Monday, April 27, 2015

If sport was run like Amazon…

Amazon is one of the poster children of today’s disruptive technological age. Run by the charismatic founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, Amazon grew from small beginnings as an e-commerce start-up selling books online to be one of the world biggest e-commerce and technology companies.

Professor Amrit Tiwana from Terry College of Business, at the University of Georgia uses Amazon (amongst others) as an example of a “platform ecosystem” in his book - Platform ecosystems: aligning architecture, governance, and strategy.

Amrit defines the elements of a platform ecosystem to include; (1) shared infrastructure, (2) a platform, (3) interfaces, and (4) Apps that are using by end-users. He also introduces the notion that there are competing ecosystems, and argues that;

  1. Platform ecosystems are replacing traditional models in and beyond the software industry, driven largely by the digitization of products, services, and business processes. They can expand the pie for everyone but require a fundamental shift in strategic mindset.
  2. Survival and prosperity of platform ecosystems require a platform owner to deliberately orchestrate their evolution.
  3. Orchestrating their evolution requires that their architecture and governance interlock and subsequently coevolve, which is biologically inspired business design.

Amrit goes on to say, “The potential power of platform ecosystems comes from leveraging the unique expertise of many, diverse independent app developers driven by market incentives on a scale that is impossible to replicate within a single organization. The platform model essentially outsources to thousands of outside partners innovation that used to be done inhouse, who bear all the cost and risk of innovating and then share the proceeds with the platform owner

If you read my last post you may remember that I mentioned Joe Bailey’s recent white paper “The Global Sport Ecosystem” – ooh there’s that word again “ecosystem”. So what’s all the fuss about “ecosystems” and why does it seem to be the latest must use buzzword.

IBM’s Institute for Business Value outlines why ecosystems are emerging as a new business model in their paper “Digital reinvention - Preparing for a very different tomorrow”. In a nutshell the paper argues that digital technologies – social, mobile, cloud, and analytics – are changing how people, organisations, and government interact and that as a result “Digital technologies will ultimately drive drastic changes in the economy: value chains will fragment, industries will converge and new ecosystems will emerge. As a result, the mechanics of value creation and value allocation will also change.

The paper highlights the change from an Organization-centered economy to an Individual-centered economy, and ultimately, according to IBM, toward an everyone-to-everyone (E2E) economy.
IBM’s paper further comments, “Functional specialization, value chain fragmentation and industry convergence will begin to support formation of ecosystems or value nets. Ecosystems will typically cut across multiple organizations, functions and industries, providing a foundation for new, seamless consumer experiences and camouflaging functional complexity.

So summarising, digital technologies are not just changing the way we engage with consumers, but fundamentally changing the way organisations do business, creating new value networks that are disrupting existing markets. Organisations are often creating a platform ecosystem and using a mixture of governance, strategy, and platform and business architecture to manage the ecosystem.

What the heck does all this have to do with running sport you might ask…

In the paper, “Considering Future Sport Delivery Systems”, Professor David Shilbury from Deakin University outlines some of the issues facing sport delivery and uses Michael Porter’s (1998) concept of value clusters to argue a potential way of solving the issues that sport is facing. His paper illustrates “(1) the concept of sport clusters, and (2) the issues confronting sports as they interact with a plethora of sport and non-sport organisations”.

David concludes that we “need to recognise a broader role for national and state sporting organisations and to leverage financial support from within their cluster to complement existing, but limited government support. The ability to leverage financial resources from within a cluster will also be reliant on revamping inter-organisational networks recognising that a cluster actually becomes the value chain defining supplier and buyer linkages.

Value clusters and inter-organisational networks sound a lot like ecosystems to me …

Sport sector structures are often represented as simple hierarchies – club, state, national, and international levels of a sport. This is a dramatic oversimplification of the structure of the sport sector. The complexity of sport is highlighted by Henry & Lee in their book chapter on Governance and ethics in sport. They use football as an example, and argue there has been a move away from the traditional hierarchical model of the government of football to a systemic governance of football – a web of interactions between stakeholders. They attribute the shift partly to the professionalization and globalisation of sport.

Henry & Lee also explain three types of governance found in sport – systemic governance; corporate, organisational, or good governance; or political governance.

