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NFL's CIO tackles big data, player safety and in-game technology

Kenneth Corbin | June 24, 2014
The National Football League's CIO, a position that didn't exist three years ago, explains how the NFL is tackling big data challenges, overhauling stats and bringing new technology on the field and behind the scenes.

Tablets on the sidelines. Electronic medical records follow players as they leave one team and sign with another. A massive, searchable database with a video clip that corresponds to every recorded stat.

Welcome to the Modern NFL
Just in the last couple years, the league has been making a concerted push to modernize and consolidate its technology operations, spanning its various consumer-facing media platforms, the technology coaches and referees use on the field, as well as internal systems, according to Michelle McKenna-Doyle, the NFL's CIO, a relatively new position within the league.

"For the first time in its history, the NFL really decided it needed a CIO about two years ago, two-and-a-half years ago," McKenna-Doyle said in remarks at a conference on Friday. "It had various heads of IT that did various pieces and parts, but we had a very disparate technology footprint across our digital businesses and our sort of corporate, back-of-house type of businesses."

McKenna-Doyle describes an IT evolution at the NFL that will sound familiar to CIOs at more conventional enterprises. That transformation, which has entailed a shift in focus from systems to services, saw the NFL move past its mainframe days, into the client-server model, and, finally, onto the third phase of cloud computing and associated technologies.

"Believe it or not we still had some old applications that not that long ago were recently migrated," McKenna-Doyle says of the remnants of the NFL's mainframe era. "Now, we're all living in this third platform, which is really around all the analytics, big data, making sure it all runs on the cloud and the Internet of things."

The NFL Is Up to its Facemask in Data
McKenna-Doyle points out that the NFL, like other stat-dependent sports leagues, has been working with big data long before big data became a buzzword. But in recent years, the league has been drilling into that information to create a platform that the 32 teams can tap into with their own applications to develop smarter scouting programs to make better, more data-driven personnel decisions and gather intelligence on opposing squads.

The NFL Vision platform offers video clips of each recorded statistic, tagged to the player and sortable by variables such as playing surface, stadium, weather conditions, etc. Last year, the NFL reached an agreement with the NCAA to include video clips from players' college days.

"That has been amazingly beneficial to our coaches and players from a learning perspective, and the fact that it can be mobile now on handheld devices tablets or phones continues to just drive the adoption and different types of analysis that coaches like to do," she says.


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