Tracking Sports Stats in the Cloud
SAP’s annual juggernaut of an IT conference, Sapphire Now, is time of year for the global ERP software company to showcase its latest innovations in software upgrades, functionality, and business value. In years past, some of the unveilings have been SAP Simple Finance, SAP S/4HANA, S/4HANA Cloud, and SAP Cloud Platform.
Introduced at last year’s Sapphire Now, (and one of this year’s hottest topics that SAP is looking to showcase) is SAP Leonardo; a digital innovation system that leverages SAP Cloud Platform to integrate new technologies such as IoT, Machine Learning, Analytics, Blockchain, and more. Inspired to showcase some of SAP Leonardo’s unique functionality, SAP teamed up with the Denver based SAP consulting company, NIMBL, to create custom applications that track athletic performance and give real time analytics on speed, endurance, accuracy, and physical potential. Thus, the SAP Leonardo Basketball Event and NIMBL Bball Skills challenge were born. I had the chance to sit down with Principal Solution Engineer for SAP Digital Enterprise Platform Group, Dirk Pluschke, and NIMBL Chief Technical Officer, Michael Pytel to discuss their process in creating this one of kind event for the largest SAP conference of the year.
How did this idea/initiative come about?
Dirk: Throughout the years it has become a habit at SAP in North America for individuals to use the arrival day at our yearly sales kick off meeting for playing sports. Recently we have been playing basketball, soccer, and even ice hockey. As a German, I personally prefer soccer and have been organizing the venue for the last 2 years. Our friends from NIMBL volunteered this year to sponsor the rental fee for the soccer venue for us soccer buffs. Throughout the sales meeting I noticed how many great connections I’ve made with colleagues from different geographies and focus areas that I have never met before. I realized there is no better way to network than by playing sports together. This ignited the idea that we should offer this opportunity to our customers. Then I thought that if we do this at SAPPHIRE, we should absolutely use this event to showcase our technology where customers experience the power of SAP Leonardo. I reached out to my peers in SAP Leonardo Presales, SAP’s Industry Business Unit for Sports & Entertainment our Global Sponsorship teams, and circled back with NIMBL to put this event together.
Michael: When we ran the events in Las Vegas, everyone really enjoyed playing soccer together. So, we had to find a way to do something like this. At NIMBL, we’ve been working with SAP Cloud Platform IoT services for multiple months now and it just made sense to figure out a way to integrate it with sports using simple sensors with Raspberry Pi devices and sending that to SAP Cloud Platform.
What are some of activities featured in this event?
Dirk: While the soccer World Cup starts right after SAPPHIRE, we thought basketball would be the most popular sport for such an event. The central activity is a 3v3 basketball tournament where players are equipped with pro-style IOT sensors for real-time performance tracking. For SAP’s team management solution Sports One, we are partnering with KINEXON which is specialized in sensor based-performance tracking and does this for NBA teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and the Golden State Warriors.
SAP is technology partner to the NBA and we are maintaining a very close relationship. We wanted to invite former NBA players who are involved with the league to see what we are doing and are able to talk to our customers about the changes in professional basketball when it comes to the application of sensor technology for performance tracking. We are super excited to have Detlef Schrempf and Nick Anderson join us.
Finally, we anticipate many customers to join us and the NBA legends at the event even though they may not be up for playing in the tournament. I reached out Michael Pytel from NIMBL and he was immediately excited about this event. He and his team designed and developed a set of sensor-based skill challenges that perfectly demonstrate how sensors can feed into SAP Cloud Platform in a super fun way. This allows us to extend the event to many more participants and have even more customers experience the power of Leonardo which is really what this event is about.
We want customers to experience the application of sensor technology in this athletic setting instead of looking at slides. I believe we put an event together that is exciting to many audiences, from the basketball enthusiast to the technology geek.
Michael: For the skills challenge, it was interesting to think about how we could use sensors to take measurements related to speed, height, distance and shot accuracy. We wanted to avoid attaching devices to people to keep costs low and really showcase how inexpensive sensors can be applied in real world scenarios and connected to SAP Cloud Platform. There will be one event to capture hangtime as part of the jump challenge. Another event to measure time through a dribbling course. And lastly a shooting challenge.
Dirk: The competitions are referencing the major basketball skills: dribbling, jumping, shooting. Participants dribble through a track of sensor equipped cones to measure time to finish. For jumping NIMBL and Breadware designed a pad that senses the jumping height to remove the factor of body height from the competition. Finally, shooting has to be part of a basketball skill competition where we count hits and misses from different positions over time. After the event, we will combine all data points into a Digital Boardroom. I’m excited to see what correlations we will find between the skill challenges and the performance tracking data. That’s really the fun part!
What has the process looked like in creating the applications (both from a technical and functional perspective)?
Dirk: To understand the development process, you really need to ask Michael. NIMBL is a fantastic partner to work with. While we were collaborating closely and maintaining constant communication of ideas and status of development, you can hand a scope to the NIMBL team, they run with it, and exceed expectations at the end. For example, Michael researched and tested several different sensor-supported basketball products and found none to be fit for our event. Then he decided to partner up with Breadware and custom equipment. I thought that was really cool! Michael: SAP has really made application development on the cloud platform easy to execute. We leverage the SAP Web IDE to build the front-end applications and activated the IoT services within SAP Cloud Platform and SAP HANA in order to capture sensor data.
What do you see as the benefits in having this real time data available – in the world of athletics and beyond?
Dirk: These days real-time is everything. Take pro-basketball, these guys play almost every day. What’s the point of reviewing performance related information if not timely? I would say that other industries are pressed even more so for time. As an example, if you think about sensors on heavy machinery to detect issues and failures, only timely alerts will allow to avoid costly service disruption. That’s why real-time insights, or even better predictive analytics are key. The exciting part of SAP Leonardo is the combination of cutting-edge technologies, such as IOT, big data, advanced analytics, and machine learning.
Michael: Our goal with this event is to highlight how easy it is to deploy low costs sensors and connect or blend them with SAP applications. This stuff really does work outside of PowerPoint. We want attendees to see and touch these devices – and explore how NIMBL used SAP Cloud Platform to bring everything together. We feel that SAP’s consumption model pricing for SAP Cloud Platform will enable customers to launch low-cost protypes – which ideally will show business users that IT can help them innovate. We’re excited to meet customers and let them see under the hood – whether that’s IoT Services, SAP HANA, or Fiori App Development – it will all be on display with SAP & the NBA.