The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Adam Foster, group executive for the sports practice at Dimension Data, an international information technology services company. Foster explained how Dimension Data helped quantify the Tour de France and discussed how the cloud-services model is transforming data centers.
Joshua New: When tracking riders in the Tour de France in real-time, Dimension Data analyzed millions of data points at each stage of the race. How did you collect this data, and what did it reveal?
Adam Foster: We partnered with the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), which organizes the Tour de France, to create a tracking mechanism for the race. ASO created the physical device to collect and transmit data to servers in the area where the race ended. There, we processed this data into information that was made public on our tracking site and TV broadcasts.
Each rider had a special GPS sensor that was placed under their bike saddle and recorded their speed and position every second. We collected between 1.5 and 2.5 million pieces of information per rider. With this data, we were able to identify: groups and gaps between groups; top speeds, average speeds, and time per kilometer traveled; fastest riders up key climbs; speed of winner at the finish line; average speed across all riders; the rider that spent the longest at the front of the race; and time between first and last rider.
New: The quantification of sports seems to be increasingly popular, ranging from the famous “Moneyball” analytics approach in baseball to more recent efforts to introduce analytics to tennis. In cycling, what are the benefits of analytics?
Foster: In cycling, it’s very difficult to get an accurate reading on stats such as time, speed, and location unless you’re right there on the ground where it’s all taking place. During a fast-moving event like the Tour de France, it’s impossible to capture all of the pertinent information safely without using a GPS tracker, which are small, unobtrusive, and handle the elements well. Since this is the first year we’ve done this, we’ll be able to layer this year’s results on those for the coming years, and potentially create models based on the data. It’s a very exciting time!
New: I’m sure that this kind of collection and analysis of sports data has caught the eye of businesses in the fantasy sports and even gambling industries. Is Dimension Data pursuing any of these opportunities?
Foster: We expect digital information to add value to the entire sports marketplace, which of course includes includes fantasy leagues and online gaming. Over the last few months, we’ve been approached by, and are in confidential discussions with, a number of these organizations. There are opportunities for businesses across every sector to better leverage data, so I really think the sky’s the limit. My advice to organizations is “don’t dismiss anything too soon!”
New: Dimension Data was recently included in the Healthcare Informatics top 100 list of major health information technology companies, for the third year in a row. Is there any overlap between healthcare and Tour de France analytics?
Foster: There are similarities between the needs found in the healthcare industry and those we identified as necessary for the Tour de France. Consider the importance of virtual monitoring and how it can be applied in both instances. In a healthcare setting, a hospital can monitor many patients simultaneously and remotely with a system that can call for assistance if patients need it. During the Tour de France, many riders are monitored at the same time while in motion on terrain that’s ever-changing. While both examples are very different, they do have a lot of similarities-they both require remotely monitoring and analyzing lots of data from many subjects simultaneously.
New: Dimension Data has published a lot about its vision for the “data center of the future.” Could you define how data centers will differ in the future and the kinds of technologies involved?
Foster: Data centers will continue to evolve along with technology. As more companies transition to off-site and cloud-based systems to store their information, many smaller data centers will shrink. Large data centers, typically owned by industry and cloud provider heavyweights, will see nothing but growth on the horizon. Some already sprawl over hundreds of thousands of square metres. These giant facilities are expanding either due to the fact that they’re absorbing the capacity being transferred to them from customers looking to exploit the cloud model, or simply as a result of the nature and complexity of the businesses they serve.
While some information technology organizations still operate their data centers the way they did 20 years ago, they’re missing a great opportunity to take advantage of new architectures and systems that can allow them to be more responsive to their clients and be more cost-effective.
The availability of cloud services and other recent technology advances have changed the game for many organizations by levelling the playing field as they bring a high level of agility within the reach of all businesses, not just the big players.