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“…With the first pick in the 2012 NBA technology draft, the National Basketball Association selects SAP HANA, from Walldorf, Germany.”
That is, of course, a satirical spin on the familiar phrase spoken by NBA Commissioner David Stern during the NBA’s annual draft event. But the spirit of it is totally true: SAP announced on Wednesday that the National Basketball Association will be rolling out BusinessObjects software on top of its HANA platform to NBA.com so that fans can slice and dice “virtually unlimited amounts of official NBA statistical information.”
“The NBA has so many rabid stats fans,” says Michael Gliedman, the NBA’s CIO, “and the stats page is one of the most heavily trafficked parts of NBA.com.” What the NBA also has is a ton of data: more than 4.5 quadrillion segments of statistical data, at last count.
The analytical information fans will eventually be able to access should be as eye opening as a thunderous Kevin Durant dunk—historical hoops data seen only by the eyes of NBA employees and some media members in the past, Gliedman says. Stat junkies will eventually use SAP’s BusinessObjects Explorer to tap into the analytics in real-time via NBA.com and on their smartphone, iPad or desktop.
Stats junkies such as NBA fan Jamie Oswald, for example, a BusinessObjects analyst and ASUG Volunteer, has been disappointed with tracking down historical NBA stats. “I’ve always been pretty frustrated at how hard it can be to find the information I’m looking for,” Oswald writes, via email. “Trying to get [Michael] Jordan’s rookie year scoring average compared to his career average can require three to five Google searches, hitting seven to 10 webpages, and not being entirely comfortable that the information you find is accurate.”
Gliedman says the NBA had always wanted to make its vast volumes of accumulated basketball data more widely available, and ran a test project last year—giving online access to a hundred or so media people. “The feedback from that was tremendous,” he says. “The media who used it were now able to do things [on their own with the data] that had required hand-holding before. Then we said: We need to push this out to the fans.”
But the NBA knew it’d need some help with scaling out their system—transitioning from “not just one hundred media people, but to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people,” Gliedman says. Enter SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott (who’s a big basketball fan with some apparent connections to the NBA) and his star rookie: SAP HANA.
It didn’t take long for Gliedman to see that HANA needed to be in the NBA’s starting line-up: a demo, followed by a successful proof of concept with NBA data demonstrated the obvious conclusion. “Once we saw the tool and loaded [our] data in there and saw what it could do,” he says, “there was not much selling to be done.”
“Adding More Data, More Quickly Than Before”
Before the demo, the NBA was somewhat familiar with SAP: The NBA uses the Sybase ASE platform as the underpinning of all NBA statistics. Gliedman’s responsibility for the league is an accumulation of 250 systems that supports the NBA’s operations and “all technology initiatives relating to the collection, cataloging, storage, archiving and retrieval of NBA assets,” according to the league.
The NBA’s historical data and statistics are critical records that have been maintained with much care—the NBA does “tremendous amount of QC and QA on our statistics,” Gliedman says. So the “cleanliness” of the data loaded into HANA won’t be a concern. And that will enable the NBA to move even faster in “adding more ancillary data, more quickly than before,” Gliedman points out, which will likely include such things as video box scores and connections to social media sites so fans care share their analysis and insights. (The NBA is using SAP Data Services to aid the transition to HANA, as well as BusinessObjects Business Intelligence software in-house.)
Ease of use, though, will be critical for the fans, who can expect this new functionality during the mid-point (somewhere around the All-Star Game, Gliedman says) of the 2012-2013 season.
SAP’s Steve Lucas, EVP and general manager of database & technology (and die-hard Denver Nuggets fan, he says), assures that the combination of Explorer and HANA (“super simple easy to use tools” that “sit directly on top of HANA”) is going to enable “unprecedented, unparalleled access to the league’s historical data” for fans, he says. “This story is all about fan engagement.”
ASUG Volunteer Oswald is excited by the prospects of the NBA and HANA deal. “If SAP does nothing but help get all the box-score stats history into a single, easy to search, easy to compare database, then I think they’ve won,” he says. “If they can manage to put some of the advanced stats, then I think they’ve hit the next level. If they can pass all of that and allow people to predict how different players could work together on a team, given statistical strengths and weaknesses, allowing for player comparisons, and trending performance over time, then I think they’d actually have a shot to change a non-metaphorical game.”
The NBA’s BusinessObjects HANA project is underway, Gliedman reports, and he appears confident that HANA will be able to deliver. “SAP,” he says, “understands that we’re trying to build something groundbreaking and unprecedented with our fans.”