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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.

Will you rotate aspiring CIOs into other areas of the business to give them that visibility? Yes. In fact, the NFL just started a rotational program. But if your bench isn't deep enough, you can't afford to let a technical skill move, and it's hard to get that deep bench because IT budgets are constrained. It takes courage to say, 'If I'm going to have a successor, you need to bring someone in so I can let this person rotate.'

How else is IT driving innovation and adding to the bottom line? Analytics is where you drive top-line revenue. IT professionals have the ability to see a cross-section of the whole organization. You [could] have this division of the company pursuing this goal and that division pursuing that one, and they're not necessarily aligned. Because we're building both of those solutions, we can raise the issue and talk about where we're going to put all of our investment.

But does IT have time to look for those opportunities? It takes a willingness to do it and a leader who will give you the time to do it. If your day is spent analyzing equipment performance and you don't have a chance to do that kind of analysis, then how do you ever get there?

What I am trying to form at the NFL, as I did at Constellation Energy, is an IT-focused analytics job. Marketing has research, but IT holds the keys to all of that data. Not only do you have to train yourself on how to build good databases and how to build a data warehouse but also to understand the data well enough to know which things it makes sense to link together for the insight it gives you -- that is something that an IT person can see and help prioritize.

What other analytics-focused projects are you driving? We're looking at player performance. [For example, when teams get ready for the draft] there's all types of data to look at around statistics and players and doing predictive analysis in terms of this person looks like this person and if I lose this person in the draft who's my next guy that's most like him. We pull that data together, keep it up to date and publish in real time. Scouts are just starting to use it.

How do you deal with connectivity and mobile in the stadiums? It's a big challenge for Wi-Fi. When you have 80,000 people all going at the same time it puts a challenge on connectivity. We're leading the charge on that and helping the stadiums figure out how they can keep fans connected.


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