Big Data game gets real
The German football team’s use of big data during the 2014 FIFA World Cup brought the concept into sharp focus, but such “real-time” application is not new, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
On the exhibition floor of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, one of the stand-out displays was a large TV screen on which the tactics of the German football team were being analysed.
Enterprise systems company SAP was demonstrating how an application called Match Insights could gather data before and during a soccer match, and use it to influence the team manager’s tactical decisions while the game was on.
Most saw the demo as a marketing exercise. But when Germany won the World Cup, systematically outplaying opponents with superior tactics, the data game suddenly became very real.
According to SAP, the journey started last year when national team general manager Oliver Bierhoff found that players were most happy communicating with each other via digital platforms. He commissioned SAP to develop an application that could facilitate the exchange of information, including data about opponents.
SAP Match Insights was then developed in collaboration with the German National Team.
“This data can be converted into simulations and graphs that can be viewed on a tablet or smartphone, enabling trainers, coaches and players to identify and assess key situations in each match,” says Manoj Bhoola, a director at SAP Africa. “SAP Match Insights synchronised the data from scouts with the video footage taken from the pitch to make it easy for coaches to identify key moments in the game.”
The impact of these insights on the outcome of the World Cup are not as easy to quantify, but it’s given “big data” one of its biggest showcases yet. And it could well invade news media.
“Big data is an incredible resource for coaches and players to contextualise information and draw well-informed conclusions to optimise training and tactics,” says Simon Carpenter, chief customer officer at SAP Africa. “It’s high time to make this type of information accessible to sports journalism and the fans as well.”
German soccer may have officially discovered big data, but it’s a path that’s already well-trodden among large enterprises.
“We have been doing it all along,” says Desan Naidoo, managing director for Southern Africa of SAS, the global analytics company. “But some of the aspects have changed. If you look at the volume and variety of structured and unstructured data, ranging from social networks to text and video, that has definitely changed. 90% of all data ever created has been created in the last two years.
“This is unbelievable in itself. But now the requirement from clients to have access to this data has moved from running data through models for 18 to 24 hours, to wanting access in minutes or seconds.”
And it’s not enough merely to analyse the data that is formally collected in organisational systems.
“We’ve had to tap into social media data. We’ve had to restructure the way we do analytics to cope with the volumes. We’ve had to look at hardware changes and infrastructure, such as in-memory analysis.”
The latter refers to loading all the relevant data into live memory, so that it can be processed on the fly, providing usable information in seconds. A typical example is a customer going into a bank wanting a home loan; the bank can now run a risk profile and provide an answer while the individual is waiting.
“In the past, if you based that risk profile on all the data sources the bank has, it would have taken hours,” says Naidoo. “Having access in-memory means you can click a button and run a risk profile accessing all that data, instantaneously. On top of that, analytics today can predict how that customer will behave, rather than being merely reactive, as in the past.
“That’s what big data means today.”
This article first appeared in Arthur’s Signpost column in The Sunday Times, Business Times section, on 27 July 2014