by Edward Qualtrough

ECB Head of IT Damian Smith using Big Data to win on and off the cricket square

Nov 15, 2017
Media and Entertainment IndustryMobile Apps

England and Wales Cricket Board Head of IT, Damian Smith, has been utilising a data lake to attract new audiences and players to the game, while also improving performance analysis for the national selectors.

Smith was discussing the ECB’s data analytics initiatives at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona during his presentation Three ways England cricket uses Big Data to win. Outlining his role Smith said that his remit encompassed every system which supports the grassroots of the game right through to elite performance biomechanical tools for England internationals.

“I’m responsible for some really cool systems,” he said. “Biomechanical analysis, video analysis, biometric systems, radar technology which assesses the telemetry of a cricket ball. Devices and wearables on players which tell us how much stress they are under – all systems to support the elite end of the game.”

As the national governing body for cricket in England and Wales, and one which does not own a flagship venue like Twickenham or Wembley, the ECB also supports systems which run the professional game including matches and tournaments, media accreditation, the fan experience and also high-density WiFi for spectators – as well as the recreational and local league game, anti-corruption and anti-doping, and the business systems for the governing body itself.

ECB as a social network

Smith said that one of the biggest challenges for the organisation and his role was knowing where to prioritise and focus its effort to fulfil its mission as a major sport’s national governing body.

“I’ve been saying national governing bodies have the same business models as Facebook,” Smith said of the idea that if an individual is not paying for something they are in some ways the product rather than the customer.

“Our product is our participants. The more participants we have, the more value we can generate from the game and invest in the game. The more we know about them, the more we can extract from the government, sponsors and broadcasters.

“We need to keep reinventing ourselves to maintain an interest in cricket, to attract new audiences to the game. Once you have made that link, it is absolutely fundamental to capture as much data as possible about the way people are participating in the game.”

Smith said that traditional way of working, finding out information and analysing that data, didn’t work through the previous business intelligence route of searching for data in a data warehouse.

Data lake

In order to address this, Smith and the ECB created a data lake architecture and turned a process that took between three and six months into one that took hours and was all hosted in the Google Cloud Platform, in a system architected by IT consulting organisation Pythian using Cloudera Hadoop software.

Using this platform, data is available immediately and people able to produce the right analytics within the hour according to Smith.

“You take away all the bottlenecks which restricts you from doing this,” he said.

The ECB’s major learning was that its users did not want the delivery of information through BI tools or want to wrestle with a business intelligence product, and instead the organisation was delivering all of its insight in the form of apps.

Smith outlined three examples of putting data analytics capabilities in the hands of ECB users via applications.

England selection and new audiences

At the elite level, they managed to give access to Big Data to the kind of people who might not otherwise have wanted to use it – the England team selectors. “They became evidence-based rather than gut-feel based,” Smith said. “We are proving the old methodology is wrong, putting information in the form of an app in the hands of selectors so they can ask proper questions and get proper answers about who is good in certain situations.”

Head of IT Smith, whose speaker bio at the Gartner Symposium shared he had starred as a Tom Cruise body double in Hollywood movies, also revealed how the ECB had managed to overlay public domain data about planning applications and proposed developments in London which might put cricket pitches and facilities in danger, and direct their participation efforts on clubs and schools in those areas to either engage in the planning process or help arrange alternative accommodation for if those facilities were lost.

Finally, Smith said that the ECB recognises it has a problem with its core audience being “pale, male and stale”, but that the 2017 Women’s World Cup held in England and Wales in June and June had been a massive boon for the ECB in attracting new audiences to the game, particularly families, children and more women. With its new upcoming city-based Twenty20 competition, Smith said that the ECB “now has the insight and the capability to be able to understand how to attract those new audiences”.