How Blenheim Palace uses data and AI to predict, and not just report on past performance

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with David Green, Head of Innovation at Blenheim Palace and Joseph Paul, Associate Director – Key Account Manager at Vennersys.

“We have what we call an adaptive prediction, which allows us to look at advanced bookings and then see the change in advanced bookings over time against budget, to then alert us to the fact that we might experience more visitors than expected on that particular day.”

David Green is responsible for driving innovation at Blenheim to deliver value from the implementation of novel business methods and new concepts. His role involves building a culture of continual improvement and innovation, bringing together and contextualising novel datasets through a data and IoT network infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to enhance customer experiences.

David leads the research and development at Blenheim, cultivating university partnerships, that helps fuse specialised knowledge with Blenheim’s diverse landscape and practical challenges. Moreover, he initiated the Innovation and Continual Improvement network, fostering collaboration among sector leads to share expertise and address common challenges.


“We want to be a part of their journey, but also Blenheim and want to be a part of our journey. So we’re helping one another to achieve our individual goals as a partnership.”

Joseph Paul is the Associate Director – Key Account Manager at Vennersys. With 10 years of experience in SaaS Account Management and 6 years at Vennersys, Joe works closely with visitor attractions to optimise system performance and internal processes. He acts as a conduit between attraction managers and Vennersys, helping facilitate constructive communication to further develop and improve Vennersys’ own services based on customer needs or industry trends.

In his personal life, Joe can either be found playing hockey for his local club or taking long, refreshing walks in the hills and fields near his home.


What will you learn from this podcast?

  • We’re talking about data – but not just the importance of it (we all know that right?).
  • David and Joe share the exciting data and AI reporting systems that Blenheim have created, allowing them to predict, and not just report on past performance.

Skip the Queue David Green and Joseph Paul

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guests, David Green and Joesph Paul



Kelly Molson: David, Joe, it is lovely to have you both on the podcast today. Thank you for joining me on Skip the Queue. 

David Green: It’s great to be here. 

Joseph Paul: Thanks for having us. 

Kelly Molson: That sounded very positive, guys. Thanks. Feel the enthusiasm. 

David Green: Let’s see how the first question goes, shall we? 

Kelly Molson: Listen, everyone worries about these icebreaker questions. It’s just we’re just in a pub, in a coffee shop having a little chat. That’s all it is. Right, I want to know. We’ll start with you, Joe. What was the last thing you binge watched on your streaming service of choice? 

Joseph Paul: Gosh, that’s a very good question. The last series we binge watch was a series called Bodies on Netflix, which is about a murder that happens in four different time periods and four detectives are trying to solve the murder. Very good if you haven’t watched it.  

Kelly Molson: I have seen this and Joe, it hurt my head a little bit.

Joseph Paul: Yeah. It is hard to keep track of some of the plots through the different times, but there’s a very good ending worth watching if you haven’t, David? 

David Green: I don’t think I have. I didn’t get a chance to watch TV. 

Kelly Molson: So same question to you, David. That’s a really good series as well, Joe. I thoroughly enjoyed that, although it did hurt the backwards forwards bit a little bit, was a bit mind blowing. Same question to you, David. What was the last thing that you binge watched? 

David Green: Well, the last thing I probably binge watched was probably Breaking Bad. That just sort of shows you how long ago it was. I binge watched anything, but I’m desperate to watch it again. It was so good. I was just hooked on the first episode. I just loved every single minute of that. 

Kelly Molson: Have you seen that, Joe? 

Joseph Paul: Yes. Very good series. Probably one of the best of all time. And the question back would be, have you watched Better Call Saul? 

David Green: Yeah, but I didn’t find it as good. I say I didn’t find as good. It was still great. I’m very fussy in the Greenhouse song. 

Kelly Molson: I feel like I’m the only person in the whole world who’s not watched Breaking Bad, which is this is quite controversial, isn’t it? Everybody says that I would love it and I should watch it, but I feel overwhelmed that there’s so many series to it and it would take up all of my TV viewing time for months and months. It would be the only thing that I could probably watch for the entire year and that feels too much. 

Joseph Paul: It’s well worth it. Absolutely. You should do it.

Kelly Molson: Dedicate 2024 as the year for Breaking Bad. 

David Green: I’m going to own up. I’ve not watched a single episode of The Crown either and some of it was filmed at Blenheim. So I’m really embarrassed to admit that on this podcast.

Kelly Molson: That is a statement in a half, David. See, this is why I do the icebreakers. You never know what dirt you’re going to get out. David, we’re going to start with you with this one. What is the one food or drink that you cannot eat and you can’t even think about without feeling a little bit queasy? 

