Data analytics drives fan engagement and digital strategy at Australian Open 2015

Tennis Australia CIO and technology partner, IBM, share details of the latest data-driven innovations and social sentiments improving engagement at this year's grand slam event

Australian Open 2015 CrowdTracker
Australian Open 2015 CrowdTracker

Data is the “new oil” for organisations and is driving both operational improvements and fresh customer products and services at this year’s Australian Open, its CIO claims.

Speaking during a press launch, Tennis Australia CIO, Samir Mahir, and IBM consulting partner, A/NZ interactive experience and mobile Ian Wong, shared a list of data-driven innovations at this year’s two-week event, including Watson technology, aimed at enhancing fan engagement onsite and online and management of core IT infrastructure.

One new fan service uses IBM’s CrowdTracker technology to provide live match scores, real-time venue and court information, and social network activity on a map of the Melbourne ground in real-time. CrowdTracker (pictured above) taps into technology deployed around the grounds and courts, plus geolocation (GPS) data from an attendee’s mobile phone, to understand where crowds are located 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.

“This gives fans a sense of the areas that are hot and interesting while giving us a great sense of our customers,” Mahir said. “When analytics is combined with a user interface like this, it allows users to be more engaged with the event, but also provides us with intelligence and information that can help us improve that experience too.”

For example, social media buzz provides important information about sentiment, Mahir said. He added Tennis Australia has a dedicated social media team tracking various social channels, which in turn is increasingly feeds the company’s dynamic provisioning policies around computing power.

“If there’s a lot of buzz on a certain match, we can provision capacity for that,” he said.

In addition, the information provided through CrowdTracker will increasingly be used to inform and adjust operations in real-time. This could be mobilising more staff in areas with long queues, or triggering messages via social channels to fans informing them of potential issues or busy areas.

Tennis Australia has created an operations dashboard off the back of the data for staff.

“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 and is only made live when a player steps onto a court.

Mahir said the improved visual look and feel of SlamTracker was directly driven by customer feedback.

“Last year, visualisation was mentioned in our feedback from customers and we’ve listened to that feedback to provide a better product,” he said.

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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 CMO, 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.

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.

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 claimed. “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 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.

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