Achieving Success with the Right People

Neil Weiss, SVP and CIO, Cleveland Indians
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Neil Weiss, SVP and CIO, Cleveland Indians

When it comes to technology insights and analysis in professional sports, it seems as if more often than not the conversation will center on the same hot topics found at any given mega-conference being held that year. Bold, bright and sometimes scary headlines will adorn an article or a booth like “Move to the Cloud – What’s Your Return?” or “Are you doing enough to protect your data?” These topics and others like them are prevalent because they are in fact important and critical path to business operations and continuity in this current cycle of tech growth, but let us be honest, they can be pretty tiresome as well.

  â€‹Here is something not new and not revolutionary but very much the most impactful decision any CIO can make—hire, develop and empower the right people   

Here is something not new and not revolutionary but very much the most impactful decision any CIO can make—hire, develop and empower the right people. Artificial intelligence is awesome, machine learning is cool and virtual reality is arriving for real, but let us not forget the true engines that drive technology—software engineers, system and business analysts, network engineers, data architects, help desk analysts, project managers, quality assurance engineers, etc. As fresh new tech revolutionizes what you can buy, build, download and install, a continued appreciation for your people and how you can help them grow and evolve with the times is the best strategy a CIO can employ.

Our ballparks, arenas and stadiums are now bursting with technology that serves a multitude of entertainment and operational needs for fans and players alike and our technologists, those developers and analysts that work in an industry that was not necessarily always on the leading edge, are now making up for lost time, leapfrogging to the bleeding edge. Take for example our insatiable consumption of data to connect people to their purchases and preferences. In most cases, the developers are calling APIs and leveraging services that are not necessarily unique in structure from any other industry, but their understanding of how that data can be used to deliver a better fan experience and meet the changing expectations of today’s patron is what makes the real difference. This is why having people with the right business savvy and customer-facing motivations is every bit as important as their technology expertise. An example would be the delivery of a mobile-only ticket type that acts like a Flash Sale. The use case goes like this: an organization offers a seat at that day’s event for a specific price, while supplies last, delivered only via their mobile application (you can’t print the ticket or post it to a secondary market). In order to drive demand, a push notification is sent to a list of known, registered users (they have accepted some T’s and C’s at some point) that deep links into the mobile application, where they make their purchase and the ticket barcodes are either immediately available for use or display is delayed until closer to gametime (further secondary market prevention). The mechanisms behind making this work—identify users, push notifications, link to application, call ticketing platform for availability, reserve the seat, charge a payment method, consume tickets and display them—require smart and capable developers, but it is the people who truly understand what patrons want, design, and implement the best possible solution. For instance, designing to a personalized workflow that pushes a specific seat or section to a specific person based on what we know of their engagement habits and preferences assumes a level of due diligence in a business intelligence environment. Those with a wide-breadth of expertise and an understanding of an organization’s strategic objectives can both design the solution and aim it at the right customers.

The role of the CIO has changed in many ways over the past 10 or more years, but the quest to build and empower great teams has not. When it comes to hiring, I have learned two important lessons over this time: 1) look for a very wide breadth of knowledge and 2) don’t be afraid to hire, and then train, under-qualified but high-ceiling individuals. Early on my general thought process as a hiring manager was fairly traditional—find the best qualified person with the most experience for a specific role and hire her/him. While this is still applicable to a large extent, what I learned is that focusing too narrowly on the deepest vertical of expertise often came at the expense of missing those people who had touched a wide variety of areas and could bring a non-myopic view to any given task or project that is sometimes missing from IT departments. This slight shift in hiring perspective has led me to find resources that can easily bridge the gap with departments across the organization, as well as people who are more in tune with a customer-centric mentality. Secondly, when it comes to the “readiness” of a new-hire to participate and produce Day 1, I learned that you hire the person first and their capabilities second—in the best scenario, both are best in class, but do not be afraid to take a chance on a smart, motivated, quick learner that needs support and development to reach her/his high water mark, even if the short-term is sacrificed a bit for longer term excellence. 

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