David Green: That’s cheese pastry straight away. I remember when I was at school, we had a home economics club. I remember making these cheese straws and I took them home and I was so environmentally ill after these cheese straws ever since, I just can’t even look at cheese pastry. All these nibbles that people without for drinks can’t bear it. Cheese and pastry together is wrong. 

Kelly Molson: This is really sad. I love a little cheese straw. I feel sad for you that you can’t eat a cheese straw, David. I feel sad for you. Joe, what about you? 

Joseph Paul: I can pretty much eat anything and I’m not overly put off by much. I think the one thing that turns me away from food is horseradish and any sauce. That’s probably my only sort of food that I won’t go to and puts me off eating anything that has.

Kelly Molson: Just horseradish or sauce in general. Are we talking like, sweet chilli dip? No?

Joseph Paul: Just horseradish. So anything that has that in it, I will stay away from. But apart from that, I’ll pretty much eat anything anyone puts on my plate. 

David Green: I think you’re missing out, Joe. 

Kelly Molson: Do you know what’s probably really nice as well? Is a cheese straw with horseradish.

Joseph Paul: But cheese straws are the best. 

David Green: I’m going to have to leave the room in a minute. We could talk about cheese straw. 

Kelly Molson: Sorry. All right, let’s move on from that. Right, I want to know I was quite kind to those ones. I want to know what your unpopular opinions are. Joe, let’s start with you. 

Joseph Paul: Not sure this is going to go down too well, but my unpopular opinion is Harry Potter is an overrated film series. 

Kelly Molson: Books or films or both? 

Joseph Paul: Films, predominantly. 

Kelly Molson: Wow. I mean, my husband would absolutely agree with you. So I got him to watch the first one and then we got halfway through the second one and he paused it and looked at me and said, “Kelly, I just can’t do this. Sorry.” And left the room. That was it. Done. 

Joseph Paul: I can understand. So in our household, we alternate between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. So we compromise. We have a Harry Potter, then a Lord of the Rings, then go through. 

Kelly Molson: Is your partner Harry Potter, then? 

Joseph Paul: My wife is very much a Harry Potter fan. 

Kelly Molson: Interesting. That is quite controversial. How do you feel about that, David? 

David Green: Very disappointing. Joe, actually. 

Joseph Paul: Sorry to let you down. 

David Green: We might have to end this now, Joe.

Kelly Molson: This beautiful relationship that we’re going to talk about. End over Harry Potter.  

David Green: Harry Potter and cheese straws. 

Kelly Molson: David, same question to you. What is your unpopular opinion? 

David Green: Didn’t think I had any unpopular opinions until I started really thinking about it, but I have to say, my original this is really good either, really was dancing, non professional dancing. I mean, I’m not a dancer, I’ve got a body of a dad. I am a dad and my wife and my daughter are very good dancers and I think it’s just years of standing by a bar at a wedding with that person, go, “Come on, get on the dance floor, come on.” And they drag you up and then busting moves is probably the wrong description, but it’s just looking around the room on the floor with other people sort of bobbing around awkwardly looking, and all the blokes tipped you looking at each other going, “Oh, get me home.” It’s that awkwardness, I find really difficult and I’m going to be cheeky. And another one, because I just remembered that concerts is another one, so you spend a fortune going to a concert. 

I took my daughter once to Ariana Grande and I’d just been dragged to Arctic Monkeys and we drove hours and hours to this place and my wife had got Rose lead, I think, which was I needed binoculars to even see the stage. I was absolutely freezing, completely freezing. I didn’t dress appropriately, I was dressed in a shirt and tied, typically, because that was Arctic Monkeys. 

Kelly Molson: You went through a shirt and tied Arctic Monkeys? God said, “Well”.

David Green: I remember walking down to the bottom of the stadium, I’m freezing, I have to go and get some clothes, and they let me out and I had to buy Arctic Monkeys merchandise and I came up the steps wearing an Arctic Monkeys hoodie. Number one fan to my wife and daughter, absolutely laughing hilariously.  

And I had to listen to the music for 2 hours and then I got home about three in the morning and my wife had promised me dinner out, went to Wild Bean Cafe at 01:00 A.M. on the way home. 

Kelly Molson: What a treat.

David Green: Dancing and concert. Laura just sneaking next to one in. 

Kelly Molson: Well, no, I love this. I mean, it’s like an elongation of it, isn’t it? They go hand in hand.  I would be that person at a wedding, they’re trying to get you on the dancefloor. Which made me start laughing and then I lost it. Shirt and tie at an Arctic Monkeys gig. What were you thinking? 

David Green: I don’t know. 

