How the England and Wales Cricket Board scored with big data

3 min read
Oct 1, 2019

The England and Wales Cricket Board governs every aspect of the sport in those two countries, and it holds massive amounts of data generated by professional and amateur players alike. Since its founding in 1997, the ECB has collected information on every aspect of its operations, including players, partners, youth leagues, coaches, stadiums, ticket sales, marketing initiatives and more. All of those data sets added up to a potential gold mine of information, and the ECB knew it. But the value of that information wasn’t fully accessible. It was stored across some 19 different data sources, all of which needed to be integrated before they could deliver useful business intelligence. To Damian Smith, ECB’s Director of IT, that business intelligence is the key to cricket’s future growth. In an interview with CIO UK , Smith stressed the importance of data in providing actionable insights. “We need to keep reinventing ourselves to maintain an interest in cricket, to attract new audiences to the game,” he told the site. “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.” In Smith’s view, the ECB is effectively a social network. “I've been saying national governing bodies have the same business models as Facebook,” he said. “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.” To help the ECB harvest the full value of its data, Pythian architected and designed a platform to integrate those19 individual data sources on a single platform, using Google Cloud. They also implemented a data lake for raw data storage using Cloudera Hadoop. The results were immediate. Data-analysis exercises that previously took between three and six months could now be completed in hours. The traditional bottlenecks around data management and business intelligence disappeared, allowing the ECB to transform itself into a more disciplined, data-driven organization. The benefits have been seen at every level of the game. At the elite level, the ECB now has superior tools to select and prepare cricketers for England teams. This alone marked a radical change for team selectors, who for generations had chosen players by instinct. “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.” The technology is also enabling strategies for keeping England’s top players injury-free. “I’m responsible for some really cool systems,” Smith said. “Biomechanical analysis, video analysis, biometric systems, radar technology that assesses the telemetry of a cricket ball. Devices and wearables on players to tell us how much stress they’re under — all systems to support the elite end of the game." The power of objective data extends to the community level, as well. The ECB can now reach and motivate thousands more participants, be they, spectators or players. The ECB’s new and superior analytics have translated into improvements in ticket sales, venues, coach retention, youth team development, and playing facilities. The value of data even reaches individual seats in the stadium, where fans can enhance their experience by viewing instant replays and real-time analyses on their mobile devices. Apps can also update fans on concession stand lineups, and allow for in-seat delivery of food and drink. Thanks to the data lake, the ECB can rapidly assess whether features like these are winners with the fans. As for new goals, Smith spoke of a determination to attract new audiences to the game, particularly more women, children, and families. Acknowledging that cricket’s traditional audience is “pale, male and stale,” Smith credited this year’s Women's World Cup with boosting the diversity of the sport’s fan base. The ECB’s new strength in analytics means that the organization “now has the insight and the capability to be able to understand how to attract those new audiences,” he said. The future of cricket is brighter than ever, said Smith. “Pythian helped us unlock the value in our data by giving us a platform that enabled us to very quickly integrate disparate data sets and put actionable insight into the hands of the people who need it.” Read the full story on how Pythian helped ECB unlock the value of their data. Want to meet the Pythian team in London, UK? We will be at Booth 26 at the Big Data Analytics Confex in November. Contact us to book a meeting!

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