With the Olympics now in full swing, many of us are glued to our screens marvelling at the speed, endurance and tactics of athletes competing for glory.
So what can businesses learn from the operations of the highest performing athletes and sports teams on the planet?
While the business of running a sports team used to be conducted primarily with clipboards, photocopies and VHS tapes, today it relies on social, collaboration and mobile tools that create an incredibly powerful culture shift.
Our elite sports teams now run some of the most sophisticated operations in the world: coordinating athletes, coaches, support teams, sponsors and administrators, as well as relationships with thousands, sometimes millions, of fans.
As the international appeal of sports competition increases – spreading virally through social media and mobile technology – it’s attracting multi-million dollar investments from sponsors and technology providers alike.
And while it might not seem obvious at first glance, running a high performance sports team shares a lot of similarities with running a business. It depends on secure collaboration tools – think mobility, social and collaboration software, cloud-based services, new devices and a flood of big data – to change our business culture and the way we work.
Here are five ways technology is changing the business of sport and how it might impact your organisation:
1. Teams no longer work in the same location
Our best athletes live their lives on a global stage, travelling great distances to compete and enduring punishing travel schedules. However, using secure social and collaboration technologies, they can train, travel and compete with the support of teams defined by virtual boundaries, not physical ones.
That means our athletes can live anywhere and yet easily maintain close ties with their team of trainers, administrators, medical specialists and family – here and around the globe.
In business, you and your team can be in different physical locations and yet still access the same office apps and tools, edit the same cloud-based documents and chat in the same dedicated online forums – with the same levels of security normally associated with working in the same place.
We’re getting much closer to the vision of any application running on any device on any location. Powered by a new generation of technologies such as Microsoft Azure RemoteApp, Windows applications can be made available to any device that can remotely connect – without having to install applications on each device.
As a result, teams are more flexible and productive. It’s easier for a remote team member to get up to speed when all your documents – and the actual applications – are available from secure cloud services. Pulling together teams based on skills and talent alone, rather than a convenient location, has never been easier.
2. The consumerisation of devices
A major trend in the sports industry is the use of devices that provide athletes, coaches and analysts with immediate feedback across a wide range of performance factors.
For example, Apple and Major League Baseball have struck a deal, that involves placing iPad Pros in every team’s dugout during the season. The devices are used by managers, coaches and players to research and analyse data as well as have the opportunity to watch replays.
Another trend is toward wearable devices that are smaller, lighter, more powerful and easier to use. We’ve seen the proliferation of personal health bracelets to wearable GPS devices in professional sports such as AFL and rugby, where trackers are worn between the shoulder blades of the athletes to monitor movement.
One of the biggest barriers to remote working has been providing, controlling andmaintaining the devices provided to athletes and teams. However, new Mobile Device Management solutions enable organisations to manage and secure sensitive content, mobile apps and their complete portfolio of devices – regardless of ownership, location or operating system.
For example, the trainers at Nordic fitness chain, SATS ELIXIA, needed access to current fitness apps to design exercise programmes based on the latest industry information. There are a staggering 15,000 nutritional and training apps on the market which the trainers use to build personalised, up-to-date programmes for their customers. The company uses Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite to let its 7,500 employees access these resources on their own mobile devices and smartphones, or use iPads and iPhones provided by the company.
3. The pace has accelerated
Today’s athletes train at a much more intense level than they once did and use technology in their training programmes to analyse performance and adjust their workouts to give them the best chances of success.
Teams use secure document sharing tools (like Sharepoint in Office 365) to give athletes, players and coaches instant access to stats that help them analyse and adjust all aspects of their operation, from training, fitness and injury prevention to scouting and contract negotiations. These tools are being used by organisations like Sport NZ to allow scattered people to work together as well as if they were sitting at the same screen.
And today’s coaches don’t have to wait until after each competition to get these stats – they can get real-time data on how an athlete performed, or how teams of players moved individually and as a group.
National Football League (NFL) teams once printed out photos on the sidelines for analysis and review during games. Following a $400 million sponsorship deal with Microsoft, the teams now use Surface tablets that provide data and instant replays for review and dissection during games.
Technologies like these have freed businesses to work, and act, faster than ever before, but not without adding a layer of security concerns for any network manager. How do so many devices, from so many locations, get managed?
It’s these issues that Mobile Device Management software like Microsoft Intune seeks to solve, ensuring a central place to remotely manage network access and devices, keeping everyone seeing the information they should, and sensitive corporate information secure.
4. Community is now global
Our top athletes and sports teams are fully aware that their careers and businesses are dependent on fan engagement and are using mobile and social technologies to enable fans to interact with the players, team and other fans in brand new ways.
When rowing gold medallist Mahe Drysdale posted an image on Instagram following his arrival at Rio saying he was the first athlete of any country to arrive in the Olympic village, he quickly earned thousands of likes (and plaudits for his positive attitude to the village).
Some professional teams now regard their organisation as “much bigger than a sports team; it’s a social network”. Players host weekly Google Hangouts, giving their own first person perspective, while others use video and social media to document their experiences.
Liverpool Football Club (LFC) has joined with Skype to allow Kopites around the world to come together via Skype to share their passion for the club, win prizes and get the chance to chat with LFC players past and present.
As teams in business start to straddle multiple departments, offices and time-zones, organisations are nurturing a singularity of purpose and sense of community on a whole different level. Applications such as Skype that grew from interpersonal interactions are finding new uses inside organisations to foster this sense of community.
Businesses are embracing the flexibility of Cloud PBX and other similar IP-based technology to allow for seamless integration between all computing devices and voice communications. This is enabling people to be more productive and betterequipped to deliver smoother transactions and more personalised experiences for their customers.
5. The rise of messaging
Email used to dominate the world of business communication. While many predict that video will be the next “big thing”, others believe that it’s messaging – specifically, texting or Instant Messaging – that will eclipse email. Contacting a colleague is now more likely to start with a text or IM, then escalate to an alternative channel, such as a voice call, web conference or video call.
Texts are streamlining the business of managing sports teams. Instead of relying on manual phone calls, emails or website updates, coaches and managers can use texts to easily and quickly broadcast important messages to each individual, such as logistics information, training schedules and fitness programmes. With near ubiquitous devices, and constant 4G connectivity, everyone can be informed, no matter where they are.
Today, working efficiently also means using the same apps and tools on different devices. As enterprise social networks take off, familiar consumer tools such as instant and group messaging services are being integrated, offering faster, easier, and often more context-rich conversations. Why text your team from your mobile when you can use Microsoft’s Yammer it to chat within your enterprise social network?