Kelly Molson: I think that’s my favourite unpopular opinion yet. Amazing. Thank you both for sharing. Shall we talk about some serious stuff? 

David Green: Have you cried on a podcast before?

Kelly Molson: Before I’ve had a cry, I’ve definitely had a cry on the podcast, but a cry of laughter, I’m not sure that’s really got me today. Right, serious stuff. We’re going to talk about data today, which is very serious stuff. We all know the importance of data. We’ve talked about data hundreds and hundreds of times in various different guyses. On this podcast, however, we’re going to talk about reporting today, but with a twist. So reporting is often usually about things that have already happened. We’re looking at past visitor numbers, we’re looking at how many visitors came and how much they spent in the cafe on a particular day, what the weather was like on a past particular day. So we can predict whether it might be like that this year. 

But Blenheim are doing something completely different with reporting, which, when we had a chat about it prior to this episode, it blew my mind a little bit. And it’s such a brilliant case study. You need to share this with the world. Firstly, though, I want you to just, both of us, tell us a little bit about your role and your background. So, Joe, can you start first? Tell us a little bit about your role and how you came into it. 

Joseph Paul: Yeah, of course. So I’ve been in the industry for six years now within the visitor attraction industry, working at Vennersys, and my role is a Key Account Manager. So I work closely with our clients throughout the lifetime of their contracts, so making sure they are getting the most out of the system and that sort of return on investment they’ve put into the software they’ve purchased. So I’ve worked closely with David and the Blenheim team for about six years now, and prior to that, I was also in account management as well, within a software business. 

Kelly Molson: Great. David, over to you. 

David Green: Variable history with Blenheim. I think next year will be the 30th year when I first walked through the doors. So when I was studying at college, it was my first sort of part time weekend Christmas job, and I was a bubble up for the 11th Duke and Duchess, and that was great. If I got I know stuff. 

Kelly Molson: I feel like there’s a podcast episode on its own about that part of your career. 

David Green: I’m not sure I could speak too much about that, but I remember when I finished college, my mother said, “What are you going to get a proper job?” And the phone rang and I ended up working at Blenheim. Moved into the clock tower at Blenheim. That was my first flat. It was quite incredible, I have to say. But after leaving when I was 21, I just changed direction. So I became a developer, so I learned to programme and I worked for a little agency in Abingdon for two doctors who were both very bright guys. 

Yeah, I just put the hours in and learned to programme and really, that probably led to where I am today. I learned very quickly to problem solve and learned very quickly how to develop things. So when I finally joined Blenheim again, full time enabled me to sort of trial new things very quickly, fail fast. And that kind of led to our first real time reporting platform, which I developed myself. 

Kelly Molson: Amazing. 

David Green: This was really a combination of seeing that the business had lots of data and seeing that a lot of the data was inputted in manually. So being able to develop something that could contextualise data in a better way, but get people looking at the data in a much faster way, I think that’s where it started from. 

Kelly Molson: And that is what we’re going to talk about today. You’ve got a really interesting job title. So you’re Head of Innovation at Blenheim Palace. Are there many other heads of innovation in the sector? Because there’s lots of kind of I mean, ALVA, for instance, brilliant organisation, they do lots of kind of individual meetups. So heads of marketing meetups, CEO meetups, head of visitor service meetups. I haven’t seen them do a Head of Innovation meetup yet, so I question how many of you are there? 

David Green: I don’t think there’s very many at all, but the title is becoming more and more known, I think, across multiple sectors. And it was really the sort of creation I was Head of Digital at Lent for eight or nine years, and it was really the creation of Dominic Hare, our CEO, who saw the need for research development. The role is really about hunting for problems, and as much as we’re well known for our visitor business, we have a thriving land business and a thriving real estate business. And I get to work across those three tiers, which is really exciting, hunting for problems. I get to work with universities, so we have a really strong university partnership, both at Oxford Brookes and the Oxford University. 

And this really allows us to bring in the latest research academics into a real world environment to solve problems together. So that’s really exciting. But then the sort of second thing I work on as Head of Innovation is live data, so I have a data background, so it meant that very quickly I could bring all of our data into one place to drive greater insight. And then the third tier is looking at sort of customer experience changes. So if anyone sees my post on LinkedIn, you’ll see we’ve brought in a new returnable cup scheme of all of our cups are RFID enabled.

So looking at eradicating single use cups right the way through to a transformation project around implementing digital wallets and pulses. So there’s lots of different things right the way through to encouraging our visas to come by green transport, which is very much tied into our 2027 pledge to become carbon neutral. 

