The average CIO in a 300-person company has to give serious attention to data warehousing and business intelligence. A typical IT manager must respond to requirements for network performance during peak demand. So does Bob Zweig.
For Zweig, though, the data isn’t inventory numbers or scientific number-crunching. It’s video. Lots of video. And the network access? Imagine inviting 48,000 of your customers to your business headquarters for a few hours, most of whom are equipped with Wi-Fi mobile devices, want to watch real-time video while drinking beer — and exhibit very little patience.
Welcome to Bob Zweig’s world. He’s CIO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he has a job that most IT professionals (and baseball fans) fantasize about. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Zweig about his job – and to give you a sneak peak behind the scenes at the IT side of baseball.
While Zweig has plenty of mundane things to distract him (such as backing up laptops and ensuring that network servers are maintained), here are three cool technology tasks on his To Do list that probably aren’t on yours.
1. Making Video Data Immediate and Portable
Most businesses collect and massage data to help staff make better decisions. The more you can understand the information your company collects, the better your competitive advantage.
That’s certainly true for the statistics-centric game of baseball, says Zweig, “if you can understand patterns and trends and how matchups help you in the game.” His challenge is to put that data in a form that’s digestible for the players and the coaches in the game. “And that’s what we strive to do.”
Numbers are important. Reports are important. But for Zweig, a huge part of his data warehouse contains countless hours of video. “That’s pretty cool,” he admits.
The end-user requirements aren’t easy, though. Imagine the coach’s need: Call up the video for any matchup of any pitcher versus any player, at any angle. “I want to see the footwork of our catcher,” the coach might say. “And I want to play it over and over again to see if his footwork is improving.” That video needs to be displayed on Smartboards so that coaches can draw on it, perhaps to analyze the slot angle of the player’s throw.
Consider the workflow necessary to deliver on that one need. How do you capture video from high-definition cameras at all the possible locations? (And not just at Phoenix’s Chase Field; for example, the team’s new spring training facility, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, has 11 baseball fields.) How do you make the video data available anywhere within the facility, such as the coaching hut or the clubhouse?
How do you make it mobile, too, so that players and coaches have that video (and associated statistics) accessible for all road games? How do you sync video and make terabytes of data mobile?
Most CIOs are responsible for corporate data acquisition, Zweig points out. “But most people don’t travel with their data. Our business intelligence needs to travel with the team,” he says. If the Diamondbacks are playing the Rockies, the coaches want to look at the opposing pitcher’s video.
“We need to build road units to take data on the road,” Zweig says. To transport all the equipment, they use military-grade storage containers with gigantic foam inserts.
This isn’t an idle need. “Say I’m a pinch hitter who might be facing Brian Wilson late in a game,” suggests Zweig. “By watching the video, I can see that the last five times, Wilson threw a breaking ball to an a right handed hitter on the second pitch.” The video tells a player what to watch for when he goes up that San Francisco Giant closer – and in that particular instance, the foreknowledge helped the Diamondbacks win the baseball game. “We have that ability because we bring the data on the road with us,” says Zweig.
2. Going Mobile with a Hot Dog, Extra Mustard
Your business is surely considering all the implications of employees and customers going mobile, from security policies to the use of personal mobile devices at work.
Zweig’s on-site customers are all mobile – and they expect their fan experience to support those mobile needs. That might be a ballpark kiosk with applications for the team's fan loyalty programs and team sweepstakes. It might be the ability to order food from a smartphone; the system sends back a text when your beer and hot dog is ready to pick up.
“We built an internal system for video replay,” says Zweig. “We stream that video right to your phone a few minutes after the play.”
“It’s really important to understand where the fans are,” says Zweig. “And the fans are on their phones.” He needs to supply whatever they need and expect, whether that’s QR codes or social media kiosks.
Customer service is king in professional sports. It’s important to make the fan experience as immediate and valuable and fun as possible, he points out, because “We are competing with people who are sitting on the couch,” and many of them have great TVs. Attending a game has to be a better experience than sitting at home.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have also become a poster child for its use of social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook. That participation isn’t left to Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, however. Social media is part of the ramp-up to any home game. Tweets are displayed on the scoreboard before game time, based on fans using the current game’s hashtag, such as #BeatLA.
And, of course, that is one huge monitor. “We have another level of audio visual,” Zweig says, with the Chase Field digital displays, scoreboards, ribbon boards – not to mention the digital media networks and production studios to create the experience that happens during the ballpark. “A typical Fortune 500 CIO would never get to see that, much less learn about it,” he admits.
3. Delivering Broadband in a Really Big Field
The toughest technology to deliver is the free wireless broadband that every fan gets at Chase Field. “Wi-Fi works really well to cover squares. The contours of the facility make it extremely challenging,” he says. Everything in wireless design is built around a square – not the shape of a baseball stadium, with a lot of people moving around. Even more frustrating: The most important place to have wireless coverage is between the dugouts, and that’s where there’s the most interference and conflicts.
And, of course, everyone needs the bandwidth at the same time, like a highway filling up at rush hour with all its variability and congestion. “We add as much capacity as we can with a lot of access points,” Zweig says. There’s a Wi-Fi access point on all the overhangs, and every section has its own access point (5 GHz directional and two directional antennas), not counting the offices and clubhouses. Plus fiber poles back to the data center on the mezzanine. In total, there’s about 217 access points at Chase Field. “We put in a lot of them and shape them the best way we can,” he says.
Chase Field also has a multivendor data system to cover the cellular access within the stadium, using a distributed antenna system – 250 of them, in fact. Given the number of people inside the ballpark during a game, there’s a small city in a small space. “That’s enough [bandwidth] for 16 neighborhoods,” Zweig says.
It Isn’t All Fun and Games
At the end of the day, however, Zweig is running IT for a big business. He has to contend with bread-and-butter technology like e-mail servers. “Our spin is that ‘It’s cooler because it’s baseball you’re looking at,’” he says, but every IT decision has to take into account whether it will be more relevant and reliable; whether it will make the business more efficient; if it will make the team better; if it improves the fan experience. “Ideally [a technology or improvement will] move the needle on as many of those as possible,” he says.
One way he accomplishes all this – with a team of just eight people in a 300-person company – is to outsource as much as possible. “I have a smaller staff, but I leverage outsource partners,” he says. “We focus on fan things. I won’t use my attention for a new phone system for the stadium. Plenty of people can do that,” so he outsources anything that’s commodity-oriented. Still, that often means that the work goes into integration and infrastructure (such as is required when, say, working with Ticketmaster to migrate to a new ticketing system technology).
On the plus side, Zweig has a predictable schedule. “I know when my product launch is going to be,” he says. “I know when pitchers and catchers report.” Yet the predictability also means that schedules slippage isn’t possible, even in a busy year like 2011. “This was a great year for the Diamondbacks. We were picked to be last in our division and we finished first,” he says. “We built an incredible spring training facility; we hosted the All Star game. But we knew when those were!”
Some technologies in the foreground for other CIOs aren’t important to Zweig yet, such as cloud computing. Instead, he says, he and his counterparts get together to contemplate: “How do you handle the data explosion? In three years how much data will I have? When will a coach ask me for 3D cameras? And managing the pipe: How do you move that data, back it up, secure it?” How indeed?
Still: His is one of the coolest jobs we can imagine.