Building a trusted foundation of data to help grow the game of rugby in England

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The RFU and IBM have been on a journey of digital transformation since they extended their partnership in 2018. The public-facing element of this has been a project to consolidate and refresh their digital properties including to improve the experience for rugby fans and community players alike. You can read more about that journey here.

A less visible but equally important activity is also underway around data. In today’s world data is everywhere: web interactions, on-line purchases, IoT devices, and more. The RFU understand they need to consider data as an asset and to treat it accordingly. Their objective is simple: to be able to use their own channels to help generate value from all their interactions and data sources, and ultimately to reinvest that value back into the game in England.

In order to do that there is a need to have a trusted foundation of data that is simple to understand and access. It needs to be managed in an open architecture to provide opportunities to gain valuable insights from it, while at the same time being highly secure. There must also be an ability to scale significantly to meet periodic peaks in demand such as such key match times and team announcements. It must also be easy to enable access to and receipt of new data from fans who access the website and for community players interacting with rugby.  Getting this right is critical to the success of the RFU’s strategic plan.

In keeping with the RFU’s overarching approach of innovation in both technology and working practises, they tapped the IBM Garage, IBM’s signature co-creation experience that brings together diverse teams of experts to drive purposeful innovation at scale. The Garage approach focuses on user-centric Enterprise Design Thinking and agile principles to quickly create and scale ideas. The team was able to build a next-generation data platform that will allow them to ingest all types of data from a variety of sources such as community rugby, ticketing and web information, all under the RFU consent guidelines and used in a secure and legally compliant manner

Staying true to their architectural principles (Cloud, Open Source, API based) all data is consumed into hosted PostgreSQL database on IBM public cloud using Event Streams, Kubernetes and DevOps.  This allows them to build a flexible and open data platform that can not only satisfy the needs of the business today but provide a foundation that can be grown and scaled to meet future business demand and requirements. Now the RFU can access this valuable data to build better, more personalised marketing campaigns, increase sales and improve the player and fan experience turning raw data into valuable data and insight for the business.

Early results are exceedingly promising. The platform handles over 7m API calls per month (averaging 500,000 API calls on an average match day) with match card data from over 2,000 fixtures submitted per week. Benefitting from the flexibility of the IBM Cloud peaks in customer demand are easily managed from an average weekday supporting approximately 250k API calls a day versus a peak on a Saturday of over 2 million.

As a trusted foundation of data, this is just the start. Due to the open and secure architecture approach, the next phase of development will yield ever more opportunity and create ever more innovative solutions to engage fans and grow the game of rugby. So watch this space!

Learn more about the IBM and England Rugby Partnership:

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Data & AI, Key Accounts UKI

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