First Read

A first take on enterprise IT technology news and events.

New Life for Old Tennis Stats

The U.S. Tennis Association and IBM are using video mashups to give scores and statistics a longer shelf life. Any business swimming in data points should consider it a lesson in business intelligence and visibility.


When tennis player Mardy Fish relives his unexpectedly strong performance in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, he might be impressed with how he hung on against the world's top player. He might also kick himself when he realizes how close he came to unseating the Wimbledon and Olympic champion, Rafael Nadal.

Any coach, broadcaster, player or fan reviewing the epic match between the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, can't miss the stunning equality of their play. Stat for stat, the sisters were neck and neck, save for one thing: unforced errors -- of which Venus acquired nearly twice as many. It could have been the difference in the match Serena won in two sets, both of which ended in intense, tie-breaking seventh games.

With dozens of cameras ringing the court, radar to capture ball speeds and USTA (United States Tennis Association) statisticians logging every point of every match, players have a chance to draw deeper insight into their play than ever before. A team from IBM, on-site to support The Open's IT infrastructure, crafted a mashup, tagging the frames of video captured by cameras to match the points as called and time stamped by the statistician using a handheld device.

Each player is handed a DVD within an hour of the match, which lets them recall any of the 14 stats recorded by the statistician -- aces, double faults, first serve wins, second serve wins, unforced errors, net approaches, and on and on. IBM will create nearly 300 of the DVDs during the tournament.

The result: Venus Williams will be able to review every one of those 45 unforced errors. Mardy Fish will see either his inability to capitalize on net approaches or the fact that he aced the world's top player 14 times.

A Longer Shelf Life for Match Points

The video mashups are essentially a byproduct of IBM's real mission at the tournament: to capture and transmit a tremendous amount of data -- hundreds of players, hundreds of matches, thousands of points, thousands of statistics -- recorded on 19 courts and distributed to media, coaches, players, the USTA itself on an intranet on-site and millions of fans on the Web.

The video mashups are simply a customized delivery of supply chain or business process data -- a different visualization, different delivery, based on who needs to know, said John Kent, IBM's Worldwide Sponsorship marketing manager and liaison to the USTA.

"You have a raw material and you gather, produce and distribute it to various sources," Kent said "Here, the score is the raw material. It needs to be captured, recorded from disparate, integrated and distributed sources. Then you have various customers who need it in different forms -- player, media, fan."

"What's interesting here," Kent said, "is that the raw material gets old very quickly based on how it is delivered. This is a way to deliver it in way that has a longer shelf life."

For Mardy Fish and Venus Williams those points will likely live on a little longer.

A Visibility Opportunity

Any business swimming in process data points and a time factor can apply and deliver it in different ways depending on the end user, in a way that makes the business intelligence more intelligent depending on the user, Kent said.

There is the potential to apply similar mashups of data and time factors that could offer new visibility into business processes and new opportunity to assess performance.

  • Manufacturers, facing new demands from consumers and looming regulations and compliance to certify the source of raw materials in their supply chains (think of the toy makers troubled by lead paint that found its way onto parts supplied by Chinese factories and the dog food industry hit by poisoned ingredients also from Chinese suppliers), could use time stamps and tracking data to build mashups delivering different data sets and different visualizations for different users. Suppliers themselves could see one view, the vendor another, government regulators a third and even a view for consumers.
  • Professional services, such as lawyers and accountants, could use time stamps attached to phone records, even recorded conversations or the network logs of an accounting application, to track work product and billing and provide different views for internal and external users
  • Financial services firms would have a new way to show customers performance factors tied to external factors such as news events and market changes.