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Superbowl XLIX is upon us and, sports fan or not, the excitement is contagious. But as neighbors, friends and family draw their battle lines (and fire up their grills…depending on what part of the USA they are in!) we here at Red Hat couldn’t help but turn our thoughts to something just as big, if not bigger, than this annual tournament of champions.

If you guessed we’re going to talk about big data then, congratulations, you get a cookie. We couldn't help but see similarities between sports franchises and the enterprise, so we're going to explore that thought a little more. Read on!


How are sports teams like an enterprise?

Rare is the enterprise without a plan. Without the overriding strategic vision of management providing guidance, the business risks stagnating, growing out of control or, worst of all, sliding into failure. Following this business plan are the ranks of finance, operations, sales, marketing, research, engineering and more.

In addition to whatever their expected output might be, each of these groups is constantly generating data that allow management to monitor and evaluate progress. This data could be everything from the time in which tech support resolves customer satisfaction issues to how quickly product gets from a warehouse to customers to sentiment analysis from social media about how customers feel about your product.

This data, and your ability to react in real-time with it, is what allows businesses to beat rivals and not only effectively compete, but dictate the rules of engagement. Decisions makers are no longer forced to wait for sales numbers to roll in because, with the right configuration and tools, they can make decisions with live data.

In sports, the data comes from a variety of sources. For example, the sensors embedded in players’ helmets and other equipment; Physician’s reports on the health and well-being of an athlete; weather reports; social media sentiment-analysis from fans; ratings information and ad sales data from television networks; merchandise sales, and so much more. The team leadership – the owner, general manager and coaches rely on this data holistically to make decisions. Decisions such as knowing which athlete has been out on the field too long, or knowing what weather conditions individual team members perform best in.

The ability to react in real time based on data provides a distinct advantage over competitors. It’s true in business and it’s just as true in sports.

Breaking it down: What lessons can sports learn from business?

Silos caused by vendors: In the rush to embrace big data, businesses – and the lines of business within them – sometimes sign on with vendors in a disorganized manner. Sales signs on with CRM vendor A while human resources ends up with a business intelligence solution from vendor B. The tools these vendors offer may not inherently be able to talk with one another, but ideally the data they output could be read by a third-party tool such as, say, Splunk. Unfortunately, what often ends up happening is an enterprise struggling with conflicting proprietary systems. So how can harmony be achieved in order to bring a big data vision to life? Open source alternatives, of course.

One important lesson today’s businesses are learning is that vendor lock-in, caused by OEMs, ISVs, and others who offer closed-architecture/proprietary solutions, can be costly. Tied to that vendor’s cycle of innovation, they often cannot take advantage of the latest technologies and solutions. Today’s sports franchise will benefit from steering clear of vendors who offer proprietary solutions and looking to open-source solutions that run on commodity hardware.

Silos caused by people: One challenge the enterprise faces today is data living in silos. While the need to modernize systems and processes is typically obvious to all departments, some organizations struggle with being able to share it all. Be they driven by paranoia or processes, intra-departmental barriers are one hurdle every business must face. This is where CIOs earn their keep, as they must work closely with line of business owners to coordinate information sharing so all may benefit.

For today’s sports franchise the solution starts at the top, with a CIO or IT director with a strategic vision who is in touch with the business needs of all stakeholders in the organization. Taking time to communicate regularly with stakeholders about what’s happening in the organization’s IT infrastructure, and regularly meeting with them to stay abreast of their changing needs, is critical.

Don’t forget this one key point

If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: Data itself has value, but what you do with it is immeasurably more valuable. And just as critical, being able to act on your data, when you most need it, is key.

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