In this age of big data, there’s lots of talk about how all the seemingly unlimited amounts of information we collect and store can be put to use. But actually figuring out how to access and translate that into business intelligence remains one of the most vexing issues for the hospitality industry today.

One of my top goals here at DHISCO Inc. is to advance our and our partners’ ability to analyze the data we have and create next-generation business intelligence solutions.

As part of that effort, we recently partnered with the Innovation Greenhouse at the University of North Texas in Denton, providing their students with a sandbox of raw data that had been scrubbed of confidential and competitive information and challenging them to make some level of intelligence out of it.

I knew we would have a great time with the project, but I have to admit I was blown away by the level of response and the quality of entries. The students’ use of sophisticated tools and the results they produced offer some valuable real-world lessons for the hospitality industry on data mining and market innovation.

More than 90 students on 28 teams competed in the Big Data Challenge, representing a surprising cross-section of disciplines, including finance, finance, marketing, business, data science, hospitality management, information technology and economics.

I also was excited by the level of interest from the industry. Some key industry leaders joined us to judge the entries. And that was no easy task.

A team of computer science students, called Team SQL 6, took Best in Show – and a $1,500 cash prize – for digging into our data to show hotel-specific rate and booking information as broader industry trends.

The team created a dashboard for each of the hotels in the database, showing averages like weekly bookings and rates for each property. Their analysis showed that people tend to book the most after 5 p.m., and within a just a couple of days prior to arrival. They also mined the data to show where a given group of individuals is most likely to book.

We also gave prizes for presentations that included an analysis of reservation cancellations and modifications, a dashboard to determine when and where to advertise to best target specific audiences and a parsing of data that showed how group sizes impact lengths of stay.

The inventive proposals really underscore our commitment here DHISCO to developing alliances that can advance business intelligence. I am excited about building on this partnership in 2016, and developing more across the industry.

In that vein, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a loud shout out and sincere thanks to our panel of celebrity judges: Dave Mitzner, TravelClick senior vice president of strategic alliances, Bob Bennett, Kalibri Labs co-founder and COO, Brant Deranger, Sabre Hospitality Solutions vice president of service delivery, and Alise Deeb, LQ Management LLC senior vice president of revenue management. Thanks for helping make our first Big Data Challenge such a success!