Importance of a Plan When it Comes to Data

Justin Butler, Sr. Director of Technology, Minnesota Timberwolves
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Justin Butler, Sr. Director of Technology, Minnesota Timberwolves

Justin Butler, Sr. Director of Technology, Minnesota Timberwolves

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with coining the phrase, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”. This especially rings true when dealing with data. Your favorite professional sports team, your collegiate alma mater, and even today some of your more sports focused prep schools are all focused on collecting as much data on players as possible. The amount of data can be over whelming to store, sort, and make available to staff. This data can often consist of statistical player and team data, video edits for coaching staff on their own team or their upcoming opponent, medical and training data on players, draft data on collegiate or foreign player, data on blue chip incoming freshman they are recruiting, or even at the pro levels tracking players from high school to college to the pros. The more in depth and robust the data you can collect over time, the more informed the decision-making process can be.

Just like any other business the process starts with where do you want to store the data, is your organization going to store it in the cloud or keep it on premise. Teams over the last couple of years have shown a greater willingness to consider or use cloud services such as Microsoft’s Azure Services or Amazon’s Web Services to store their data. The organizations that have made the switch to the cloud have reported seeing a higher rate of success in being able to connect their analytics programs to the data, and being able to centralize all their data into one database when setting up or migrating into the cloud. Whether this is as simple as teams or schools having a chance just to rethink and rebuild their databases, being able to utilize APIs to connect their data to their programs, or leveraging the high performance computing that these cloud platforms are able to provide to be able to crunch through all that data. What once was an easy foregone decision of just keeping the data on premise is now a more strategic decision around resources you want to apply to it.

  ​The more in depth and robust the data you can collect over time, the more informed the decision-making process can be   

Once you have landed on how you are going to store your data, now you need to be able to organize your data into what we call actionable data. Too often we get focused in on just trying to collect this data, but then once we have it we are not quite sure how we want to extract value out of the data to benefit our decision making. Sometimes it has to do with not trusting the way we interpret the data, or sometimes it is not automating the process so we are unable to quickly extract the data we want. There can be a lot of hindrances to creating true actionable data, and this can be a journey for a lot of teams. The journey often starts out from making decisions just based on your gut and the eye test, to starting to use historical data to gleam information from, and then finally trusting the data to help make real time decisions. So, whether they are using in house statistical expertise to model and analyze the data, or out sourcing it to an academic or industry consultant to help them it often takes a considerable amount of time to begin to get to your actionable data.

Now that we have stored our data and have started to create actionable data, we need to be able to present it. For a lot of organizations historically this meant coming up with your own paper reporting system, and for your more advanced teams some kind of home grown software solution to display this on. However, as sports technology has become big business companies such as IBM and Microsoft among many others have entered the space with their offerings. IBM leveraging their Watson platform has teamed up with the Toronto Raptors to deliver some eye-popping data analysis for their war room and front office staff. Think of almost a Minority Reports meets sports, with being able to collaborate around a table and then throwing the data or results up to another large screen monitor on a wall to continue the collaboration. Microsoft, using their Team and Player Performance platform, has teamed up with several teams including Seattle Reign FC and Real Madrid to help provide these teams with an overall view of the team and each player from more of a health and wellness perspective, as well as helping to prepare their players with video collaboration and editing. Being able to get this data in front of coaches, front office staff, training staff, and the players in an easy to read and understand format has never been more important as the amount of data we collect continues to grow exponentially.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” That is our challenge when it comes to data. Can we collect, can we store, can we extract actionable data, and can we present it in such a way that it is understandable so that our teams, staff, and players are able to make better decisions when the time comes to use it.

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