Analytics in sports #1 – have a vision
Competitive people often wear their desire to win like a badge of honour and with that will to win frequently comes a “whatever it takes” attitude. In the world of sport, the “whatever it takes” might mean getting up at 4am every day to row on flat water, 3 gym sessions a day, many long lonely hours pounding out the miles, or leaving your friends and family behind to be part of a team that can bring you success.
But “whatever it takes” now also means being measured, monitored, analysed and optimised – as data analytics has become a critical component in the pursuit of success. This is the first in a series of blogs and articles about the use of analytics in sport, and the lessons that business can learn from how data is being used to win. These blogs are not akin to some lazy after-dinner speaker’s tenuous link between what goes on inside a scrum and the world of pie charts and powerpoint.
There are real lessons to be learned from how the urge to win and the need for even the tiniest competitive edge have pushed sport headlong into advanced analytics and fact-based decisions, whilst businesses continue to mumble about legacy databases and poor data quality, and still make decisions based on what their boss might think.
So let’s start at the beginning. Lesson 101. Basecamp. The completely obvious, but often overlooked first step: Have a vision.
Have a reason for doing analytics. Don’t just gather data for the sake of it. Don’t just analyse it “to see if I can find something interesting.” Have a clear goal, and use data to drive you towards that goal. Of course big data allows us to investigate all sorts of questions, mash data together and generate insights. But if the analysis isn’t founded on a clear and compelling goal, then its chances of success in the real world are severely diminished.
For the England Cricket team, it was simple. Become #1 in the world. Not top quartile. Not improve a bit. It was all about being the best. Clear, concise, a challenge. When Andrew Strauss and Hugh Morris, the MD of the ECB recently spoke to us about how they had transformed England’s fortunes, defining their goal as being #1 in the world was the first and most important of all the steps they took.
What’s new, I hear you scream. MBA grads and business gurus have been talking about the importance of a vision for decades. True, but how many companies have a data vision? How many companies can articulate what they want to achieve with data? How many companies have spent millions on tin and software, only for it to languish in the corner of the building, unloved, un-needed? The simple, but often incredibly challenging act of defining what the data is for, is an immutable cornerstone of success for analytics.
The England cricket team worked towards that vision with data. They analysed who they would need to beat, and by how much to climb up the rankings. They analysed the competition’s strengths. They analysed their own weaknesses, they analysed each player’s style in detail to find out where to bowl and when...but more of that in the next instalment.
David is a Partner in Deloitte’s Enterprise Risk Services practice specialising in data analytics, data management and cyber security. David has worked with many of the UK and Europe’s leading Telecoms organisations, and has deep expertise in helping them secure, manage and derive insight from their data.