What Geocaching Can Teach Us About Demand Management


As my inaugural post on The Practical Polymath I wanted to make some kind of introduction, maybe a little getting to know you post…you know, something soft.  Truthfully, you don’t care about me so let’s just dive right in with Geocaching and Demand Management.  While I am diving, please excuse the mess as we clean up after the merger between Mr. Infrastructure and Telephone Poles on the Moon.  Give it until August…of 2012.  We’re lazy.  I will let Edward make the proper introductions later.

I get e-mail.  For the last couple of weeks my mailbox has been on fire with customers, account managers and consultants asking me to explain our capabilities around demand management and their plans to build a private cloud.  “What happens if the effort is wildly successful?!” they ask.  “What if we end up oversubscribed in the first month?!” 

I explain how to handle that envious problem, they nod, I explain some more, they fall asleep.

They are a tough crowd, these IT gurus, so after they drained my brain Tuesday I left work to enjoy a night Geocaching hike to find GC2X86J: Good Night Calavera and blow off some steam.  It was a great workout in the Calavera hills at just over 2.6mi through some dicey trails in the pitch black night.  We managed to nail the first to find with authority and nobody got hurt.  Another cache near our starting point was disabled which I later found out was done by the same owner to make room for GC2X86J.  This was a bummer for me, as I wanted a couple more smileys for the record.  I didn’t know this in advance because the ceaseless questions from work had me on the phone all the way to our initial meetup.  There was no time to run a new database query.

So what does demand management have to do with Geocaching?Groundspeak (the company that runs Geocaching.com) does it so seamlessly you almost don’t know it’s there unless you look for the signs.

I will write more about the concept later, but the basic premise is that demand management seeks to influence the consumption of resources through one of essentially two mechanisms, negotiation or coercion, to make a static supply (capacity) of resources last longer, go farther, etc.  In the case of Geocaching, resources include things like cache locations, database queries, web page views (bandwidth) and the like.  Groundspeak uses a number of techniques to maximize the utilization of their resources before having to expand.  Every new Geocache and Geocacher adds some incremental cost to doing business.  Groundspeak is a small company; maximizing resource utilization through demand management is essential.

Groundspeak has implemented rules such as “no caches within a .1mi radius of any other cache”.  This is coercion, and limits the number of caches in a popular location (so hot spots are manageable).  This is why the cache I mentioned above was disabled: to make room for a better Geocache and recycle the same resource (space).

The game is free to play, but if you really want to get serious about, say, finding caches on the ISS or claiming First to Find you are going to want access to advanced features such as database queries and automated proximity notifications.  For that, you need a premium membership.  This is negotiation, pricing an option so that demand can be controlled through “self limitation.”

There are dozens of little ways Geocaching intersects demand management.  It is encouraging to hear enterprise IT shops are finally interested in the practice.  I hope they aren’t putting the cart before the horse, since I would much prefer to help them generally operate more like Zappos first and Groundspeak second, after they are truly ready for it.  I’ll tackle that one later.  Until then, enjoy the good life and happy caching!

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