Kelly Molson: That’s lovely. Yeah. That’s really interesting that you sit across so many different facets and it’s not just about data and reporting and digital, really. So what we’re going to talk about today is a particular project that you’ve both been involved in, and I’m going to kind of split this into two, because there’s two areas that I kind of want to focus on. I want to hear about what the project is and all of the things and benefits that it’s brought to Blenheim, which David’s going to talk about. 

And then, Joe, I want to then come over to you and talk about how you kind of made this happen from a supplier perspective and the things that you need to work through together with your client and maybe some of the things that you’ve had to change and implement to be able to support your client, to do the things that they want to do with your system. So, David, I’m going to start with you. Can you give us kind of an overview of what this project is like, the background to it and then what led to that project happening? 

David Green: Background is like many organisations in this sector, we have lots and lots of data. Often we report out of proprietary systems, we then contextualise our data very well and I wanted to bring all the information to one area so we could really apply context but also look at in that data. So this sort of built off our first real time reporting platform that were able to get data into the hands of the operations teams, other teams, really quickly. But it wasn’t really supportable just by me here at Blenheim. So were looking at one, finding a platform that we could utilise to allow us to get data out to feedball in a much more secure way. I was handling all the visualisations and things and there’s better tools for that. So that’s one of the reasons. 

The second thing is looking at data, I wanted to try out using AI to identify patterns. So what’s the correlation between certain data sources? There’s one, a group of visitors wearing wet coats. Does that have an impact on the environmental conditions? What’s the optimal number of people that retail space to maximise their understand all those sorts of things were unanswered questions. So I engaged one of our Oxford Brookes relationships that we already had and we applied for what’s called a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. So a KTP, which is match funded, that’s Innovate UK match funded, and I highly recommend them as a starting point. And what that does, it brings in an associate who works full time. 

This project was, I think, 32 months, but also you get access to different parts of the university and in our case, we had access to the technical faculty as well as the business faculty. So you’ve got real experts in the field working with an associate that’s embedded here, Lennon, that can help us solve that problem. And we’re fortunate enough to win the application and the grant money and then we cloud on. So we called it a Smart Visitor Management System. That’s the headline and really the two key subsystems of that was the customer insight and prediction.

So we wanted to look at how we could predict business numbers. We know all of the knock on impacts of that in terms of better planning, reducing food waste, all those sorts of things. But then we also want to look at the visitor flow.  So that’s almost saying, “Well, where are visitors right now and where are they going to go next?” But they’re the two sort of component parts. 

Kelly Molson: Such a brilliant introduction to AI as well, because I think it is such a current topic right now. And I was at a recent ALVA meeting where there was a phenomenal speaker talking about the implications of AI and the opportunities that it could bring. And I think there was a 50 – 50 split of the audience of 50% of them were terrified about this new technology and what it might potentially mean. And then 50% were really inspired by it and see these huge opportunities from it. But I think this is such a brilliant case study to show how it can be used to your advantage in a very non-scary way. 

David Green: I think with AI can be scary, but actually it’s all about governance at the end of the day. And actually what we’re doing is using machine learning to identify the patterns in large data sets to help us be better informed. 

Kelly Molson: What have been the benefits of implementing this kind of level of data reporting? So what have you been able to do that you couldn’t previously do? 

David Green: Well, predictions is one. So ultimately we all budget. The first thing to probably say is that when we do contextual reporting, normally we access our data from a proprietary system and then bring it into some sort of spreadsheet and then try and tie it into a budget. That’s sort of the first thing. It’s really getting all of your data sets in a early. So we had budget, we had weather, we had advanced bookings, we had ticketing from different sort of platforms. And the starting point, before we talk too much about end benefits, were developing a data strategy in this centralised concept of a DataHub. So all of our data is in one place, and we’re using APIs and direct connections and data signature Vennersys to bring data into one place. 

We also looked at platforms, environments, so were looking at Azure, we’re a Microsoft business. So actually we decided Azure was the right sort of plan for us and we came up with a very broad strategy that said anything else we procure in the future has to best in class or it talks to the DataHub and often if it’s best in class as an API. So you can get that information into one place. So that’s the first thing. The joy of using something like Microsoft and other platforms are available, I would say, is to access the power platform. And the Power platform sort of answered the problem around how do we visualise our data, how do we automate some of our data and what data is missing and how can we collect it? 

So using things like Power BI and PowerApps, I think was really crucial. Once we had all of our sort of data organised, we had the pandemic and of course, one of the sort of big issues around predicting, certainly when you’ve got lots of data sets, you’re trying to look at patterns in data and your data is finely structured, then you get hit by something like this and where are the patterns? What’s changed? The business model completely changed. We were a 10% advanced booking business. Suddenly were either zero or 80 or 100 and then sort of now about 65. So that was a bit of a challenge as well. In terms of then looking at the missing data. And we’ll talk a little bit maybe about sort of the centre network and how do we measure things in remote places. 

