Thursday, 29 October 2015

Shopping for new skis?

A bit like having great tools at work but in untrained hands, great ski gear on the feet, hands or wherever isn't going to make a whole lot of difference unless you are well versed in how to use it.

Carving skis have been a great case in point.  The name gives insight to their purpose  - they give skiers the ability to more easily carve parallel tracks using both skis, and with practice ski much more dynamically………. but this is only possible if the correct technique is adopted.    Marketers of ski equipment have done a great job to the extent that you actually don't just need carving skis!  You also need carving boots, bindings, stocks / poles, gloves, jackets and even carving bra's and underpants:).  All are apparently guaranteed to improve performance.

Today there are 1000's of skiers on the hills using carving skis and possibly even carving underpants who still skid their skis through every turn and don't know how to do much that is different.  So what are some of the keys to getting most out of the equipment you buy (carving bra's and underpants are excluded from further comment)

Here are a few things which I thought about in buying ski new gear and I think they are mostly things I have pinched from good decision making observed at work (which might seem strange given I work in IT:)

Define your needs - if you intend to ski in Powder heaven it may wise to have some "fat" under the foot that's a ski to give you float-ability.  Big Rocker'ed skis, which are wide underfoot, make sense.  However if you need an all mountain ski then maybe an 88mm under the foot is best - deals with most things well.

Take some tips from the professionals such as ski instructors to find the right gear to suit your standard of skiing and the conditions you want to ski in.  

Have some help from a cynic who can question your motives if you are prone to be a gear freak. My wife Elaine is an excellent foil to any over ambitious investment plans I have for new equipment that may be a little too extravagant.

Try different models before you buy. Find a shop that is prepared to let you try out their gear.  It is generally best to try a few different models. Play fair and if you decide to buy elsewhere at least pay the rental on the equipment.

After buying new gear think hard about having some lessons on getting more out of using the new gear. It is just the same at work.  Boiling it down to the most basic level with a work analogy it would probably be safe to say that 90% of people using MS Office tools have no formal training in how to use them.  Expensive and wasteful and you might say you would not do it if it was your money ….but we do:(

Happy shopping

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Are electronic ski passes just fancy pants, or actually a source of useful information?

(Photo credit : Les 3 Vallées / David ANDRE)
The Internet of Things (IoT), is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.
If you are looking for inspired ways of pulling together a value proposition for your own business and IOT then it is worth taking a look at how the experience of skiers / boarders is being brought into the 21st century by the IoT.     As far back as I remember ski field operators have been challenged by management and control of skiers.    
Ticketing Systems to automate the sale of access  to ski lifts initially relied on manual inspection then barcoding and now RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification).  Their original purpose was to weed out people with valid ski passes from those who try to go for a free ride.   What we notice with our eyes is the Barrier control and the credit card style RFID chipped ski pass, but there is much more than just stopping free loaders from using the system without paying. Elaine and I began to notice lots of RFID enabled benefits which are win win for skiers, boarders and operators and ski lodge owners like ourselves:
  • On line refresh and automated payment for next season ski passes - no need to queue up the same piece of plastic is re-used rather than thrown away.  This is cheaper for the resort with lower direct sales costs and 3rd party distribution margins.  For skiers / boarders simps - more time on the hill.  
  • Lift queues are getting smaller even though the number of skiers and boarders in our resort has risen.   
  • A comprehensive and ongoing lift upgrade program has seen RFID scanning used in conjunction with faster loading ski lifts shorten standing time 10 minutes or more on average to less than 2 minutes.  If you take 10-15 lifts a day on average the keener skiers / boarders amongst us can now fit in a few more runs.  
  • For the resorts who are embracing technology their Net Promoter Scores are up.  People are making informed choices to return to the resorts with lowest queues.  
  • We notice that many of the visitors to our ski abode are coming back year after year.  I think it's 50% our place and 50% the better facilities offered by the resort.   
Looking forward the possibilities are very interesting.  
  • Investment in new lifts / retirement of old and opening of new areas is being influenced by the analytical data available on where people prefer to ski and how they get there
  • The Meribel ski area is able to offer promotional deals where skiers and boarders can ski on resort or at international partner resorts on the same ticket.  Meribel has partnerships with ski resorts in Australia, the USA and France which provide a limited number of free ski days in different parts of the world on the same lift ticket.  Great marketing idea that does not cut your own lunch.
  • Pisteurs (the folk who drive the piste grooming machines) can groom pistes which have received the highest traffic volumes keeping the slopes safer and in tip top condition for our maximum enjoyment 
  •  Cyclic maintenance and failures can be reduced by better predictive maintenance which takes account of the traffic volumes on the lifts.
  • Ski field predictive analytics are now being used to report and action data gathered from skiers RFID tag reads.   In our resort the historical rapid closure of lifts due to storms isn't leaving 100's of skiers stranded in the wrong valleys when weather fronts come in.  The lift company uses RFID data to track number of skiers out on the hill and where they are to better control the pace of the shutdown of the lift network and ensure that skiers have a safe way of getting off the hill using the lift system wherever possible
  • Skidata the company who have pioneered much of the ski field RFID development have expanded their RFID and Barrier technology developed for the ski fields across industries.  Ski data systems are common place for secure car parking, building access, construction sites, haz ops environments  and sporting arenas across the world.  This technology has allowed for safer and more cost effective management solutions where assets or people need access to controlled environments
I'm quite excited about the convergence between technology and skiing.  It isn't for free though and requires significant investment so a few things have grabbed my attention on how are the Ski Resorts may be justifying the expense:
  • Asset replacement programs for ski lifts have allowances for IOT infrastructure built in.  IoT is part of the fabric of the facilities that are being upgraded or replaced.   The OEM providers for this type of facility are changing the cost structure of what they are selling to ensure their products continue to provide competitive advantage for their customers
  • Ticketing systems investment in smart card RFID enabled hardware and software is self funding - ski resorts can prove with hard facts that their customers are returning.  They can show a lower incidence of revenue leakage due to conditions of no ski pass or loan out / theft of ski passes
  • Better Net Promoter Scores are one facet but the analysis of the much more granular raw data now available from RFID enable data gathering is showing more skiers and boarders are coming back to their resort
  • Queues are bad for the image of ski resorts and many other - they are disappearing as facility upgrades are executed
  • We will likely see reduced maintenance spend on lifts and pistes as the predictive analytics available from RFID data collection better guides operational maintenance decisions in near or real time