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A whole new ball game

01 Nov 2010
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An iconic stadium and soon-to-be host to the Rugby World Cup 2011 finals and Cricket World Cup 2015, the opening of new-look Eden Park reignites New Zealanders’ impassioned love affair with sport thanks to a $240.5 million refurb. Meet ICT Project Director for Eden Park Redevelopment Board, Glen McCracken, the man charged with kicking technology into touch.Q. What was the overall vision for Eden Park when you first sat down and began planning how technology would fit within the venue?A. We realised early on that being "successful” in our technology implementation would mean that we would first need to understand Eden Park’s overall vision, goals and objectives, and then seek to understand the role that technology could   play in fulfilling these intentions.The vision for technology at Eden Park is centred on underpinning the customer experience, supporting the efficient operation of the park and future proofing for legacy operations. This has been further broken down into enhancing the customer experience for all patrons, supporting the management of relationships with patrons, members, vendors and sponsors, supporting the day-to-day operations and facilitating the introduction of further operational efficiencies. We also considered the emerging trends in stadium management.Centralised Control is where the emphasis is placed on systems that can be easily integrated within the control room, allowing the entire stadiums operations to be controlled from a single terminal. Standardisation of Technology is the emphasis placed on enterprise-wide systems that can be easily integrated across the stadium. Modular Implementation is the emphasis being placed on systems that can be easily augmented with additional capacity or functionality; and Multi-Function Systems is the emphasis being placed on systems that can handle varying types of events (sporting vs. concert  vs. function).Q. To what extent do you think technology drives innovation and customer experiences?A. It is often tempting to simply throw technology at a customer interaction, in the hope that the mere presence of the technology will somehow improve the experience. We have tried to be very pragmatic with how we use technology to enhance customer interactions. We will map out each interaction, understand the pain points and identify the performance metrics we wish to measure before we attempt to determine how technology will be of assistance.Sharing detailed information with our partners at Gen-i and Cisco enables them to advise what other clients have done in similar situations. The balancing act for technology at Eden Park is to not go so far as to alienate non-technology people, while still pushing ahead with advances in other areas that provide the rich experience expected of a modern stadium.As far as innovation goes, in many cases innovation is simply the by-product of trying to torture the technology to work in a way that more effectively reaches the end-goal. We have found that by understanding what our customer wants, along with understanding each step involved in the interaction with the customer, we can better merge the functionality provided by technology with the functionality required of the technology.Q. How does customer service play out through technology at Eden Park?A. One of the key challenges facing stadiums is how to handle the sudden surges of customers. The key areas where we know customers can either have a great experience, or a lousy one, include stadium entry, food and beverage (F&B), and at the stadium exit.Eden Park has historically had 29 points of entry. We now have just four, with turnstiles at each. The turnstiles are primarily aimed at "express entry” for patrons, allowing a large volume of people to enter the stadium in an efficient manner. Eden Park has also invested in handscanners, which allow us to respond quickly to spikes in the number of people arriving. Resiliency is achieved by the handscanners being able to cache the entire ticketing database locally, with connectivity to our network via Wi-Fi and 3G. The handscanners are integrated into the turnstile and ticketing system, so that we can maintain real-time visibility of patron movement.The digital menu boards allow Eden Park to quickly update food and beverage information, as well as ‘skinning’ the look and feel for different events. We are implementing an integrated Quest/SwiftPOS point of sale solution with Panasonic touchscreen terminals, allowing our catering staff to process orders quickly, while enabling management to have real-time visibility of stock movement, and closely monitor queue and transaction times. Automated alerts allow quick response to issues, be it an outlet running low on chips, or a terminal requiring a technician.With turnstiles assisting in getting customers into the stadium, cameras monitoring their movements within it, and signage helping to direct them, we also want to ensure that customers can leave the stadium efficiently. Eden Park is implementing LED Messaging Boards within the transport hub which will allow customers to identify and board waiting buses easily. The messaging boards are centrally controlled allowing changes to be made at speed.Q. What did you see as essential technology investments?A. For Eden Park, essential technology investments are centred on providing stability and resiliency to our core network. Technology is a critical supporting element for any major event, so it is vital that we have the safeguards in place to ensure that we can be 100% operational throughout a game.Q. Talk us through the thinking behind StadiumVision.A. When we first looked at digital signage our primary motivation was very much centred on providing customers with a view of the game throughout the stadium – which we hoped would alleviate some of the peaks and troughs that we experience at the food and beverage outlets. We wanted the ability to display menu boards, wayfinding, and informational messages.An important thing to understand about Eden Park is that we run a full IP network – there is no copper in the new stands, just fibre and Cat7 structured cabling. Everything runs on the single platform – IPTV, IP CCTV, IP Telephony, IP EFTPOS.Our IP network, combined with our desire to run a converged digital signage and video distribution system, led us to Cisco’s StadiumVision solution.With