David Green: But ultimately the core of this project was the DataHub, the ability to bring everything into one place, ability to push that data out. So answering your question in a long winded way is really about getting the data into hands of people, to allow them to plan better, to be prepared for the day, what is likely to happen today, what are the patterns in that day? And this is where we develop things like a concept of similar day. So a similar day might be one that has similar number of pre bookings, has similar weather. We look at weather in terms of temperature, wind and rain. It might have a similarity in terms of an event day or a weekend or similar budget. And that concept allows us to look forward, which is great. The predictions tend to look at other things. 

So we have one naive prediction that looks at previous performance in terms of pre booking to predict forward. And then another one, we have what we call an adaptive prediction, which allows us to look at advanced bookings and then see the change in advanced bookings over time against budget, to then alert us to the fact that we might experience more visitors than expected on that particular day. 

Kelly Molson: Gosh, that’s really powerful, isn’t it? Does that mean that your team have access to kind of a dashboard that they can look at any given time and be like, “Okay, we can model next week based on these predictions?”

David Green: Data is pretty much everywhere, so we have one really nice thing and we have this. When I built search platform was TV screens across all of our staff areas. We have a ten OD voltwim across Blenheim. Everyone has access to that data. And that could be how traffic is flowing on the driveway. We use ADPR to look at how busy traffic is outside of our park walls. We look at car park capacity. We look at how happy our staff are using what we call a mood metric. So we put those smiley buttons in staff areas to determine how well they think the day is going. So we have access to all of this sort of information, but also then sort of more business reporting through Power BI. 

So we have a series of what I’ve called sort of visual representations of activity, but also sort of data that we can export into Excel. So we do a lot of finance reporting as well through Power BI. Again, all reporting from that single source of the truth, which is the DataHub. And if anyone’s going down this route, I always describe it, I call it the product hierarchy. I always describe it as the giant coin sorting machine, which means that we’re comparing apples with apples. So if you’ve got a particular product type, let’s say annual park or House park and gardens, or park and gardens, you budget against that item, against adult, child, concession, family, young adult, whatever, you create a product hierarchy that matches that to your actual ticketing sales. 

David Green: And it doesn’t matter then who sells your ticket, you’re matching to that same product hierarchy. So think of it as a giant column sourcing machine that then every five minutes builds that single source of the truth in a database, then can be report out either through digital screens locations or Power BI. So, lots of tunes. 

Kelly Molson: It’s incredible that level of access that you can give people now that must have improved how the team feel about their working day. It must have really helped with kind of like team culture and team morale. 

David Green: Absolutely. One, it’s about engaging. Our teams are really important. People are the most important commodity we have at Blenheim. So having a series of management accounts, they never see their impact of engaging our businesses and giving our business a really good time, focusing on that Net Promoter Score, giving them access to that information. So, well done, look at the impact is really important. So, yeah, it’s been fairly transformational here at Blenheim. 

Kelly Molson: Wow. What do you think has been the biggest impact? 

David Green: I think access to the data, better planning, there’s more to do. We’re embedding these tools, people that trust these tools. It’s no mean feat. So getting good. What’s nice to see when things aren’t coming through quite right or car park speeds and we say it is, it might be data pipeline that’s got awry. People very quickly come to us and say, “It’s missing.” So, seven days a week our team is sort of monitoring and seeing people use it. Mood metric is great. Our cleaners now, they clean our facilities based on usage because they can see how many people have used the loo’s by using our sensor data. So that’s again, it all impacts that Net Promoter Score. And I will say on Net Promoter, love it or hate it, Net Promoter Score is all about looking backwards. 

Typically what we try to do is to create the equivalent to on the day. What can we do about it right now? How busy is traffic flowing on a drive? Do we need to open another kiosk? How busy will the cafe get? Will we run out sandwiches? So we’ve got alerting looking at that comparison to similar day and are we trading above or below that? So again, we can send an alert to say, “Make some more sandwiches or do something else. The loos need a clean.” All of these sorts of things are built into the visitor management system to allow us to really optimise not just the visitor experience, but our staff engagement and experience as well. 

Kelly Molson: So you’ve got this really proactive approach to it, which actually makes you reactive on the day because you can move quicker, because you can make easier decisions about things. That’s phenomenal. I love that the team have taken real ownership of that as well. I think embedding something like this, it can be quite challenging, right. People don’t like change and these things feel a bit scary, but it feels like your team have really engaged with them and taken ownership of the system. 

