In recent years I have become very familiar with IBM’s partnership with the Wimbledon tennis championships. Only this February I saw Wimbledon present at the IBM MobileFirst event at Mobile World Congress. Having heard so much it was great to actually see the IBM operation up close at this year’s championships. It was also rather good to see Roger Federer play on Centre Court.
Regarding the technology, I and a few others were lucky enough to get a tour of IBM’s Wimbledon command centre (“the bunker”) inside the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC). There we got to see and hear about how the vast volume of data is collected and then delivered out through various channels including live television broadcasts, the Wimbledon website and mobile apps, and social media.
The project, including the aforementioned website and apps, is a showcase for many IBM technologies from across the portfolio including its MobileFirst, security and cloud capabilities delivered through its digital agency IBM iX. And of course it has to include IBM Watson, the company’s cognitive technology that powers its analytics platform.
Watson has been put to use to better analyse and manage the social media traffic that surrounds such a massive, global sporting event. Watson is able to “learn” in a way that enables it to pick-up on social media trends related to the event without them having to be pre-programmed.
What was particularly interesting was how despite the focus on technology there is a significant and vital human component. For those that believe in an AI future in which the machines rule, the reality is far more likely to be what we saw at Wimbledon. The IBM and Wimbledon partnership represents a partnership between machines and humans in a couple of ways.
First, let’s look at the collection of Wimbledon’s Big Data – all of those stats about points won, first and second serves, unforced errors and so on. It may surprise many to hear that the vital component of this is having people on every court that physically input every one of the 40million+ points played during the championships. This is because humans are still the most reliable and accurate way to collect the many data points that a tennis match creates.
Our tour of the on-site command centre showed how important the individuals working there are to the collection and use of that data. It is then the technology that analyses and delivers that data in the fastest and most effective ways through the different channels.
Second, we had an opportunity to speak with one of the players competing at this year’s championship. They were able to talk insightfully about how data coming from IBM feeds into their training and strategy in preparation for matches. Here again we saw how it was the technology in combination with human expertise and experience (coaches, trainers, players) that derives maximum value. Often the data supports what individuals already knew intuitively or from experience. But being able to see it and analyse it drives a deeper understanding which can then be channelled into changes that hopefully lead to better results on the court.
The main takeaway from a great day at Wimbledon was just how important both technology and humans working together are in delivering the best outcomes for AELTC, its fans and players. It highlights how the future of cognitive computing will not be The Terminator but rather a partnership between people and technology to deliver outcomes better than either could alone.