IBM's data Grand Slam

IBM's move to bring data analytics to the Australian Open puts a new spin on the potential of big data.

There’s a lot to be said for the adage: “The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know”.

At least that’s the feeling I got when IBM gave journalists the lowdown on its SlamTracker tool at the Australian Open tennis grand slam this week.

IBM crunches a vast amount of data to tell audiences, while a match is still underway, what a player needs to do to beat their opponent.

The IT giant analysed over 39 million data points across five years of grand slam championships to find patterns and styles for players when they win. It then used this insight to determine what it calls the “keys to the match” for each player.

Tennis Australia then decided to make this information available to everyone via its website, in real time.

SlamTracker for everything

SlamTracker is made up of quite detailed tasks, such as “Win more than 42 per cent of first serve return points”.

For data nerds, it’s a gold mine, but punters will be disappointed since Tennis Australia isn’t willing to turn all that data towards predicting a match winner.

SlamTracker also includes an “aggressiveness ratio”, which it says is derived from a player’s winners and opponents forced errors. What if it took into account the amount of times they abuse the umpire? Or, in the case of fiery Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis on Thursday, the amount of rackets they destroy by smashing them into the Plexicushion.

SlamTracker includes a commentary section that incorporates both professional commentary, and live feeds of Twitter and Facebook comments from the public. What if TennisAustraliawere to merge a sentiment measure from social media comments with the mood of the on-court crowd?

New technology, new insights                                        

Tennis Australia chief information officer Samir Mahir says one of the major differentiators in professional sports today is how coaches and players get insights from data.

Mahir says picking match winners is actually easier than what IBM does with “keys to the match.”

So instead of giving punters what they want, Tennis Australia gives the tennis community what it needs.

It’s just one of many interesting choices thrown up by the trend of big data. There are so many questions related to what you can do with data and what you actually do with it, and the decisions behind the latter.

Big data is seen as a whole new asset class by some, one that has the potential to aid productivity, rapidly overtake competitors, or seriously disrupt a raft of legacy businesses.

Consulting firm McKinsey recently highlighted the situation in its report on big data, what happens to industries predicated on information asymmetry, various types of brokers for example, in a world of radical data transparency?

As more and more data is crunched, analysed and opened up to customers, it’s inevitable we’ll all start expecting more, questioning which parts of the data are provided to us and which parts we’re not given access to.

Tools like ‘keys to the match’ are just the beginning.

Charis Palmer attended the Australian Open as a guest of IBM.




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