IBM Collaboration Tech Helps WBC Play Ball

News Analysis: Facing close scrutiny from fans, team owners and the worldwide media, Major League Baseball uses an online collaboration network built on IBM apps to ensure that the inaugural World Baseball Classic should go off without a hitch.

Major League Baseball wanted to make sure that its inaugural World Baseball Classic tournament was a hit, so it rolled out a roster of online collaborative tools to help keep its teams on the same page.

Starting work after the end of 2005 World Series last October, MLBs IT department had less than six months to design, create and launch a sophisticated network of databases, Web sites and mobile applications that would serve as a central resource for the 16 international teams participating in the competition.

Using IBM software that included its Workplace collaboration applications for enterprise content management, document sharing and Web portal development, the league said it had its first WBC-related operations up and running in less than a month.

In piecing together the tournament, MLB faced challenges ranging from the logistics of launching a collaboration system for people located on nearly every continent, to needing to appease professional baseball owners in the United States concerned over the health of players participating in the event.

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The simplicity with which users could adopt and utilize the Workplace tools was crucial to putting the system together, said Mike Morris, director of software development at MLB, based in New York.

"The beauty of using this type of software is that right out of the box its ready for users to self-service themselves," Morris said. "Once IT had the initial site up, we gave functionality to the users who could put their own content into the system and invite people into workgroups; having the ability to manage this whole process simply was key to getting underway."

On those sites, teams did everything from create their own logistics and marketing plans to finalize their player rosters and provide internal updates on the games. While some constituents were less familiar with such IT-centric operations, even those teams began using the system heavily, according to MLB.

One of the biggest issues shadowing the WBC has been the health of MLB players participating in the showcase event. Some team owners, including New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, openly questioned the logic of playing the games directly ahead of MLBs regular season opening day, and others have demanded almost constant updates on players status.

In order to appease the owners, MLB built a system which e-mails updates from the WBC back to the pro teams on an almost real-time basis as they train, Morris said.

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Another necessity for pulling off the event was the creation of a wireless system for use among the tournament officials. Event management teams, including security, transportation, hospitality and medical staff, were armed with Sprint smart phones used for everything from voice communications and e-mail to snapping and distributing photographs of media members who were trying to gain access to the event.

Neil Boland, a vice president with New York-based E2 Consulting Group, which helped manage the WBC collaboration effort, agreed that IBMs software greatly accelerated the rate at which the project could be completed. While the tournament didnt have legacy data to contend with, building an IT system with the idea of future growth in mind was its own challenge, he said.

"The requirements changed so quickly and dramatically as the event got closer, most people wouldnt think you could accomplish everything that was done," Boland said. "If someone had pitched this as a six-month project two or three years ago, I dont think they could have come close to what we were able to build."

The consultant said sourcing many applications from a single vendor that had already been integrated to work together was one of the biggest payouts of selecting IBM. While piecing together independent applications from multiple companies was an option, Boland said that process alone would have added lengthy development work.

With Cuba and Japan preparing to play in the WBC final on March 20, MLB is getting ready to launch its regular season and put its international competition on the shelf until it returns again in 2009, but some of the technology used to put the event together will segue over into the leagues regular season. For instance, the system being used to distribute information on player health will be used by MLB umpires for sharing information on teams, players and game incidents.

"People using this system werent developers for the most part, and thats part of the reason it worked so well," Morris said. "When you have something that almost anyone can figure out how to work with, you can easily find a lot of other business uses for this type of technology."

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