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Data analytics drives Australian Open innovations for 2015

Data analytics drives Australian Open innovations for 2015

Tennis Australia CIO partners with IBM to bring in a raft of new innovations including Watson technology to drive new digital products along with operational efficiency

Data analytics is driving a raft of operational improvements and new digital products and services at the 2015 Australian Open.

Tennis Australia CIO, Samir Mahir, and IBM consulting partner, A/NZ interactive experience and mobile Ian Wong, shared a list of data-driven innovations with journalists on the first day of the two-week event, aimed at enhancing fan engagement onsite and online and management of core IT infrastructure. These include adopting Watson technology during the grand slam tournament.

A new product offering this year is IBM’s CrowdTracker technology, which provides live match scores, real-time venue and court information and social network activity on a map of the Melbourne ground in real-time. CrowdTracker employs technology around the grounds and courts, plus GPS data from an attendee’s mobile phone, to pinpoint crowds and then pushes that information out digitally.

The information is available through the Australian Open app and website. Wong said the data-driven service could help a fan plan their day or where to go next based on activity around the tournament. The Australian Open attracts 640,000 fans on average a year.

It's also a great tool for the Tennis Australia team to understand crowd flow, what's popular around the grounds, and to respond to that in real-time. This could be by mobilising more staff on kiosks in areas with long queues, or triggering messages via social channels to fans informing them of potential issues or busy areas.

Tennis Australia is pulling these insights into its operations dashboard (pictured above) for business teams to use.

“We’re good at compiling data at the end of the day or a night session, but we wanted to tap into this in real-time so we can provide better services to certain operations,” Mahir said. “This pilot will evolve to become a tool for our operational supervisors so they’re not just getting a report at the end of the day, but have a ‘sidekick’ tool that helps manage the business and their tasks better.”

Tennis Australia and IBM have also redesigned the SlamTracker interface this year to better visualise data and statistics from the event. The application accesses eight years of historical data on players and the game as well as real-time statistics during the tournament, and features player and ball movement data for the first time this year.

SlamTracker also suggests three key things a player needs to do in order to win the match. IBM claimed this ‘Keys to the match’ feature has an accuracy rate of 98 per cent.

Read more: Interview: Samir Mahir, CIO, Tennis Australia

On the operational front, Tennis Australia has invested in improving its dynamic provisioning capabilities this year and is using IBM’s Watson technology to better manage IT infrastructure in real-time. Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities, which are driven by unstructured data sources such as social data, will be combined with current predictive models and actual Web traffic to paint an even more accurate picture of what compute power is needed at different stages of the tournament, Mahir said.

He described Watson as a “hands-off manager” that provides additional guidance to the IT team based on trends identified through unstructured data.

Watson will be used to intercept and override current predictive models based on structured data sources, such as the game schedule, player data and historical information, boosting capacity to support the Australian Open’s digital resources should it calculate any discrepancies or spikes in unstructured data sources. An example could be a spike in social traffic if a top seeded player loses an early round game, or an impressive rally during a match.

While the first applications of Watson have been focused on operational efficiency, Mahir said Tennis Australia is running another pilot providing media with real-time insights about players and games. For example, if a journalist is creating an article and wants to access historical statistics or real-time information, they will be able to do so through Watson.

“There are lot of other applications of cognitive computing we can pursue,” Mahir said.

Other technology innovations introduced by Tennis Australia this year include streaming all court matches through live video, as well as high density and complimentary Wi-Fi in its two main arenas, Rod Laver and Margaret Court. Tennis Australia has partnered with Aruba Networks for wireless services, and Optus on the mobile front.

All of Tennis Australia’s digital platforms and customer services are hosted on the IBM cloud, and all integration work is done by IBM.

In an interview with CIO, Mahir said the latest data advancements were about improving fan engagement with the annual event, along with driving better outcomes for Tennis Australia as a business.

He added the role of CIO at Tennis Australia has never been a pure infrastructure or business-as-usual play, but instead requires focusing on initiatives that benefit his business peers and provide more value. The investment being made by Tennis Australia’s IT team into data intelligence, which has included additional headcount, is the latest example of this focus, he said.

“You still have to have the team doing all the business-as-usual stuff, but we’re also investing in people that understand analytics, both in terms of business analysis and data science,” he said.

Mahir said the investment into data analytics really ramped up about two years ago and wasn’t just about the two-week Australian Open tournament, but also about taking advantage of data in year-round program.

“For example, with our hotshots program, we want to grow participants and to do that, we need this investment to give us more insight into needs,” he said.

The growing focus on digital and data capabilities has also changed the way Mahir sells the IT function to the rest of Tennis Australia’s business units and executives. Partnering with IBM and learning from its experience in data-driven initiatives across other industry sectors has been key in getting the benefits of data analytics across to the business, he added.

Mahir also revealed he now shares KPIs with the rest of the group’s business leads including marketing, further ensuring data is used as a company-wide tool. These objectives include customer satisfaction and improving user participation.

“You need to have common targets – they [business units]need your help and vice versa,” Mahir commented. “To do this, you need the right people, skillsets, and to work closely with the business units, then have the business leads adopt these solutions.

“Without partnership, these innovations don’t happen. And if there’s an ego problem, nothing happens, or you only get half of it done.”

Mahir claimed the ownership of digital and data by business unit wasn’t the right approach and said the more his team can work with other departments, such as media and marketing, on pilots and projects early, the better the outcome for Tennis Australia.

“Yes, ownership sometimes needs to be specialised – for example, privacy and security. But with analytics, ownership overlaps and you don’t want egos driving those conversations,” he said.

However, Mahir argued common objectives ultimately need to be driven by the CEO, and highlighted the integral role Tennis Australia’s own leadership team has played over the past year to break down silos across the business.

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