A dig­i­tal chain re­ac­tion

South African IT so­lu­tions provider Di­men­sion Data is es­tab­lish­ing a dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion strong­hold for the world’s premier cy­cling events.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK - By Glenda Wil­liams edi­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

cy­cling fans want to know the nit­tygritty of the race as it un­folds. How fast the sprint­ers are go­ing. Who is do­ing the least amount of work in the break­away. Or whether wind on the route is likely to split the pelo­ton. And they want to know it in real time, es­pe­cially when it comes to the world’s most leg­endary cy­cling race, the epic Tour de France.

The Tour de France, con­sid­ered the big­gest an­nual sport­ing event on the global cal­en­dar, has im­pres­sive num­bers to prove its sta­tus as a sport­ing phe­nom­e­non. Broad­cast to 190 coun­tries over three weeks of the gru­elling stage race, it boasts TV view­ers in the bil­lions, 10m to 12m road­side spec­ta­tors and 397m live ac­tion view­ers.

The dig­i­tal age

Tour de France or­gan­is­ers Amaury Sport Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ASO) iden­ti­fied the chal­lenge that a dig­i­tal era rep­re­sented, recog­nis­ing that the par­a­digm of how they were reach­ing their cy­cling au­di­ence would need to change and ex­pand if they were to re­main rel­e­vant as well as reach a new au­di­ence.

The dig­i­tal era chal­lenged the hold that race or­gan­is­ers, rights own­ers and TV net­works have had on broad­cast­ing con­tent for decades.

So in 2015 ASO reached out to homegrown IT so­lu­tions and ser­vices provider Di­men­sion Data to ac­cel­er­ate its ca­pa­bil­ity in the dig­i­tal world, rev­o­lu­tionise the view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and cater to a grow­ing and en­gaged au­di­ence.

And it had to be de­liv­ered in time for that year’s Tour de France.

“This rep­re­sented a tremen­dous chal­lenge to us,” says Stephen Green, Di­men­sion Data’s chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer for the Mid­dle East and Africa. “To get from noth­ing to be­ing ready for a ma­jor show­case on a world scale within six months is a mas­sive achieve­ment.”

Di­men­sion Data signed a five-year part­ner­ship as ASO’s of­fi­cial tech­nol­ogy part­ner for cy­cling events.

It then took a global Di­men­sion Data team spread across 11 cities and five con­ti­nents to de­velop and de­liver a so­lu­tion in time for the race.

Track­ing the cy­clists

Di­men­sion Data’s dig­i­tal so­lu­tion starts with a transpon­der fit­ted be­hind the cy­clists’ sad­dles. From here data is re­layed to team ve­hi­cles, then to the he­li­copters that cover the race. It is then streamed to Di­men­sion Data’s Big Data truck, the mo­bile data cen­tre that ac­com­pa­nies the race, where it is cap­tured and an­a­lysed us­ing an ad­vanced dig­i­tal an­a­lyt­ics plat­form be­fore be­ing up­loaded to the Di­men­sion Data cloud.

New viewer ex­pe­ri­ence

The viewer’s ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes live GoPro broad­casts from rid­ers in the race, race data in the form of new TV graph­ics and a live track­ing web­site show­ing speed and po­si­tion of each rider and dis­tance be­tween rid­ers within the pelo­ton.

Tour de France data, which is also shared on so­cial media chan­nels, eas­ily goes vi­ral. A sin­gle tweet posted in 2015 (about a par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­u­lar crash in the pelo­ton) re­sulted in 31 801 en­gage­ments, dou­bling fol­low­ers on @le­tour­data.

The data also cre­ates con­ver­sa­tions among con­tenders, teams and fans and pro­vides richer in­for­ma­tion than TV broad­cast­ers are able to use for their live com­men­tary.

Di­men­sion Data has for­mu­lated new ways of cap­tur­ing, cre­at­ing, analysing, dis­play­ing and pub­lish­ing race data, thereby pro­vid­ing new in­sights into race tac­tics and un­leash­ing a strong dig­i­tal plat­form for the world’s premier cy­cling events like the Tour as well as the Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix tours.

And it con­tin­ues to set the stage for even greater story telling.

“We are putting a lot of ef­fort into ma­chine learn­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to en­able us to do pre­dic­tive analysis,” says Green about the road ahead.

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