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Performance analytics in business and sport

Picture by Matt Gore/icon
PGA Tour golf coaches Hugh Marr, Mark Bull and Matt Antel

As the world’s best golfers prepare to tee it up at Augusta National, we examine how the professional athlete or business technology leader requires information to drive insight.

Written by Mark Chillingworth

Many business technology leaders draw parallels with their world and that of professional sport. Recently a WhatsApp group for CIOs and CTOs had the most informed debate about Claudio Ranieri’s sacking from Leicester City as the manager of the football club. Whether a professional athlete or a business technology leader, high performance requires information that drives insight. With insight the athlete or organisation can improve its performance.

Gathering information to create insight is one of the great opportunities CIOs have today. In sport Formula One is famous for the data it draws down from the cars to improve performance. The recent successes of the Team GB and British Cycling in the Olympics and the Tour de France have been in part due to a focus on marginal gains, lots of small incremental improvements adding up to an overall success. Transformational CTOs are taking the same approach to helping their organisations modernise and adapt to the new economy.

Cambridge innovators Intergence provide the data collection and analytics services a CIO needs to gain insight into how they incrementally improve the performance of their organisation and ultimately the customer service.

Intergence CEO Peter Job is a keen golfer and became a metaphor for the modern enterprise. Job was wired up to sensors by Mark Bull and Hugh Marr, two of the UK’s leading coaches to professional tour golf players. Job had every element of his golfing abilities analysed using sensors, visualisation and radar technology.

Job begins his golfing podcast experience facing a range from inside a studio and surrounded by technology, initially Job fires shots across the Surrey hills watched not only by the experienced eye of golf pro coach Hugh Marr, but also a set of grey oblongs placed on the floor. These TrackMan devices are radars and analyse the outcomes of Job’s golf. Then Mark Bull, another leading coach to the professional golfing circuit straps a set of sensors to Job and then tracks around Job’s body with a digital pen, which plots the CEO’s body onto a PC screen creating on the screen a visualisation skeleton grasping a golf club.

“What we have got to figure out is how the club moves and the real interest for me is what is making it happen that way. It is what I call the point of failure versus the point of interest,”

“My role is to figure out why you do these things and look at the feedback Hugh provides you,” Bull says as he creates the skeleton image. “It could be anatomical, it might be conceptual or someone else’s feedback, all of this decides how you see the planet,” Bull says of how data informs the coaching they provide.

“I’m plotting around your body anatomically. The way that motion capture works is that there is a big magnetic field around you, the system knows where the sensors are and we can track how you move.

“What we have got to figure out is how the club moves and the real interest for me is what is making it happen that way. It is what I call the point of failure versus the point of interest,” Bull says of the way the coaches analyse data to find iterative improvements in the process that is striking a ball and ultimately delivering victory to the player.

“There are parallels with the CEO and CIO’s world, as you have to try and manage what you have at the time,” CEO Job says of the similarities with analysing a sport and analysing a business process.

“We all have these problems. The rotation through the spine, that is a habitual problem that we have. A forward head posture or a rounded spine position all change the options that the spine has and it changes the rotational abilities of the spine. Like all good humans you find a way from here to there,” Bull explains of how a body works around its own problems to deliver a result, but that result is not enough to win a game. In conversation Job of Intergence explains all businesses are the same, there are weaknesses in the posture or spine of the business processes or technology and good organisations find work arounds, whether it is shadow IT or teams working in a non-orthodox method, but in today’s economy that can weaken the organisation to compete.

Analytics in golf and business

“Information gathering cannot be confused with the coaching,” Marr says. “The anti-technology brigade think that the technology make golf too generic. I would argue the other way, we are now able to take it down to two or three sized key aspects that are very very specific to a player. Technology can do way more damage in the wrong hands.”

“It must be information that relates to the client’s question, let’s use the information to resolve that question,” Bull adds.