  • systemic governance – “Such environments are characterised by the interaction of organisations and of groups working within and across organisations.” It “is concerned with the competition, cooperation and mutual adjustment between organisations in such systems.
  • corporate, organisational, or good governance – “the accepted norms or values for the just means of allocation of resources, and profits or losses (financial or other) and for the conduct of processes involved in the management and direction of organisations in the sports business
  • political governance – “the processes by which governments or governing bodies seek to steer the sports system to achieve desired outcomes by moral pressure, use of financial or other incentives, or by licensing, regulation and control to influence other parties to act in ways consistent with desired outcomes

To date, the major focus in sport has simply been a concerted effort to improve governance at the organisational level within sport i.e. corporate, organisational, or good governance. This is not surprising as sport is increasingly professionalised and we see the rise of “the business” of sport. Peak bodies, such as the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), have introduce guidance for sport organisations such as ASC’s “Sports Governance Principles” and “Mandatory Sports Governance Principles

There has, however, been little focus on systemic governance within sport systems, outside of seeking strategic alignment within a sport.

In terms of structure of sport systems (dare I say architecture?) there has been numerous research efforts on sport systems, particularly at a national level, including the global study – Sport Policy Factors Leading to International Sporting Success (SPLISS). But few studies look at the interactions or processes between the organisations that make up a sport system. And fewer studies still, look at the impact that digitisation has had on those interactions.

This is at a time when, as outlined in the CSIRO and ASC report “The Future of Australian Sport”, we will see market pressures and new business models – noting “Loosely organised community sports associations are likely to be replaced by organisations with corporate structures and more formal governance systems in light of market pressures.

The report also highlights the importance of digital tools in sport moving forward commenting, “As we become increasingly time poor, sport is being tailored to meet personal needs. This is largely being influenced by the increased use of online tools and applications to individualise sport. Health, rather than competition, is becoming a major driver for participation in sport.

So to summarise, in sport we are already using tools such as strategy and governance to manage sport, however I argue we have not adopted emerging tools such as platform or business architecture, that look at the structures and interactions within a sport system.

I believe sports and sport systems do fit the definition of an ecosystem. Sports looking to manage the fragmentation of sport and the related systemic governance issues, can apply Amrit’s research on platform ecosystems to manage sport systems as a whole, as opposed to looking at sport simply at an organisational level. Importantly platform ecosystems provide a useful model to assist in the digital transformation of sport.

It is also clear that sport cannot escape digital disruption and the shift from an organization-centered economy to an individual-centered economy. Sports have to become fan/athlete/participant centric in everything they do, with a strong focus on creating a great customer experience.

Perhaps one day running a sport will be like running Amazon …

Disclaimer: Views are my own, and not that of my employer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Digital teams in sport need more than a CMS and social media account

I can remember the first major digital project I was given in sport over 10 years ago. We were launching a new league in 3 months’ time and we needed ten websites – two for the league and one for each of the eight teams. I thought, based on previous projects, I’d need a budget of $500,000, especially given the tight time-frame. I got a budget of $200,000 – the league was just beginning after all and budgets were tight. The time and budget constraints limited our delivery options and we ended up partnering with a sport specific web company. Their content management system (CMS) wasn’t the best, but after some haggling they fitted into my budget.

The league used that vendor and the CMS for over 8 years – well past my tenure with the league – and certainly well past its envisaged use by date from when we originally selected it!

Once implemented, sports don’t replace their CMS’s that often. So when you do replace them it’s important that you get the decision right. In today’s digital landscape – omni-channel, mobile, social, cloud, customer experience, personalisation … it’s easy to get focused on the technology and the feature “bells and whistles”.

MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting, in their 2013 report “Embracing  Digital Technology”, categorised organisations into four groups – Beginner, Conservative, Fashionista, and Digirati. Focusing on the technology and “bells and whistles” can mean organisations fall into the Fashionista camp. The report comments that this group “are very aggressive in adopting new technologies, but do not coordinate well across departments or have an effective vision in place for dealing with digital business.”

Sports organisation often fall into the Fashionista camp - often dazzled by the bright lights of a vendor or digital agency. It’s fair to say I have occasionally fallen into this trap myself, often with mixed outcomes as a result. One of these new technology traps is viewing the CMS as a platform. Anyone who has worked on a sport or media website knows the challenges involved – they are far removed from brochureware corporate websites. When over a million pages are requested in one Saturday afternoon – poor coding, architecture or infrastructure can certainly ruin your weekend! We need a big CMS platform that can do everything … right?

It was therefore with some interest that I noticed “CMS as a Platform” on Thoughtworks’ Technology Radar recently with a status of Hold. Thoughtworks comments “we have experienced serious problems when CMS as a platform becomes an IT solution that grows beyond managing simple content”.

Thoughtworks’ Chief Scientist, Martin Fowler, comes to the rescue, proposing a “Two Stack CMS”, a solution that separates the concerns of editing and publishing content.

An example of a Two Stack CMS can be seen in Nuxeo’s webinar “Connecting the Nuxeo Platform and the Hippo Website CMS”. Nuxeo is an open source Document Management System (DMS) and Digital Asset Management (DAM) platform used by the likes of EA, Netflix, AAP, and AFP.

