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The Grill: NFL CIO uses analytics to improve player safety

Robert L. Mitchell | May 21, 2013
This CIO is bringing analytics to the gridiron to improve player safety.

How do you keep Wi-Fi up and running for 80,000 fans at the Super Bowl? That's just one of the challenges Michelle McKenna-Doyle faced this year as CIO for the National Football League. These days, analytics is driving innovation at the NFL, and McKenna-Doyle, 47, is leading the charge -- whether the job is collecting statistics with sensors that track players on the field or monitoring player safety through lab analysis of helmets that took a pounding during games.

Michelle McKenna-Doyle
Golf to play; NASCAR to watch.Android, iPhone or BlackBerry? iPhoneWhat's your favorite vice? Red wine. I'm heading out soon for a trip to the wine country.What's your favorite nonwork pastime? Reading.What do you consider to be the best book ever? To Kill a Mockingbird. I love classic historical fiction.Is there something not many people know about you? I love to drive really fast cars and once dreamed of being a racecar driver.

What IT-driven innovations are you focused on right now? The technology coming along is creating a way to, perhaps, innovate in how the game itself is played. And certainly in player health and safety -- how we can track what is happening and the overall wellness of players is one of our primary focuses.

This year, we tested instrumentation on players in games. We gathered the data and we're looking at how to use that. We've also tested helmet impact analysis in the lab. Our chief medical officer is bringing forth all sorts of new ideas of things that they want us to test.

We're also testing next-generation statistics, which uses instrumentation to track players' movements on the field and collect stats. All of that is under way, and you'll see more of that in the next year or so.

Do you plan to capture every movement of every play on the field with instrumentation? In tests you can watch the trail of a player and you can overlay that with the play called. You can see the route they were supposed to run and what they actually ran. Coaches love the thought of being able to take that and have one-on-one coaching with the players.

In your career, you have held executive roles outside of IT.How has that helped you in your role as CIO? At Disney, I started in finance and worked through all of the different divisions. That gives me an advantage in terms of being a successful CIO. I speak the language of the business first and the language of technology second. I am a translator.

Do you see most CIOs today coming from other parts of the business, as you did, or coming up through the IT ranks? Unfortunately, it's people coming from other parts of the business. That's disheartening to the smart people I have working for me in technology. They need visibility. My team did a leadership assessment, and several people put in their plan that they wanted to be CIO but none of them knew how they were going to get there.


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