David Green: Absolutely. It’s no mean feat. Two challenges embedding something new like this. Absolutely. That’s change management. The second thing is data pipelines, ensuring all of your sensors and everything is online and working. And when you’re dealing with such high volume of data sets coming in, you really need to be absolutely on it. Second to the sort of broader and maybe more granular reporting, one other thing we’ve devised is a series of KPIs, which pretty much any attraction. 

Most might already have a series of KPIs, but KPIs to look forward. So actually in this moment in time, are we trading ahead or behind versus this time last year? So if you start comparing apples with apples at this moment in time, what was RMR’s booking? We share these KPIs across the whole site and that could be relation to bookings or even spend per head versus budget spend per head for the next 30 days. 

Visually, we put these on all of our digital screens very quickly can identify when we need to do something, be driving that by marketing activity or celebrating success. We’ve got a very clear picture and that means everyone’s along for the ride. Everyone gets access to this information. 

Kelly Molson: That’s absolutely phenomenal. Joe, I’m going to come over to you now because I can only imagine what you were thinking when David came to you and said, “Right, we’ve got this idea, this is what we want to do.” And you’re one of the platforms. Vennersys is one of the platforms that has been working with him. I think it’s quite a long relationship. Is it? It’s about 16 years.

Joseph Paul: 16, 17 years now, I think. Long relationship.

David Green: Yeah. I was five. How old were you? 

Joseph Paul: Wasn’t conceived yet. 

Kelly Molson: Wowzers. That is a long relationship. Okay, so I kind of want to know from you, Joe, to make this happen, what have you had to do differently as a supplier? So how have you had to interact with your clients’ needs and what steps did you have to go to kind of understand what the outcome was going to be? 

Joseph Paul: Yeah, so I think firstly that the system has an enormous amount of data in it and I think the first step for us was to understand exactly what Blenheim were looking to get out of the system and plug into the sort of the DataHub that David was talking about. So that kind of comprised of some initial conversations of what they were trying to achieve. And then following that it was all about workshopping and making sure were going to present the data in the format that David and the team at Blenheim Palace required. 

Yeah, I think fundamentally it was just working closely with the team there and getting those requirements in detail and making sure weren’t missing anything and really understanding everything they were trying to achieve and pushing that in a simple and easy format for the team to then push into their views and into their KPIs that they required. Really the main focus for us was pushing that data out to David and the team into that DataHub in that format that was easily accessible and sort of manipulated for them. 

Kelly Molson: I guess there’s so much it’s understanding what are the key know, what are the variables here, what are the key points that we need to do this and how do we go about doing this for you? 

Joseph Paul: Absolutely. Because there’s a number of options and a number of different ways that data can be pushed to clients. So it’s understanding what the best is for that client and their resource because that’s also important. Not every attraction has unlimited resource or the expertise in house to sort of obtain that data, but also, even if they can obtain that data, they might not have that sort of resource to then create their own dashboards and create their own reporting tools from a repository. So it’s really understanding every kind of asset and every level to that sort of client and then working closely with them to achieve their goal. So it might be more resource from our side or working closely with the expertise that they might have in house. 

Kelly Molson: Or suggesting that they might need to get extra expertise. So this is something that we talk about in terms of API integration all the time, is that it absolutely can be done with any of the systems that you have. If they have an API, yes, you can integrate it into whatever other system that you want. But who takes ownership of that internally? And do they have the capability and do they have the resource and do they have the capacity to do that? And if that’s a no, who can be trained to do those things? And how do we facilitate that as well? 

Joseph Paul: Yeah, absolutely. And in this case, as David highlighted, he’s clearly got the expertise himself and others around him to produce all these fantastic sort of views and dashboards that are displayed all around Blenheim Palace. So in this sort of example with Blenheim Palace, it was all about getting the data to them and making sure it was in a format that they could work with easily. 

Kelly Molson: And you’ve worked together, Joe, you said about six years. You’ve been at Vennersys now, but the organisation has worked with Blenheim for over 16 years, which is testament to the relationship and the product that you have. Has this process that you’ve been through together, has this changed or strengthened the kind of relationship between supplier and client? 

Joseph Paul: Yes, I think from our point of view, we like to see it as a partnership. I think David would agree, and we want to be a part of their journey, but also Blenheim and want to be a part of our journey. So we’re helping one another to achieve our individual goals as a partnership. So that relationship goes from strength to strength and we continue to have those conversations, whether that’s myself or others within the business, to Blenheim and pass around things that we’re coming up against in the industry, but also vice versa.

 So if David’s got his ear to the ground and has a suggestion around how our platform could be improved, that’s fed back to us. And we have that back and forth between client and supplier, but we like to see it as a partnership and work closely with them to achieve their goals and also our goals together.