A Two Stack CMS helps us focus on the two critical processes within a sport digital team – creating and publishing of content. Content in sport has and will continue to be King.

The core part that content plays in sport business is highlighted by a recent paper by RSR Partners’, Joe Bailey. Joe has held numerous positions in sport, including CEO of NFL’s Miami Dolphins and Vice-President of Administration for the Dallas Cowboys. In his recent white paper “The Global Sport Ecosystem”,  Joe outlines the global sport market, highlighting the core market segments of; goods & services providers, content providers, and distribution channels. Content creation and its subsequent publication and distribution is at the core of what sport business is all about.

Despite its importance to sport, too often I have seen content managed within silos within sport. Commercial teams typically manage the broadcast, licensed, and sponsor content. Media teams manage the press releases, team inner sanctum content, and media communications. Marketing teams promote the team or league’s products and services via email, mobile, and social marketing channels. And some poor soul has to provide the platforms and applications that make all this magically happen. Often there is little cross-functional strategy or planning and someone always becomes the scapegoat when the organisation’s digital presence looks like a dog’s breakfast.

In her book, “Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content”, Sara Wachter-Boettcher explains some of the important things to focus on when managing content in this digital age. Sara explains, “Too often, today’s content is fixed: stuck to individual pages or in device-specific applications. But as connected devices get more varied, robust, and ubiquitous—and as users expect to find, relate, and share content in more and more ways—we need content that can go anywhere, its meaning and message intact.”

Sara highlights the important of separating content from the platform – an outcome that is supported, from a technical architecture perspective, by Martin Fowler’s Two Stack CMS solution. In the book, Sara discusses a number of critical content concepts, including; the case for content everywhere, the elements of content, content models, designing content systems, content APIs, and putting structured content to work. It’s a must read for digital managers in sport who are trying to work out how to herd the content cats!

One of the best examples of how these strategies have been deployed in sport is the evolution of the website platforms for BBC Sport. In his blog, “The World Cup and a call to action around Linked Data”, BBC’s (former) Chief Architect for BBC News, Sport and Weather, John O' Donovan, discusses how the BBC Sport’s digital team delivered BBC’s FIFA 2010 World Cup website.

Sport digital teams need more than just a CMS and some interns on social media.

My suggestions are;

  • Understand what content you have and your sources and publishing points for your content
  • Rework your content processes to split the creation and publishing processes – this will allow a create once, publish many times process
  • Create a cross-disciplined team from across the organisation to ensure a consistent content strategy and plan, and agree who has the final say
  • Re-architect you content platform to support your content strategy and processes without falling into the “CMS as a platform” trap

What challenges have your digital team had in herding the content cats within your organisation? Drop me a note and let me know.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time to write again

I can’t believe that it is over five years since I last blogged. It’s with some amusement as well as embarrassment that I looked back on my last blog post on December 29, 2009. So much has changed in the world of digital sport - far too many things to talk about here. But it is interesting that two of the topics discussed in my last blog, user experience and the problem of silos within sporting organisations in regards to digital, are still relevant today.

User experience is now an accepted part of sport’s toolkit in developing new digital properties. The rise of mobile applications and tablet devices has meant that no longer are we just developing for one screen, we are developing for multiple screens with multiple contexts that exist in multiple environments. User experience including the emergence of user centred design is now a critical part of developing amazing experiences for sport fans - whether they are in the stadium, in the pub, or comfortably at home on the couch.

Amazingly what hasn’t changed in the last four or so years, in most sporting organisations, is the siloed nature of digital teams. Sometimes teams are part of marketing, sometimes part of IT, part of media and communications, or scattered across all these areas. Occasionally they are on their own. There is still a significant amount of work to develop the digital capabilities of sporting organisations. Hopefully I can touch on some of these areas in later posts.

But why write again? Two main influences. Over the last couple of months I’ve been listening to my dad talk about the joy he gets out of writing – he’s an accomplished publisher and poet. He’d recently written a number of poems that were completely different to any that he’d written before. I could tell he was extremely excited about having found a new way to express himself, and it was great to see the enjoyment that he obviously got out of writing. On reflecting on this, I realised that whilst over the last several years I have had an amazing journey in the world of digital sport, I’ve committed very little of that journey in writing.

Coincidently, around the same time I watched the movie Lucy. It’s an action sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. It’s certainly not one of Morgan Freeman’s best films, but one line made me reflect. In his wonderful voice, Freeman pondered “If you think about the very nature of life, I mean from the very beginning, the development of the first cell, divided into two cells, this whole purpose of life has been to pass on what was learned, there is no higher purpose. So if you’re asking me what to do with all this knowledge you are accumulating, I’d say pass it on, just like any simple cell going through time.

