by Jennifer O'Brien

Australian Rugby Union enters new ‘phase of play’ with collaborative facility

Jun 21, 2017
Cloud Computing

After 18 months of extensive collaborative work, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is set to move into its new digs: a five-and-a-half storey ‘state-of-the-art’ facility in Sydney’s Moore Park on October 17. The facility, dubbed the Australian Rugby Development Centre, offers souped up collaboration and communications technologies.

The facility will act as the national headquarters and training base for the Qantas Wallabies, Buildcorp Wallaroos, Qantas Australian Men’s and Women’s Sevens and junior representative teams, bringing together national teams and administration to one central location.

“It is a really exciting time for us,” said ARU head of technology Kevin Stafford, who said the project assembled a varied group of people including a five-person internal tech team, a mix of consultants, building managers and other collaborators who also delved into security, power and data requirements.

“It is the first time we’ve had a blank canvas to really go into, really take advantage of, and push forward with making things better for us,” he told CIO Australia.

“It has been quite full on. There are a lot of things where it is not my day-to-day in terms of building a new building, and all the things that come with it. It has been a massive shock to the system in terms of all the people involved.”

Stafford said a big consideration when planning the new facility was in creating an environment that would help foster a ‘changed way of working’: a more collaborative and agile workplace environment.

“As part of this building move, we’ve taken the opportunity to actually refocus the way we work. We are moving to more of an ‘activity-based’ working environment. Everyone in our business is very much on the road anyway – it is just the nature of the business. So it made sense to put some parameters around it and change the way we work so that it is activity-based working.”

Australian Rugby Development Centre

In that vein, ARU engaged Crestron to provide audio, digital media, unified communications, wireless presentations and intelligent meeting room systems under a two-year agreement.

“Time is of the essence – which is so true in sport. We just needed the ability to talk into any of the rooms – whether you are a community person doing a presentation or whether you are the Wallabies doing a post-match review – the requirements are actually quite different,” Stafford said.

“We realised quite quickly that we needed a solution that could link all of these AV systems and everything else which we use for collaboration and communication. We needed something that was going to manage that and give us the best outcome.

“We wanted to be able to give people the ability to come into any area, at any time, and be able to use the facilities as best they can without taking a long time to get things up and running.”

He said the technology does just that, letting people walk into any meeting space and wirelessly present PowerPoint, Excel, and Word documents, PDFs, photos, and screenshots from a personal iOS or Android mobile device on the room display. Mac and Windows notebooks can also connect seamlessly.

“You can walk into a room and you are up on a screen within 30 seconds, and have a meeting with your whole team, even though they are spread across the whole state, country or even the world. That ability is second to none when we were looking to change the way we work.”

A UC and AV all-in-one tabletop system also supports any web collaboration application such as Skype for Business.

Meeting needs

Meanwhile, on the overall building planning front, he said there were a number of factors to consider including gym requirements, pitch requirements, all the way through to general administrative staff requirements as well as finance, community and operations.

“There is a really wide mix of requirements for the building – and it actually made it quite challenging when you were trying to plan out all of the different areas and what you needed to do for the different people using the different areas.”

Stafford said there is deskspace for 140 staff, along with a medical department, an analysis room, a high-performance area, a gym, a running track, a pitch, a player’s sleeping quarters, and a general office area.

Indoor pitch areas, for example, are surrounded by cameras to capture varied angles and offer instant feedback to coaches and players. “The analyst can plug in and be able to get instant feedback on what’s happening on the pitch and tune into different angles of that,” he explained.

The technology enables video feeds to be captured of the team training from cameras in the indoor sports centre, which can be instantly sent through to meeting rooms for advisors and consultants to view/analyse in real-time and playback.

Admittedly, Stafford said ARU did a lot of preparatory work in shifting to this ‘new way of working’.

“We really needed to do a lot of work around how we work as a business to enable this activity-based working. We’ve done a lot of work around moving to the cloud and enabling people to be as productive as they can from outside the office as they would be from inside the office.”

He said the organisation is predominantly using AWS and a bit of Azure. “We are spread across the two. We use AWS mostly in terms of storing footage. We recently moved our file servers, our department internal servers to Dropbox for Business. They have some new functionality which was released earlier this year, which is enabling us to get that real mobility to our files and the way we work.”

The Crestron Fusion Cloud system provides real-time visibility into enterprises’ meeting spaces and building technology, down to the individual room and device levels. The organisation also uses cloud-based Salesforce and NetSuite software, which are connected using the Mulesoft integration platform.

“It is all going cloud-based. We have a datacentre at Equinix. We have gone down from two to one, and we will be getting rid of that one rack in January. We will be moving fully away from the datacentre environment, and moving totally to a cloud-based or hybrid cloud-based environment for a lot of our servers.”

Power of data

Asked his next steps, he said he’s continuing to invest in the organisation’s data strategy – what he considers the next wave of innovation in sports performance.

“We are doing a lot with data at the moment. We are putting data back into the hands of players and the coaches. The things that would have taken a long time to analyse before, we’re putting all of that into a data warehouse. We are working with Accenture on that.

“We have built our big data warehouse fully structured for some hard core analytics and e-learning. We just completed the first phase of that project, which is pulling all of those disparate systems – and different data sources we use across high-performance – into this single data warehouse which is allowing us to pull a lot of analytics across it.”

He said the benefits of pooling the data into a single point means, for example, that the ‘strength and conditioning’ coaches and the ‘performance coaches’ who focus on the rugby side of things no longer have to be siloed and isolated in their area of focus.

“We are bringing all of that together and seeing how the strength and conditioning data affects the performance data and being able to merge that all into one single view , and give the coaches that art their fingertips is a real benefit. Whereas before, it was a lot of manual processes to analyse that data and then correlate it for analysis.”

Additionally, he said the ARU is bringing its community website into a new CMS system.

“This will make things easier for the consumer. We want people to be able to rock up and don’t have any barriers to entry for interacting with rugby. Wen want to really push that engagement with the fan and the consumers (the participants). Make their lives as easy as possible, and give them everything at their fingertips.”