by Hamish Barwick

Serving up faster websites

Jun 03, 20146 mins
Technology Industry

Managing the needs of high-profile tennis stars such as Lleyton Hewitt, along with members of the public who expect websites to load within seconds, led Tennis Australia to implement online application performance and monitoring in time for the Australian Open in January 2014.

The national tennis body monitored three websites: The players site, which is used by tennis players to manage their schedule during the gruelling Australian Open tournament; along with and MyTennis sites, which tennis fans access for information during the Open.

“We were looking into some technology that would help us accelerate the resolution time when issues occur,” Tennis Australia CIO, Samir Mahir, told CIO. “The first people that experience [website] issues are the end users. They will contact you if you’re lucky and tell you something is wrong. The worst thing is they will leave the website. My challenge was: How do I fix this?”

Remasys EAGLE-i was selected to provide end-user experience monitoring. The scope included application performance and availability monitoring. According to Mahir, Tennis Australia has cut its issue management process by 50 per cent by investigating application and performance problems.

“Sometimes that issue is due to performance issues on the sites: You rollout a source code change and you start getting feedback [from users] that the site is slow,” he explained. “It’s not obvious to the engineers or system administrators. It [the change] could be something that’s rolled out by a developer but maybe the code is asking for more requests which impacts the loading of certain [website] pages.”

The solution was deployed in time for the Australian Open in January 2014. According to Mahir, IT staff noticed a significant change – tennis fans and players were staying on certain sections of the three websites up to 30 per cent longer.

“People will leave the site if there is a slight issue or it takes longer to load. Nobody is patient these days,” he said. However, Mahir wants to get this percentage of visitors staying longer up for the 2015 Australian Open.

“We have to, because the longer our users spend on our sites the better it is for us. For example, the Players website is where they [the players] get their practice schedule, information about events and players can communicate with the staff as well,” Mahir said. “Players can also submit requests of what they need such as practice courts.”

Player feedback

According to Mahir, it received “very positive feedback” from the athletes about the Players site along with some suggestions for 2015. For example, players said they could find things more quickly and website loads speeds were better than previous years.

Players also asked if they could book things online through the site. For example, if the player is offsite somewhere in Australia or still travelling overseas, they wanted to book a court to get in practice time when they arrived in Melbourne.

“Right now, players make a [court practice] request, they come in and we book it for them. We want to try and automate certain services [on the Players site] so that it automatically ticks their request,” Mahir said.

The Open 2014 was memorable for Mahir due to a heatwave which hit Melbourne and the wider Victoria state. Some matches were moved into the evening due to temperatures hitting 40 degrees or more during the day.

“We had weather information available to players and also the ability to communicate the weather policy- if a game was going to be suspended or not,” he said. “The other thing we are thinking about is developing an Android and iPhone mobile app for our players with these same court booking and weather information for 2015.”

Next up: Fan engagement

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Fan engagement

According to official numbers provided by Tennis Australia, 643,280 tennis fans attended the Australian Open in 2014.

The sporting body provides free Wi-Fi to the public in the Rod Laver arena and surrounding courts. Mahir said there were 55,000 devices (smartphones and tablets) detected on the public Wi-Fi network, a 35 per cent increase on 2013.

“There were 17 million unique visitors to our official site and approximately 467 million page views, a 31 per cent increase on 2013. People expect to connect their phone or tablet at the big sports arenas around the world. They need that connectivity and we need to improve our fan engagement as well.”

That engagement was on a physical and online level in 2014. For example, the social media team organised a `Social Shack’ pop up store for players to sign autographs and pose for photos with their fans. Tennis Australia also set up a studio where players did media interviews and fan QAs.

Mahir said that the organisation wants the metrics and sentiments it receives from Facebook or Twitter during the Open to “serve a purpose.”

“It’s great to have Tweets but, as an organisation how do we leverage that data and increased traffic? Increased traffic can cause issues when you’re hosting websites if you don’t have enough servers.”

To make sure its websites don’t crash as people tweet and share photos, Tennis Australia uses IBM’s cloud provisioning to host its sites and digital properties such as smartphone apps.

“Now we have cloud provisioning, this adds more servers for us based on traffic demand during the Open.”

Tennis Australia also uses IBM’s data analytics software- and key words- to determine whether a tweet about a player is positive or negative, It can then compile the data to rank players in a social leaderboard on the Australian Open website.

The leaderboard is updated every few minutes. After the event, IBM compiles an index providing feedback on the success of the event. Tennis Australia makes use of the feedback for marketing purposes, said Mahir.

Problem: Tennis Australia needed to ensure higher speeds of three websites for players and the public during the 2014 Australian Open Solution: Monitoring of the Players, and MyTennis website increased speeds and lead to more tennis fans accessing the sites

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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