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Accenture: Six Nations Rugby Is Ideal Showcase For Our Big Data Tech

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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How Accenture is helping the Six Nations rugby tournament and why it’s a great testing ground for business

In the business world, analytics are used to improve insight or boost customer engagement. Big data helps organisations make better decisions or understand more about their clients, and Accenture says this is true of the sporting world too.

It has been the official technology sponsor of the Six Nations rugby tournament for the past six years, crunching data for organisers to relay to fans and building the official application.

As a high profile sporting event, it’s an ideal showcase for the company. And  given rugby’s reputation as a more affluent sport, especially in England, it is a platform to reach business decision makers at potentially lucrative customers.

Accenture 6 Nations 2

Big data at the Six Nations

IBM does something similar with the England rugby team through a partnership with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and its TryTracker tool, but Accenture is doing it for the entire competition.

“We’ve used that sponsorship to increase fan engagement for that tournament and to showcase the art of the possible with our tech that we’re deploying for our client base,” Nick Millman, managing director for Accenture’s big data and analytics unit in Europe, Africa and Latin America tells Silicon UK.

“We’re the tech sponsor because we think it’s a strong way to showcase our digital capabilities. Accenture has a strong digital business and it’s a strong showcase.”

Accenture’s analytics platform takes raw stats and gives players an ‘Accenture Index’ score that determines their performance. It can create depth charts that rank players, something that will be of particular interest in 2017 with the British and Irish Lions tour taking place in New Zealand in the summer.

The platform also makes predictions of who will win before each game (it can’t predict draws though) and updates this forecast in real time. In the 2016 edition, England defeated Wales but only after a spirited fightback from their opponents pushed them close. The match finished 25-21, but Accenture’s pre match prediction was never tempted to change.

Accenture 6 Nations Gordon D'Arcy

Visual data

The main purpose for all this is to provide the media with additional information that can be used in broadcasts, match reports and social media. The back-end algorithm that determines these has been changed for 2016, but the biggest difference this year is how the insights are presented.

Accenture makes its dashboards as visual as possible and is now working on how to make ‘mixed reality’ applications that fuse virtual and augmented realities. A prototype app was built in three weeks for the Six Nations and Millman believes there is huge potential for the wider business world.

“There’s a broad set of possibilities,” he says. “It could be used for consumer engagement [in industries like] motor manufacturers and estate agents. One of the strong use cases for business is training the workforce.

“As the technology evolves, we’ll probably see more business cases for mixed reality for business. I think ‘full reality’ might be off putting [for office use].”

Another new project is the use of Amazon Alexa. In one demo, a user can ask the voice-activated personal assistant a question about Six Nations history – such as ‘who scored the most tries in the 2016 Six Nations?’

The answer is George North of Wales, but can this consumer-oriented technology be applied to work?

After all, there have been significant concerns about how Amazon uses and stores the data it collects when consumers interact with the Amazon Echo. And what about the act of actually asking questions out loud? Will sensitive data not spread like gossip?

“There are some barriers of adoption for users in the business world,” replies Millman, who argues that using natural language will be another way of making Big Data insights more digestable for employees. “But I think there will be a growing shirt towards level of comfort.

“As people get more comfortable incorporating [voice activated assistants] into their personal lives, they will be more comfortable asking ‘show me my regional sales from region A’”

Quiz: What do you know about sports tech?