David Green: I don’t want to make Joe cry, because I’ve already made you cry, Kelly, but seriously, over that course of 17 years, and I’m sure lots of people listening to this podcast will realise that it’s always challenging working with other suppliers. You have your ups and you have your downs, but we’ve had way more ups than we’ve had downs and our business has changed massively. We went through a process of becoming a charity, so suddenly gifted all the admissions was really important and Joe and the team really helped us achieve that. 

Vanbrugh was not a very good forward planner in terms of he was a great architect, but actually, we have a single point of entry and to try and gift aid so many visitors, we have a million visitors a year coming to them to try and gift aid such a large number on a driveway is really difficult. So actually, working through that gift aid at the gate process, we’re looking at that gift aid opportunity was one of the key projects, really, that we work with Vennersys on. 

Kelly Molson: But that’s where the good things come out of client supplier relationships, is that you’re both challenging each other on what the objectives are and what the outcomes potentially could be. So you work in partnership together and then everybody gets the better outcome. When we first spoke about this topic, what I thought was brilliant is that you have such a great case study, you have such a great showcase piece here, both of you, for how you’ve worked together and what you’ve been able to develop. I’ve absolutely said that you need to pitch this as a talk at the Museum and Heritage Show because I think it’s an absolutely brilliant topic for it. It’s so current and something that other organisations can go away and kind of model on. 

I don’t know if you saw, we had Nik Wyness on from the Tank Museum last season who came on and basically just he gives away his kind of process as to how they’ve developed their YouTube following and how they’ve developed kind of a sales strategy from it. And it’s brilliant. He’s great at kind of coming on and going, “Yeah, this is what I did, and this is what we did, and this is the process and here you go. Go and do it.” And I think you have an opportunity to do that together, which I think is lovely. 

David Green: Isn’t it nice though, that we don’t feel in competition and we can work together? We created what we call The Continually Improvement and Innovation Group which we have lots of members who have joined from all different places, from Chatsworth to Be Lee to Hatfield Outs and so on and all that is a slack channel. It’s a six monthly meeting where we all come together and we discuss our challenges. You talked about are there many head of innovations? Well, may not be, but actually sharing our insights and sharing our lessons learned is incredibly important and that’s not just Blenheim, lots of other attractions are doing lots of brilliant things as well and we can learn from them. So really exciting, I think, to do that. 

And again, very open, I will say, and I’m not going to plug a gift aid company, but there’s something called Swift Aid that we’re just looking at and wow, can we do retrospective gift aiding? Is it worth lots of money for lots of attractions that have gift aid on their admissions? Yes, it is well worth looking that up. Ultimately they have a database of 8 million centralised gift aid declarations that you can utilise there’s commission but it’s well worth looking at. If anyone wants information, please just LinkedIn with me and we’ll discuss them. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, I love that. Again, this comes back to what we’ve always said about how collaborative and open to sharing information this sector is. What we’ll do is in the show notes listeners, we will link to both David and Joe’s LinkedIn profiles. If you want to connect with them, feel free and then actually David, Joe, if there’s anything you want to share that we can add into those as well that would be useful for listeners. Then we’ll pop them in there as. 

Actually, David, I’ve got one more question for you on that Slack channel, which I think is really interesting. It’s great that you’ve set that up. I think those kind of platforms are really good at just facilitating conversation and it’s really good to understand what people are doing from a supplier perspective. Do you have suppliers as part of that conversation as well, or is it purely attractions? 

David Green: I’ve kept it, I’d say non commercial, but we have invited speakers into the group to come and talk about it. But at the moment it’s a closed environment. I think most people are more comfortable having sort of open conversations, but what it’s really good at doing is it could be a question about compliance or sustainability or returnable cuts is a good one. It could be varying topics and we can just provide access to the right people here at Blenheim and vice versa, and other organisations if we’ve got questions. So, yeah, it works, it’s growing, it’s open, it’s not ours, it’s everyone’s. So if anyone wants to join it, then we’ll stick a link at LinkedIn maybe on the plot cups at the end of this. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, Fab, that’s brilliant. Yeah, great. I think that’s a really nice way of doing it with suppliers as well. It’s difficult, I think Joe and I would probably say all of these conversations are really interesting for us because it helps us understand the challenges that the sector has and it helps us understand how we can make the things that we do so much better. So it’s hard sometimes when there’s closed environments like that, but the sector does so brilliantly at putting on conferences and organisations that we can all be part of as well. And again, platforms like this where we can come on and share the things that we’re doing.

That brings me back to the last question for you, Joe, is about has this process between the two of you and what you’ve been able to build together, has that helped Vennersys  as a supplier build out other services that you can then offer to kind of the wider sector? 

