IBM delivers the experience at Wimbledon 2015

2015 Wimbledon - Henman Hill

The picture above is of a landmark that’s well known by fans of the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament that is taking place in London right now.

It’s Henman Hill, the grassy mound smack in the middle of the Wimbledon venue, nicknamed thus for the now-retired British player Tim Henman. It’s packed with people – and usually more than than you see here – enjoying the live tennis on huge screens at the side of Number 1 Court to the right, just out of the view, or having a picnic in the glorious summer sunshine.

I took the picture when I was there last week, on June 30, the second day of the championships. I was there not so much to see the tennis, more to get to know about the technology behind the event that makes the tennis an enveloping experience combining the audio-visual live-action that you see and hear at Wimbledon itself; and on TV screens, computer monitors, tablets and smartphones wherever you are in the world with a network connection, along with data-driven information that adds enrichment to your experience.

I was there to find out about that last bit – the data that adds the enrichment – thanks to an invitation from Andrew Grill, Global Managing Partner in IBM’s Social Consulting business. IBM is Wimbledon’s prime technology partner, a rather dry phrase that somewhat under-states the role IBM plays largely behind the scenes in enabling that enrichment I mentioned.

And so I arrived at Gate 5 to meet Andrew, suitably attired for the occasion.

It was a blisteringly hot day on Tuesday last week, with temperatures in the afternoon well in excess of 33 degrees Celsius. The cool air-conditioned and climate-controlled interior of the IBM Bunker, the first port of call on our Wimbledon tour, was a most welcome respite from the heat and humidity outside.

Deep beneath the media centre building, the IBM Bunker is the central hub of IBM’s data services for Wimbledon. Our bunker guide was Sam Seddon, IBM’s Wimbledon Client and Programme Executive. In plain English, he’s the man responsible for managing the end-to-end delivery of the technical solutions that IBM provides to The Championships.

One end of those technical solutions is the rack of servers that funnel data to the screens of a dozen or more IBM engineers in the bunker who are the sharp end, so to speak, of analysing and extracting insights from the huge amounts of data generated from the activities across the 19 courts of the Wimbledon complex, to be used by the match commentators, the TV broadcasters and internet video feeds, on the website – built and maintained by IBM – and to the apps people install on their mobile devices.

From here, data is also provided to the media in the media centre that helps them build their commentaries and stories. There is so much data, says Sam, that IBM has people in every court who are able to help presenters and reporters construct their stories and reporting through helping them understand what the data can tell them.

2015 Wimbledon - IBM Bunker

Data analytics is a key part of what IBM does here – and an aspect I was keen to know more about – along with social media analysis and reporting. The picture above shows two of the team of engineers who pay attention to what’s happening across the web.

Note in particular the monitor with screen in purple/white at top left, displaying some metrics about website visitors the day before my visit. 2,365,398 total unique visitors to on June 29, it says. Project that out across the two weeks of these championships, and you’ll get a number probably far north of 30 million.

Sam told us that data from Wimbledon’s 19 courts comes into this room. That includes data created from tennis experts and others stationed at each court who capture datapoints like the speed of each player’s serve which they input into the system as quickly as possible. The target is to be 100% accurate, says Sam, as well as quick. Last year about 3.2 million datapoints were captured, he says.

With at least two people per court, three on the smaller ones, that’s well over 40 people who are capturing every movement of every player and entering that data into the IBM system for analysis and insight-creation, which is where the TV commentators, etc, I mentioned get the real value.

Data is the raw material: it’s the insights gleaned from analysis of that raw material that really matter.

2015 Wimbledon - IBM Bunker

Website security is paramount: the above shows part of the security team of engineers who keep an eye on the IBM cloud servers around the world to ensure “digital Wimbledon” stays up 24/7.

One of the amazing things about the IBM Bunker is that it exists only for the fortnight of the Wimbledon Championships. All that tech, all that engineering skill, all that talent, it comes together in Wimbledon each year for less than two weeks.

Yet it’s part and parcel of what IBM delivers to its primary customer, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club which owns Wimbledon, and in turn the broadcasters and others who produce the content that you see (and interact with) on your TV, computer, mobile device, etc. Not only that, IBM also provides the players with data insights on their quality of play and more that enable them to analyse their performance in every match. That must be exceptionally useful and valuable to them.