It’s time for me to pass it on.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The increasing importance of UX in sport website design

Having now notched up over ten sport website designs/builds across two major football codes, I'd like to think I have learnt a thing or two. It's not really rocket science, but there are a number of key differences from typical corporate websites or e-commerce based websites.

One of the interesting things I have found is that not all sport properties create their website's the same way. One of the key reasons for this is that it depends what department within the organisation is in charge of the website. Sometime's marketing takes the lead, or alternatively marketing/public relations, and in other scenarios I have seen commercial operations or IT take the lead on developing the site. On top of that there are typically external organisations involved that influence the site design and objectives. This can include; design agencies, rights holders, sponsors, media agencies, and miscellaneous consultants (always a favourite option in sport).

This can often cause interesting conversations in the design workshops. If it's marketing let then the brand is often thrust forward as the main site objective. If it's commercially led, then membership sales, ticketing, merchandising, or promotion of sponsors often take precedence. It it's media or PR driven then news, media releases, and communication with stakeholders is a priority. And if it's IT lead then the inevitable happens and it's all about the technology.

Of course the reality is that all of these objectives and all of these areas of expertise are critical to the design of a sports website. The crunch point comes in designing the home page - it doesn't matter how important the key messages are - there is only so much space above the fold on the home page. Rather than one of the areas taking precedence, user experience design (or UX) can help sport organisations achieve their key website design objectives with minimal compromises.

The typical way sites have been designed is for key staff of the organisation to be interviewed on; the objective of the site, the key types of content (or information architecture) on the site, and branding requirements. Web or graphic designers then go away and prepare wireframes of the main pages, and then move onto pixel perfect Photoshop designs of key pages and components. Once approved the design is then thrown over the wall to the web developers.

One of the key issues with this approach is that it is not iterative, and by the time staff from the respective departments finally sees the site (and invariably it "isn't what we thought it was going to be like) the whole project is too far down the track to go back and make major changes. This is especially true with sport websites as they are often required to be launched for the start of a new season or campaign, the dates for which are locked in stone.

One of the techniques being espoused in UX circles to fix this problem is to allow designers and developers to work in tandem to develop the site, rather than as a sequential process. By combining an iterative design process, agile development processes, and some of the newer UX tools and techniques, it is possible to have a process that works in conjunction with the stakeholders at every step of the process, starting simply and growing into increased levels of fidelity, and all whilst the development process is ongoing - so that season launch date can still be met.

One tool that I have been playing around recently to do this is Microsoft's Expression Blend 3 with Sketchflow. The tool allows you to literally start prototyping screens by sketching them, and whilst the designers and UX folk are working with the stakeholders, developers can actually start plugging some of the backend plumbing and sample data.

Matt Morphett did a great demo of Sketchflow at ReMIX in June this year, including how the tool can be used with a waeco tablet. Check out the video of Matt's demo here.

Now no tool or process by itself is magically going to produce a great sport property website. But getting stakeholders working closer with the site designers and developers, in an iterative process, with tools that support such a process, has to be heading in the right direction!

It's early days but will let you know how my travels with Sketchflow go ....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Head for the sky

Looks like this people are still interested in my opinion on Cloud Computing! Alexandra Cain has written an article in the December edition of CFO Magazine, following on from an interview she did with me.

My comments follow on from my experiences implementing a new hosting environment and a SaaS based Anti-SPAM solution at work.

If you had read some of my previous comments about cloud computing, you will remember one of my bug bears is the lack if tools available from cloud vendors for IT Pros to work out how much resource their on premise app uses and hence what resources would be consumed in the cloud and at what cost.

At a recent Microsoft event for Web Devs, I was very please to learn that one of the pricing options being rolled out in March for Azure was a subscription model, where you can purchase X amount of compute power for $Y. At least this helps IT Managers know how much a month they are spending on Azure.

It still not allowing us to reap the cost benefits of the cloud though - certainly not the upside of it anyway. May be a capped plan similar to mobile plans might be a way to go?

At the event, the speaker was asked if there were any tools for Azure to determine the required compute power required for a existing on-premise app to move into the cloud. Alas, the speaker admitted there were none currently available for Azure. And don't get me started on the need for comparison tools across the various cloud platforms...

So it's still an emerging technology, but there no doub cloud computing is going to stay and change howe we do things.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rugby sidesteps cloud computing

I spoke at a recent AIMIA event entitled "Cloud Computing - Beyond the Hype". Was an enjoyable event, and thanks to the AIMIA crew for inviting me to talk.

IT News journalist, Brett Winterford, was there and was nice enough to write an article "Rugby sidesteps cloud computing" about what I said at the event.