If you’ve ever wondered what Big Data is like in practice, look no further than Disney World. I had the good fortune to visit the parks in October as part of a destination wedding. I had a lot of fun, but the thing that struck me most about Disney World wasn’t the rides or the props or the characters; it was the Disney Magic Band.

The Disney Magic Band (family set). Image by Doug Butchy

Here’s how it works: park guests staying at Disney Resort hotels receive Magic Band with their name on it, either by mail or upon arrival. Great start. The Magic Band functions as a room key, and guests enter their rooms by tapping the band on a sensor in the door.

But that is only scratching the surface of what the Magic Band can do. It can also be hooked up to park tickets (via the Disney World app), so guests have their tickets and fast passes on their wrist at all times. To enter a Disney World park, just tap the band on a sensor at the entrance.

But wait, there’s more! Guests can also charge purchases to their room with the Magic Band. No more fumbling for cash or cards; just tap the band at a sensor on a sales register. This works at concession stands, resort cafeterias, and restaurants within the parks. Finally, the Magic Band acts a radio transmitter that sends a signal to park employees, who can offer personalized touch of magic.

So why is all of this so striking? Connecting all of these different elements of a vacation into one single access point creates a frictionless Disney experience on multiple levels:

Brand: The Disney brand, in a word, is “magic”. The sense of wonder and joy that people get from connecting with characters and worlds they love. When people come to Disney parks, they pay a premium because they expect the magic. And nothing ruins it like losing a room key or fumbling for a wallet. Take all those irritants out of the way, and what’s left? Magic.

Sales: When a customer gets out their wallet to pay for something, the transaction allows enough time for a change of heart. Do you really need that? When that happens, the sale disappears. With the Magic Band, all the customer has to do is just tap. The Magic Band lets people pay faster, which means more sales for Disney.

Logistics: Because the Magic Band stores park tickets, guests can enter a park with just a tap. No finding out you lost your ticket at the front of the line, no walk of shame to guest services. This speeds up lines and allows staff to serve more guests per hour. When lines move fast, guests are happier, they wait less, and they can spend more time in the parks.

Data: The Magic Band generates data with every tap, and each tap tells a story about that guest. What time did a guest leave their room? What did they eat for breakfast? Which park did they go to? What did they buy there? How long did they spend in the park? Collectively, all this data gives Disney’s analysts an immense amount of insight into what is happening in the parks.

So where does the “big” in Big Data come in? Think about it. The architecture behind the Magic Bands contains hundreds of systems and thousands of sensors that are communicating at all times. If one guest’s data tells a story over the course of one day, then what about every guest over the course of a year? That much data turns Disney World into a self-contained environment that is constantly self-analyzing and self-improving. And one day, instead of meeting a guests’ desires as fast as possible, it will be able to anticipate them before they arise.

That’s the power of Big Data.