And I heard about and saw a great deal of IBM Watson, what IBM describes as “a cognitive system that enables a new partnership between people and computers that enhances, scales and accelerates human expertise.” I think of it as a sort of a digital Mechanical Turk that answers questions when you type them in.

That’s not to make fun of it. On the contrary, this is sophisticated technology that does some simple-looking things quickly, and learns more every time you ask it a question. You can ask relatively simple tennis-related questions – eg, “when is Andy Murray’s next match?” – and get an answer pretty quickly. Sam told me that the plan is to develop Watson so that TV commentators and others can ask it anything related to what they’re talking about at that moment, to dig up myriad facts, with relevant context.

Smart stuff.

We continued our tour with a conversation with some of IBM’s social media team, which opened my eyes (ears) to the importance and measurable value of the strategic use of social media where data analysis leading to valuable insights is paramount. It also demonstrated clearly to me that if you are to deploy social media in your business, you really must have the right skilled and talented people who can measure it and interpret outcomes – the missing link I see too often in some companies large and small.

During our bunker tour – and, indeed, for much of our overall time at Wimbledon – my host Andrew Grill video-recorded just about everything. So coming soon on this blog will be some additional posts with further narrative from me plus embedded videos that will give you the detail of Sam Seddon’s commentary with some fascinating insights into the detail of data analytics and social media analysis at Wimbledon, as well as additional commentary from other IBM experts.

In fact, here’s Andrew on the roof of the media centre with that camcorder!

2015 Wimbledon - Andrew Grill

It was a tremendous afternoon and I thank Andrew and Sam especially.

And we did get to actually see something of the tennis, in case you were wondering about the ticket I had clutched in my hand when arriving at the venue (as shown in Andrew’s tweet, above). Not seated in any of the courts, you understand, more peeking over the shoulders of IBM’s tennis experts during their datapoint captures.

A bit like this bird’s eye view from the box on Court Number 1 which we got to just as the match between Rafael Nadal and Thomaz Bellucci ended. (Nadal won.)

2015 Wimbledon - Court No 1 bird's eye view

For different perspectives on IBM’s Wimbledon tech, here are some very good mainstream media reports on this year’s Wimbledon:

And look out for more content here with those videos I mentioned. Subscribe to the RSS feed so you’ll get those posts automatically.

All the pictures I took at Wimbledon are in an album on Flickr. All shot on a Samsung Galaxy S4. Pretty good camera on that device.

The arrival of the dystopian workplace

1984 Big Brother

Maybe it’s because I’m currently reading 1984 by George Orwell on my Kindle – the first time I’ve read the book since the early 1980s – but this report in The Wall Street Journal that an IBM security tool can flag “disgruntled employees” struck me as a bit,  well, Orwellian.

[…] The new tool, called IBM Security Intelligence with Big Data, is designed to crunch decades worth of emails, financial transactions and website traffic, to detect patterns of security threats and fraud. Beyond its more conventional threat prevention applications, the new platform, based on Hadoop, a framework that processes data-intensive queries across clusters of computers, will allow CIOs to conduct sentiment analysis on employee emails to determine which employees are likely to leak company data, [Sandy Bird, chief technology officer of IBM’s security systems division] said. That capability will look at the difference between how an employee talks about work with a colleague and how that employee discusses work on public social media platforms, flagging workers who may be nursing grudges and are more likely to divulge company information. “By analyzing email you can say this guy is a disgruntled employee and the chance that he would be leaking data would be greater,” Mr Bird said of IBM’s new tool.

Computer software that predicts or suggests human behaviour in a workplace could have immense value in their function  of crunching data to enable the humans to make the judgements.

[…] For example, a company could analyze employee emails that express a positive sentiment to a manager at work, but detect “when he’s talking to a peer or someone outside the company, the sentiment comes out a little different,” Mr. Bird said.  Such a pattern, combined with other factors, could cause an employee to be flagged for more investigation by an IT team.

Yet if a tool such as IBM’s makes it faster, cheaper and more efficient to get to a conclusion, then I can see the time when crucial decisions about you and what you have said are made by a computer.

Inevitable dystopia? Discuss!

