We live in the age of ubiquitous high-speed networks, high-tech sensors and compute power orders of magnitude more powerful and efficient than in any other point in human history. Plus, a large portion of the planet has access to smartphones that can and do run data-generating apps.
Thus, in 2016 nearly everything people do generates data. That data can be – and is – analysed and used by big companies to deliver better, more appropriate products and services, ostensibly to boost revenues but also to improve lives in the process.
Sport is one area of human endeavour that has long been the subject of analysis by experts and computer systems alike. Until recently that analysis has, for the most part, been an arcane exercise that has relied as much on gut feelings and intuition as it has on concrete data and trained experts weighing in with their opinions and ideas.
I say “for the most part” because sports like Formula One, NASCAR and other racing sports have long used computers and sensors to track car and driver performance and develop effective strategies against specific opponents on specific tracks, so it’s not a new idea at all.
But now, thanks to a push by German IT outfit SAP, that same philosophy of generating and analysing sports data in order to boost team performance is being made available to soccer teams through a cloud-hosted software suite SAP calls “SAP Sports One”.
In-memory cloud processing for the win
Sports One is, as you’d expect, based on SAP’s proprietary technology and uses high-powered SAP HANA servers to crunch the numbers in the cloud and serve the data up to managers via a slick interface on their chosen devices, be they PCs, smartphones or tablets.
The software’s various modules cover five main areas: Team management, training planning, player fitness, performance insights and scouting. By having all of that data at their fingertips, managers get direct access to useful information that helps to guide their decisions, like setting up specific training regimens to help players improve weak areas, identified by analysing individual performance on match days.
Goalies, too, get a lot of help from SAP Sports One’s Penalty Insights Function module. The software can analyse opponents’ plays as well, giving management insight into the goal corners players are more likely to aim for during penalty shootouts. That gives goalies a significant advantage when it comes to deciding which way to dive based on who’s taking the shot, which in turn boosts their odds of pulling off a successful save.
With all of the data gathered and presented by Sports One in its Challenger Insights module, match analysts can review opposing teams’ tactical characteristics and even create an assumed match plan. Accessed through a single device like an iPad that teams can check in their lockers prior to a match or during halftime, match analysts can deliver the assumed game plan of the opposing team so players can familiarise themselves with opponent tendencies and reference past video replays to be better prepared for what unfolds on the pitch.
And when it comes to scouting for new players, the software also provides analysis on player performance from other teams. It enables managers to seek out specific talent – say, a defender with an excellent tackling record – which could potentially shore up any weaknesses in their teams’ capabilities, as identified by the software.
“Digitalisation affects our entire economy and society, and is also entering the world of sports. SAP and DFB teamed up to spearhead this digital transformation and to take football to the next level,” said Bernd Leukert, Member of the Executive Board, SAP SE. “With SAP Challenger Insights and the penalty insights function for SAP Sports One, we are putting the power of real-time data and information directly into the hands of coaches and players.”
The German Football Team’s SAP success
SAP, a German company, believes SAP Sports One played a crucial part in the German national football team’s victory at the Football World Championships in 2014, and has created all sorts of enhancements to the software’s functionality and user interface in the two years since.
“Together with SAP, we have created a match plan that puts the power of real-time data and information into our hands and helps us gain a competitive edge,” said Oliver Bierhoff, Manager of the German National Football team and SAP ambassador.