Tuesday, 20 January 2015 16:26

IBM enhances Australian Open tech

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IBM has been providing the Australian Open tennis tournament with technology for two decades, so what's new in 2015?

If you've attended the Australian Open in the last 22 years - or even watched it on TV - you have seen IBM technology in action as the company has been Tennis Australia's technology partner for all that time.

Each year IBM and Tennis Australia seem to announce new or improved capabilities.

Although IBM is a partner of all four Grand Slam tournaments, CrowdTracker is at this stage "unique to the Australian Open" according to IBM consulting partner for interactive experience and mobile Ian Wong.

An Aruba Wi-Fi network detects the presence of smartphones and other mobile devices as their owners move around Melbourne Park, even if they do not connect to the fast, Aruba-powered public Wi-Fi service which this year - in another Grand Slam first - has been extended to cover Margaret Court Arena as well as Rod Laver Arena. Device data is anonymised, Tennis Australia CIO Samir Mahir (pictured above) told iTWire.

Aus Open 2015 IBM CrowdTracker Crowdsview

Following the major redevelopment of Melbourne Park, CrowdTracker will help visitors move around and would provide information about patron movements that will "help us improve year after year," he added.

Information collected by CrowdTracker, along with that distilled from social media feeds (eg, Twitter sentiment), also feeds a prototype dynamic provisioning system. For example if the 'social buzz' is that there are long queues at a particular entrance, management can respond by opening additional ticket scanners, deploying more crowd control and merchandising personnel, and using social media to alert people that have yet to reach Melbourne Park of the least crowded entrances.

Mahir said this capability was being used on a test basis at the 2015 Open.

Tennis Australia Operations Dashboard 2015

Various other aspects of the Australian Open systems have been updated or enhanced.

The tournament's systems now run on a blend of dedicated hardware (provisioned on an on-demand basis) plus shared resources in the form of IBM SoftLayer pods located in Melbourne and overseas. Demand is predicted on the basis of a variety of parameters, including the number of scheduled matches, player popularity, and which courts are in play.

For the first time, IBM's Watson technology is being applied to take unstructured social data into consideration and if - deemed necessary - to overrule the prediction based on Tennis Australia's structured data. So if the tone as well as the volume of Twitter traffic suggested higher than usual levels of interest in a match, extra resources can be brought online before the traffic has a negative effect on the user experience.

The idea is that while the traditional analytics will continue to be used, there is an expectation that Watson will provide "the cognitive part" by understanding the nuances of language, said Wong.

He told iTWire that IBM's SMART (Social Media Analytics in Real Time) was able to make immediate sense of information available through social media.

There's also a pilot project to provide media representatives with access to historical data via natural language queries. "There are a lot of applications for Watson coming," said Wong, for instance to allow attendees to ask questions such as "Where is Margaret Court Arena?"

And the SlamTracker statistics service has an improved user experience, and displays the 'keys to the match' - three key things that each player needs to achieve in order to win, based on data from the last eight years for the same or similar pairings.

Wong also pointed to the way IBM's systems now take into account data from Hawkeye concerning the movement of the ball and players' feet in real time for point-by-point analysis, describing it as "another exciting piece of technology."

Aus Open 2015 IBMSlamTracker

Another change is that this year's Australian Open is the first to provide live video streaming from all courts. The streams are distributed through partners such as ESPN, and are subject to geo-blocks, said Mahir.

Developments that debuted at the Australian Open will be considered for other Grand Slam events, Wong told iTWire.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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