How Pro Tennis is Like Midsize Business
On the surface, a major international sports event may seem to have little in common with a midsize business, but dig a little deeper into the technology supporting the US Open tennis tournament and you’ll see similarities.
The US Open, which kicked off this week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., draws a passionate following of tennis fans from around the world who tune in at all hours of the day and on all devices to watch the progress of players representing their nations. IBM and the US Tennis Association (USTA) have collaborated for more than 20 years on a technology partnership that enables fans to follow and examine every serve, volley and point from almost every imaginable type of device. The challenges only grow in scale and complexity with each passing year.
Midsize companies in seasonal or consumer markets like retail and information services can relate to the USTA’s task. Infrastructure must scale up and down without noticeable impact on response times. Demanding customers, like passionate fans, want the information that matters to them delivered quickly without the need to hunt through menus and help screens. Fans make their feedback known in social channels instantaneously, putting pressure on organizers to continuously improve the experience. The USTA’s mission – to promote the game of tennis - is every bit as dependent on delighting the customer experience as any online retailer’s.
The USTA actually operates as a small business for most of the year. It's subject to the same budget restrictions, staffing constraints and market fluctuations that any lean organization encounters. The Association even depends upon merchandise sales for part of its revenue.
The US Open tournament presents some unique challenges, however. Organizers must scale IT infrastructure quickly, accommodate unpredictable spikes in demand and do so without resorting to expensive equipment purchases. Cloud computing has been an important new tool for managing capacity flexibly.
Scalability and performance are critical in an environment that last year delivered more than 8.43 million live videos along with real-time scores, 2.8 million hours of live streaming and 5.7 million on-demand videos.
In partnership with IBM, USOpen.org runs on a private cloud that it shares with several other sports tournaments as well as IBM.com. The private cloud allows dynamic provisioning and de-provisioning of resources based on changing requirements throughout the year. The versatile cloud computing environment - powered by IBM Power servers and cloud technologies located in three geographically dispersed data centers that are virtualized as one - provides continuous availability and scalability the US Open needs.
Not only does a private cloud cost less, but it also reduces the time needed to respond to changes in demand. In the past, the process of adding an application to the US Open website meant procuring, installing and configuring each server, all of which consumed time and staff resources. The USTA can now use Advanced Tivoli Monitoring to detect problems before they impact availability and Tivoli Provisioning Manager to configure a new server within minutes. That gives the organization the flexibility it needs to add capacity without sacrificing resiliency. It can even host other customer’s services within its physical environment without compromising security or performance.
Like many businesses, the USTA relies upon analytics to better understand its own business and to deliver a superior customer experience. With IBM's support, the US Open this year features a redesigned “SlamTracker” analytics dashboard that delivers real-time insights into match data and statistics that go well beyond what's displayed on the scoreboard.
SlamTracker's "Keys to the Match" feature is built on IBM predictive analytics software and analyzes more than 41 million data points from eight years of Grand Slam tennis data to identify three performance indicators that affect the dynamics of a match for each player. Fans can interact with the data to learn why a player is winning or losing. The enhanced SlamTracker software also offers a new embedded social sentiment feed that enables fans to follow and contrast the volume and tone of fan sentiment on Twitter. This not only enhances the fan experience but enables organizers to anticipate shifts in demand. For example, if a particular match is generating a large volume of fan comments, the USTA can shift resources like real-time video feeds to match viewer interest.
The dramatic increase in the use of mobile devices has introduced enormous new complexity, but also new opportunity to familiarize tennis newcomers to the excitement of the game. The mobile-friendly USOpen.org this year enables fans to easily navigate and access content, data & stats from a variety of devices.
This year’s US Open mobile fan experience features numerous enhancements from IBM’s digital design agency, including a refreshed, engaging iPad app that provides integrated social features, instant access to live video and in-depth match analysis and statistics. IBM also boosted and improved apps it has developed for the USTA for the iPhone and Android platforms, with a scrolling timeline that keeps fans informed of new, trending social topics, match photos and more.
While few businesses may ever have to deliver so much functionality to so many people in such a short timeframe, the ongoing needs of the USTA aren't all that different from those of many midsize businesses. Capacity must be scalable and easy to manage. Users need to provision their own services without expensive personalized support. Content must be easily shareable to drive awareness and audience growth. And all this must be done on a budget that only a nonprofit can love. IBM is helping make it possible.
Learn more about the IBM technology supporting the US Open at http://www.ibm.com/usopen.