With the Feb. 18 NBA trade deadline quickly approaching, the Toronto Raptors opened its new “war room” to a handful of journalists who were able to see the sleek, high-tech boardroom where multi-million dollar decisions are made.
The war room, located in the new Raptors training facility, the Biosteel Centre, is a command center with touchscreens embedded into the table and across the walls, glowing with player and team statistics. The solution is IBM Sports Insights Central, and it’s this first of its kind in this industry.
According to officials, the goal was to create a collaborative environment where management could be more efficient, and get better insight through data visualization and analytics. Looking at the walls of statistics, it’s hard not to see similarities to NOCs or financial trading facilities where streams of data are used in making important decisions.
IBM Sports Insights Central was developed with input from the Toronto Raptors to provide a comprehensive platform to view, organize and surface relevant data important in evaluating individual and team performance.
The platform extends beyond current roster players to include all NBA players and NBA prospects. The intent is to transform the Raptors’ talent evaluation processes by reimagining data through cognitive and analytics technology.
Draft lists used to be scattered across Excel files and paper binders, according to IBM Interactive Global Business Services application architect Jamal Lacour. “Now, [Managers] still have the same power to create lists, but they now have a centralized place to discuss and pull up data at their fingertips now,” he said. “We can centralize it and visualize it, and we don’t have to have someone print out the physical manuals of talent and information.”
It used to be common to print out player names and pin them to the wall in different colors based on their contract status, and print out a new one when it changed (ie. from white to green). Under IBM’s system, these players can be seen on the monitors with their contract status appearing in realtime with the same color-coding. There’s even an accompanying phone app that give managers access to information while outside of the war room, making paper binders increasingly irrelevant.
The solution was designed by IBM Interactive Experience, and is powered by IBM Watson cognitive business technology which uses the IBM BlueMix cloud. It incorporates IBM Research including IBM Watson Tradeoff analytics that helps assess possible roster combinations, and IBM Watson Personality Insights that help understand player personality and social characteristics that might make them fit into a particular organizational culture. IBM Watson Alchemy also uses publicly available news to round out player profiles.
IBM Sports Insights Central can automatically quantify performance and financial data to provide an instant assessment of a player’s impact on a team.
With statistics and analytics being a major part of sports for a long time, improved analytics and visual insights are a clear way team management can improve their chances at succeeding – just like other industries and businesses. It simplifies gathering and sharing relevant insights, which is crucial when making time sensitive decisions like choosing players to draft.
Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri, who will likely benefit most from Sports Insights Central, said that the team now has the best war room in the NBA. “It’s equipped with all kinds of stuff – screens and things that I don’t even know how to work yet,” he said, “It’s amazing that we give them all this information… the world has become an analytics world. We have to collect data and information to make the right decisions in the work we do.”
For the time being, however, humans are still the ones making the decisions, and IBM’s computer intelligence serves as a tool rather than taking over as GM. But Watson could be a convenient scapegoat to direct fan anger towards if blame for a lousy season.