Joseph Paul: Yeah, so I think through this journey we’ve realised that data is really critical, but we also realised, as we kind of mentioned before, that not everyone has the resource to build their own visualisations of data and linking those to their sort of key performance indicators. So we work with Power BI as well on behalf of our clients, so we can also visualise that data that’s within our systems. And that’s really to help them get the most out of the data that is in our system, but also in that sort of more real time scenario, rather than having to extract a report, put it that into an Excel and get that information out. 

So that’s one service that’s kind of come out of that relationship, but also expanding on our sort of open API as well. So additional endpoints so that clients can also extract that data in real time and that continues to grow with other clients as well as we sort of go down that journey with some other clients. So, absolutely. It’s helped us sort of open up another avenue which has benefited other clients in the past couple of years, but also moving forward as we sort of expand on it.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. And that’s the sign of true partnership, isn’t it? There’s been some incredible wins for both of you involved and it’s brought new opportunities to both of the organisations. Thank you both for coming on and sharing this today. So we always end the podcast with book recommendations from our guests. So I wondered if you’ve both been able to pick a book that you’d like to share with our listeners today. What have you got for us? Joe, we’ll start with you. 

Joseph Paul: Mine’s a little bit out there. 

David Green: We know it’s not Harry Potter, Joe. 

Kelly Molson: Absolutely not. 

Joseph Paul: Well, that would be a curveball if I started to plug the Harry Potter series. Hey. So recently, I was in Albania in Tirana and I was on a guided tour. And they were talking about the Ottoman period. And I realised I know nothing about the Ottoman history and I was interested about it more. 

So my in laws purchased a book called Lord Of The Horizons, which is all about the history of the Ottoman empire. So that’s my current read at the moment. And if you’re into your history and into your sort of empires, it’s definitely worth a read. So that’s my recommendation. The Lord of Horizons. 

Kelly Molson: Nice. Joe, we just got a little insight into some of your hobbies there and your likes that we didn’t know about. Good. Okay. Thank you. David, what about you? 

David Green: Mine is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wallaban. It’s an incredible book. Now, I read lots of strategy books, data books. My wife thinks I’m really sad. This book is not any of that. This is about how trees communicate and I was absolutely enthralled with it. So this talks about them like arousal networks, how trees communicate through their roots, the noises and the sounds that trees make when they’re struggling, when they’re thirsty. It led to a lot of laughter on holiday with my daughter drawing pictures of trees with ears, but trees can actually hear. And from that, I was able to come back and look at one of our land projects where we’re building a small solar farm at the moment, actually looking at the sort of benefits to soil health while we’re putting solar on sort of fed degraded farmland. 

So we’re using something called soil ecoacoustics that will allow us to listen to the sound of soil. So listen to soil for ultimately to index how healthy that soil is. So this one book has led to me reading a number of different research papers, cooking up with the universities to then test and trial something completely brilliant around identifying health through acoustics. So book is absolutely brilliant. There’s a follow on book, but if you look at Peter Wallabin, he’s written a number of books. Absolutely fascinating. 

Kelly Molson: Okay, wow. One, what an incredible book. I had no idea that trees could hear or talk. That’s blown my mind a little bit, especially as someone who’s a bit of a tree hugger. I’m not going to lie, I made a statement. I was with a client yesterday and were talking about AI. And I said, sometimes the conversations around AI just make me want to go outside and hug the tree in my back garden, take my shoes and socks off and just put my feet on the grass because I just want to connect with nature again and just get out of a tech world. So there’s that. So I’m definitely going to buy that book. But two, how your mind works as well, how that book has taken you on a journey of innovation again into something connected but completely different.

David Green: Again, it’s really data. So you’re welcome. We’ll happily show you that site and put some headphones on you and we’ll make this public as well, so hopefully we can share the secret sound of soil and other things as well. But really fascinating. 

Kelly Molson: That to me sounds like a David Attenborough show. Maybe we’ll make it another podcast episode at some point. I’d love that. Thank you both for coming on and sharing today. As ever, if you want to win a copy of Joe and David’s books, go over to our Twitter account, retweet this episode announcement with the words, I want Joe and David’s books and you’ll be in with a chance of winning them. Wow. Thank you for sharing. It’s been an absolutely insightful podcast. There’s lots of things that we’re going to put in the show notes for you all. And as Joe and David said, please do. If you’ve got questions around what they’ve talked about today, feel free to connect and we’ll pop a link to that Slack group in the show notes too, so you can join in with these conversations. Thank you both. 

David Green: Thank you. 

Joseph Paul: Thanks, Kelly. 



Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.


Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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