StadiumVision we have centralised control over everything that a customer will see within the stadium. We can dominate the entire stadium with a single brand, promote segmented brand messages to certain areas within the stadium (e.g. corporate suites or F&B), and allow certain "points of passion” to be associated with sponsor messages (such as a try, or goal, or wicket).In addition to ensuring our customers can keep their eye on the game, we now have a powerful marketing tool at our disposal. StadiumVision certainly ticks the boxes in terms of enhancing the customer experience, being operationally efficient and future proofing Eden Park for other events.Q. Come Rugby World Cup time, how will Auckland’s telecommunications network be able to cope with the stress put on it by millions of demanding mobile users?A. From what I have seen and heard there is a genuine degree of excitement amongst telecommunication providers for the challenges associated with the Rugby World Cup. We have already seen significant investment by many of the major providers in preparation for the event. I personally have a high degree of confidence that New Zealand will not only shine in terms of match hosting facilities and hospitality, but also provide visitors with the same high standard of coverage and connectivity that they are familiar with back home.Q. How has Eden Park been designed with this in mind?A. We have been working with both Telecom and Vodafone and they are about to start implementing a major cellular upgrade to Eden Park. An interesting aspect of the upgrade is that they are using shared infrastructure, so we can minimise the amount of visual pollution that you sometimes see in other large facilities. The upgrade has been designed to provide coverage throughout the stadium, along with sufficient capacity to handle the spiky nature of calls experienced at a game. We are also about to complete rolling out wireless coverage to the stadium.Q. In looking to cater for an influx of international tourists, did you take inspiration from overseas stadiums and event venues?A. We have been lucky enough to visit several leading stadiums, including Westpac, MCG, Cowboys Stadium (Dallas), AT&T Park (San Francisco) and Yankees Stadium (New York). We learned a lot from these visits, and they helped us solidify the vision that we had for Eden Park. In some cases we have aligned ourselves closely with the larger overseas stadiums, and in others we have deliberately chosen to avoid what they have done, due mainly to differences in the types of events hosted (a baseball game of nine innings is very different to cricket, rugby or league). We have also looked closely at many of Australasia’s leading event venues, to ensure that the function spaces that we have developed provide all of the technical features that guests require. Our new function space is state-of-the-art, with integrated audio, visual and lighting, feature ceilings, and dividable function areas.Q. Security is a key priority. How have you addressed this to keep up with the fast-paced evolution of new security threats, be they fraud, identity theft, terrorism?A. Safety and security is something that we are always mindful of, and we have invested in a large IP CCTV system with over 130 cameras. We have also integrated our system into the Council’s surrounding street and train cameras, allowing our control room to maintain visibility of customers throughout their interactions within the stadium. From a security perspective the stadium is divided into different zones, with simple turnstile scans at the outer zone, handscanner and visual checks within inner zones, and specific white-lists of accredited individuals within the inner realm. Our CCTV system is also integrated into our access control system, which means that any attempt to gain forcible entry will automatically alert nearby cameras, which in turn pan their attention to the door.Q. You get the opportunity to jump into John Key’s shoes for the day. What’s top of your agenda?A. I think politicians are becoming more aware that technology and infrastructure are both long-term initiatives, that require careful thought and planning, and then consistent execution over a number of years. In many cases politicians are quite reactive in the support they provide, perhaps due to the lack of awareness of just how influential technology can be within the workplace. If I only had one day in John Key’s shoes then I think the most important agenda item would be to raise awareness of the challenges that exist within the ICT industry, along with highlighting the exciting new opportunities that could be realised with government assistance.Q. Who do you admire and for what reason?A. I really admire Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister and their book Peopleware which looks at the inherent conflict between the productiveness of a worker and the environment in which they work. My wife Celeste is doing her PhD in Work Life balance, and I find the whole field fascinating, as our work environment has such a profound effect on the quality of what we produce.Q. Look into your crystal ball. What do you see on the horizon as the hottest emerging technology trends for 2011 and beyond?A. The last few years has seen the simplification of technology and the empowerment of consumers to have more control. Apple has dramatically changed the way consumers use smartphones by making the iPhone easy and fun to use, along with providing consumers control over when and where they can access emails, listen to music and watch movies. Closer to home we see the growing popularity of TVNZ and TV3’s OnDemand service, along with Sky’s upcoming iSky service, all aimed at providing the consumer with more control over when and where they watch content. Kordia’s OnKor Managed Ethernet service is all about providing a greater control to the CIO.Cloud based services like DropBox and Picasa empower consumers to have control by alleviating the need to store their own information locally. Within our homes we have complete control over everything. The TV programs we watch, the music we listen to, even the temperature of the room. When we leave our homes we give up a lot of this control. Services, products, applications and devices that extend the control we have to outside of the home will be key areas to watch.Don’t miss next month’s edition of IT Brief, where we take you on a unique tour of Eden Park’s new and exciting technology decisions.