I’ve been a tech journalist for just over ten years now, and I’ve noticed something about 2016. A lot of the high-end, what-do-we-actually-do-with-this tech I’ve been hearing and writing about for the past, oh, five years, is starting to show up in real life in ways that might actually have a genuinely positive impact on the world.
I know, I am as surprised as you are. Up to now, these advances have been about improving business performance, cutting costs and increasing revenue, but we’re at a point where tech’s incremental annual improvements have delivered some of the most astounding devices and services we’ve ever seen.
For example, today, your octa-core smartphone with its 1080p screen can do as much as (if not more than) a computer from 2006 could, and yet it still somehow manages to last an entire day on a single charge while being less than 10mm thick. That’s the culmination of incremental hardware, software, battery and screen technology improvements coming together to create something that ten years ago was literally unimaginable.
And that’s just one example of tech’s astounding advances. But that’s not what I am talking about; no, I’m talking about the tech that makes our world work: the computers at the foundation of the internet, the servers that support business, the real-time communications made possible by satellites orbiting the earth and the terrestrial networks that use it, the tiny sensors that gather all manner of information… all of these things are now so advanced, and so good at working together, that companies are coming up with new ways to use the data they generate about us and our world to make life on planet Earth a bit more bearable, and themselves more profit in the process.
Let’s ignore for a moment the ominous implications of big businesses (and likely governments as well) knowing everything there is to know about people and using that for evil, and focus instead on what I was shown a few weeks back by the guys over at SAP South Africa: the future of the stadium experience.
Even under the best of circumstances, going to watch a sporting event or concert at a major stadium can be a harrowing experience. With tens of thousands of people all descending on the location at the same time, you’re looking at traffic headaches, problems reaching your allotted seats on time, issues getting to refreshments, lines at the bathroom during the event, clueless security and management not appearing to be aware of any issues until it’s too late.
Sure, having all of these happen in a single visit is the worst-case scenario, but anyone who’s visited a stadium recently can attest to at least some of them being considered “normal” for the stadium experience. On a good day you only encounter a handful of those issues, and on a bad one, all of them.
Problem avoidance through technology
So what if, using just your smartphone, you could avoid every single one of these problems? That is exactly the future posited by SAP.
The SAP Arena in Mannheim Germany, not coincidentally sponsored by SAP, has been retrofitted with a great deal of cutting-edge technology to make that dream a reality. Wikipedia calls it “…one of the most high-tech [stadiums] in Europe”, which SAP told me is because it has cutting-edge sensors and cameras installed throughout, all feeding data into SAP HANA servers via a high-speed network.
Thanks to HANA’s in-memory processing capabilities that can analyse terabytes of data in mere seconds, those servers are able to process that incoming data and make it available to management in real time. That provides managers with a live overview of what’s happening in the stadium, as well as makes possible a dedicated app that everyday people can download to their smartphones that delivers much-needed info to the people on the ground.
Having that knowledge at their fingertips and in real time is how management is able to respond immediately to issues; they can open up dormant turnstiles at busy entrances, redirect app users to slightly less busy toilets or food kiosks and dispatch security to problem areas, and even guide customers to their seats. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Ultimately, this data enhances lives by enabling management to manage more effectively and keep app users abreast of stadium conditions. That way, visitors are empowered to make decisions that’ll affect their experience on the ground, resulting in a 21st-century stadium experience that makes every stadium visit prior to 2016 look positively backwards by comparison.
And while I was told the current configuration doesn’t provide traffic information to make getting to the stadium as snag-free as possible, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the app could someday incorporate that data.
Leveraging social sentiment
Of course, the available, tech-based stadium enhancements go beyond just management and visitors. SAP’s Hybris technology, which monitors social media sentiment, can be deployed on game days to gauge player popularity and feed that info back to t-shirt vendors, who can quickly print up a bunch of shirts with that player’s face on them using a portable t-shirt printer and sell them to euphoric fans.
That way, vendors can potentially boost their match-day profits by being able to respond to sentiment on the day, rather than being forced to take a flying guess as to how to stock their stalls. With SAP’s tech in place, vendors can avoid either running out of stock of the right player’s merch, or not stocking it at all. Genius!
And all of this is made possible by cutting-edge tech, applied to the problem of stadium logistics. Clearly, if a little knowledge goes a long way, a lot of knowledge goes even further.