implementing a solution that was low maintenance, and it had to make it easy for our business users to obtain information about important data points, such as revenue trends and daily sales.

After a thorough evaluation of several BI and performance management systems—and a number of smaller, hospitality-focused solutions—we opted to implement IBM Cognos TM1 to streamline our performance-management process. The software includes planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting, analysis capabilities and online analytical processing technology. With OLAP, our analysts, executives and managers can view data across multiple dimensions and interpret that data much more quickly than they could in the past.

This solution is ideal for us because it has modules designed for the hospitality industry, as well as lines of business within that area. There were minimal customization requirements, and it was quick and cost-effective to deploy. During testing, it was clear IBM Cognos TM1 would deliver the granularity and breadth of reporting and analytical capabilities we needed.

We opted for a controlled implementation—rolling the system out separately in each line of business as that seasonal business opened. Due to the large number of guests at the resort during peak seasons, we deployed the lodging division first.

To start, we configured the financial systems based on the data contained in our old system. Data cubes were created so managers could combine historical data, weather and booking information, and employee schedules. They could then manipulate the information to perform detailed analyses and determine how to minimize costs while optimizing customer service.

It took approximately one to three weeks to deploy IBM Cognos TM1 to a line of business. Overall, it took five months to deploy the solution across the hospitality, retail, ski, golf, and food and beverage departments.

While building the data cubes across each department, we uncovered an unexpected but positive by-product: the ability to standardize how data is captured across the organization. As we talked to various groups about the distinctive ways departments categorize and record data, we were able to unify the accounting methodology across the company. In fact, we now have a full-time developer dedicated to managing the reports and building the models across the organization, making it easier for senior management to compare financial reports across departments.

John Gowers is director of IT at Blue Mountain Resorts, Ontario’s largest mountain resort (a four-season recreational and conference destination.)

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