“We analyse data and where it flows and how many applications are on the estate and we can match that to the process for transformation. Our offering Stratiam is a framework that allows you to correlate lots of different data sources into a single view,” Job says, juxtaposing how understanding a golf swing aiming to win is identical to understanding technology performance aiming to move into a set of new digital processes. CIO advisor Jerry Fishenden has often remarked how too often transformation projects have taken an existing process and just digitised it, rather than understood a business process and changed it.

“When we analyse a player’s game we are looking at their skill level across a spectrum and we can isolate skills and then look at that in a micro-level, so rather than jumping to where we see a problem, we work back to the root cause of the problem as that is the earliest point we can intervene.”

Analysis to self help

“We help players understand how they breakdown,” Marr says. “That helps the player self manage more effectively to make sure that the breakdown is not as severe next time, or that they get out of that slump more quickly, for me it identifies a golfer’s fingerprint.”

Trackman gives data of Peter’s swing speed, angle of attack, face angle , amount of spin imparted on the ball and other key factors that affected the outcome of the shot.

Fellow coach Matt Antell adds: “When we analyse a player’s game we are looking at their skill level across a spectrum and we can isolate skills and then look at that in a micro-level, so rather than jumping to where we see a problem, we work back to the root cause of the problem as that is the earliest point we can intervene.”

“Any IT system that breaks down, the first thing we get asked is: what has changed?” Job adds; “Then we get asked for the historic data to see what has changed,” but many organisations that Intergence has dealt with are not able to trace across their entire estate and therefore identify the root cause of the problem as the golf coaches do. “IT should be able to measure itself. In many cases where there is a breakdown there is not a good audit trail,” Job says, adding not only when things go wrong, but also to know and be able to communicate its successes.

“There is a lot of data, the real skill is tracking that to give some really useful tips to improve across the game,” Job tells the coaches.

“For long term gains the audit trail is crucial so you can retrace your steps so the player can drive his own game because once they are out in the game the player has to be able to self manage,” Marr says in language common to many business challenges.

“Lots of businesses are going through digital transformation, but if the business hasn’t audited where you are at the beginning then how can it improve?” Job says.

“Change goes in every direction and it can be very disruptive,” Bull says. “Disruption in golf is very good, you are changing the neural code of the game.” Job agrees and says the three coaches made very minor changes to his game, which “felt strange” but he says it is the same for CIOs. “In business sometimes the small changes are the ones that find the strengths, but can have the biggest impact,” Job says.

“The most effective coaches are not the best at spotting a failure they are the best at spotting the cause of a failure and that is when you make a fundamental impact,” Marr says.

This scribe has had many conversations with organisations that have struggled with transformation due to challenges with their people. These may be caused by cultural problems, failure to communicate or a lack of awareness of the potential of opportunities and threats.

“Digital transformation is as much about people as it is technology and if you are empowering people and make them feel good then you are going to get much higher performance from them,” Job says of using information to celebrate success, identify weakness and coach members of your team.

“It is always about the people. If technology can help you work better with the people we have then you are onto a winner,” Marr agrees.

“What we are able to do now through the information is good clear diagnostics and provide a better answers to Peter’s question,” Bull says of how data has to be used to help those people issues.

“It is now about you and how do we get emotion into the information,” Bull says of the importance of not allowing data to remove the need for emotional response. Leading transformational CIOs such as Anna Barsby, Sarah Flannigan and Stephen Kneebone have achieved major success by engaging with the emotional response of their teams.

“We are trying to get the engagement back with the end user and customer and that often gets lost when a team is not in touch with the customer, just look at what has happened with the latest version of LinkedIn,” Job says.

Job’s coaching session concludes with the CEO having to trigger an audible cue that he has the optimum position that the coaches have discovered. A series of shots are faster, higher and straighter.
“That is the outcome and that is the only bit that matters.”


Produced in association with intergence

Mark Bull
Hugh Marr
Matt Antel


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