The people behind the technology at the US Open

By | 2 minute read | August 28, 2018

For the last 28 years, IBM has partnered with the USTA to power the digital operations of the US Open Tennis Championship in New York. And every year, we eagerly share the story of this work with clients, tennis fans and the world – from the deep analysis of historical tennis data to the application of artificial intelligence to curate video highlights.

But as I looked through the ads, the videos, the social posts and the onsite activations at this year’s Open, I realized that we’ve only been telling half the story of our work at the US Open. And not even the most important half.

Behind all the technology that powers this world-class event is a small army of dedicated people that work the better part of a year to bring the tournament to life. They willingly work through weekends, perfecting the user experience of the website and app. They reschedule family vacations to ensure the data feeds are clean and reliable. And they spend the two weeks of the tournament in the IBM Data Operations Room, monitoring the performance of our systems.

Central to this effort is IBM iX, one of the world’s largest and most accomplished digital development and design agencies. This is a team that is already working on the 2019 US Open, before the 2018 tournament has even concluded.

I often boast that IBM doesn’t do “logo slap” sponsorships, where we simply associate our brand with a sports or entertainment property. Rather, IBM enters into strategic partnerships in which we work together to meet actual business objectives. We listen to the USTA, understand their needs, and develop real solutions to real challenges. The team at IBM iX makes these authentic relationships possible. (Check out the actual solutions here.)

But that’s only the beginning. Because we are so proud of the work we do at the Open, we want to share with as many people as possible. And this requires the help of several agencies and dozens of people. There are the digital production wizards that worked with the IBM events team to build the onsite interactive fan activation that tells the story of our work this year. There are the hospitality experts that ensure our guests at the Open have a world-class, white-glove experience. And the advertising, PR and marketing experts that all play critical roles in telling our story consistently across multiple audiences.

In this industry, we often use the terms “technology” and “solution” interchangeably. But they are not the same. Technology refers to a set of tools. Only when the powerful catalyst of human expertise is applied do these tools solve problems. Only then do they become solutions.

My team and I have the privilege and pleasure of working closely with some of the most talented problem solvers in the world. They challenge us. They inspire us. They make us look good.

At every US Open, we give our clients a behind-the-scenes tour of the Data Operations Center and the work we do to support the tournament. I hope this blog will serve as its own kind of behind-the-scenes tour. And when you read about the US Open app, or the 26 million data points that SlamTracker analyzes, or how we taught IBM Watson to recognize the sights and sounds of tennis, you’ll remember that these stories are as much about people as technology.