The prime hurdles of social business

valueThe notion of an organization being a “social business” is one that’s been talked about for the past few years, often focusing on social media tools and channels  – social networks, Twitter, blogs, etc – that people can use to connect with other people in a manner that’s more authentic that the rigidity, formality and control of marketing and public relations and instead is, well, social.

The concept has evolved quickly and today, more influential voices are looking closely at people’s behaviours, organization structure and culture as the more important – indeed, critical – issues to address.

These are the keys to an organization genuinely being a social business.

Why is this important? Look at it this way.

It’s all very well having some of your customer service team actively talking to customers in places like Twitter and Facebook, where actual relationships can develop, and word of mouth can quickly spread news about people’s good experiences as they get their problems easily and quickly addressed.

What about the traditional customer channels? Does the customer service call centre match the positive (typically) outcomes customers and others experience in talking informally and naturally to service staff?

Typically, the answer to that is a resounding no. You’ll know that yourself, for instance, if you’ve ever engaged with people on a company’s Twitter handle and compared that experience with what you get when you call their customer service number.

Mind the gap!

One of the most influential companies taking a strong and focused message about social business and what the organization needs to do to become one is IBM. (Recommended reading: their report “The business of social business” [reg required]. You don’t have to be an ‘enterprise’ to gain value and benefit from the ideas and thinking illustrated in this report.)

This infographic posted a few days ago on their Smarter Planet blog, highlighting the use of social technologies from IBM’s recent global survey about social business, makes the point well in concisely identifying the primary hurdles organizations need to address. Look at the bottom of the infographic.


Concisely, it states the four elements in a foundation that needs to be in place for an organization to become a social business:

  1. Provide an infrastructure for engagement.
  2. Integrate social practices into day-to-day work activities.
  3. Understand where and how data generation could benefit the company.
  4. Teach employees how to collaborate effectively with people outside the organization.

Guest blogger Mark Fidelman is spot on in what he identifies:

[…] It’s clear that social business has transformed from a nice-to-have to a necessity for organizations to remain competitive. A lot of progress has been made, but there’s still a lot more work to do. Social business is about recognizing that the game has changed in business. No longer do the winners hoard information in silos or ignore the crowd’s input. The future is filled with sharing, collaborating and sourcing new ideas and innovations from inside and outside an organization.

It’s a construction site out there.  Do you have your blueprints?

Related posts:

IBM develops mobile apps for Wimbledon

wimbledoniphoneapp If you’re a Wimbledon fan and you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, and you want to keep up with what’s happening at this year’s tennis championship no matter where you happen to be, there’s a treat in store for you.

Just head over to the App Store and install the Wimbledon iPhone Application.

It’s free and works on an iPhone running the new OS 3.0 (I have it installed). The minimum requirement is OS 2.0.

I’m not a huge tennis nor Wimbledon fan but I love this app and being able to check what’s happening at any moment. In using it now and again over the past couple of days, I note that information is being updated pretty regularly.

As a result, I’m becoming confident that I’ll be able to get timely news and results close to when it all happens at Wimbledon, from wherever I happen to be.

As you’ll see from the screenshots on Flickr, the app gives you news, scores, match schedules, draws timeline and videos (these are especially good) via touch points at the bottom of the iPhone screen.

I like the consistent branding in colours and logo, both for Wimbledon itself as well as how sponsor IBM has integrated its logo discreetly into the overall Wimbledon branding.

This is an excellent app. If I had one niggle, it would be that the font used is a bit on the small side for my squinty eyes that need glasses: it would be great if there were a setting to adjust the type size.

An app for the iPhone isn’t all that IBM’s developers have created, though.

Check out the Mobile Services page on the Wimbledon website – lots more there including the IBM Seer. What is it? This from IBM’s press release last week:

[…] The Seer Aggregator is a downloadable Twitter application enabling fans to receive specific Wimbledon real-time ‘tweets’ from a variety sources, including players, commentators and a team of IBM scouts at the event.

I have that installed on my Nokia N95 8GB from where these screenshots come (notice the one with a tweet from Serena Williams).

There’s also an augmented reality experiment with IBM Seer beta for G1 and G2 Android phones (find where the strawberries are!) – check out this video and blog post that clearly explains what it is and how it works.

And with a game for mobile, there’s plenty about Wimbledon 2009 to keep you informed and entertained for the duration of the championship, from June 22-July 5, wherever you happen to be.

Two words to all the app developers: Nice job!