Shared services level AFL playing field

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Shared services level AFL playing field

Seven IT staff keep $330m football league connected.

The Australian Football League has established hosted payroll, finance and workflow services to ensure competition remains focused on sport, not technology.

In the past four years, its IT team grew from three to seven staff. These seven staff manage the networking, storage and other corporate IT requirements of the $330 million business.

The league's IT manager Andrew Young told the Gartner Symposium today that his team provided hosted finance software for 12 of the 18 AFL clubs, including the newly established Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Fourteen of the clubs also used shared payroll services, and some 5,000 users relied on web portals that served video, statistics and match information.

Young said software including Citrix XenApp and XenServer were served from a "large data centre in Melbourne", with an IT budget "in the realm of a normal $330 million business".

"The ultimate aim of shared services is to provide an equal playing field," he said, explaining that the resources available to each AFL club differed.

"Where appropriate, individual clubs also have their own IT shops - depending on resources available."

In 2011, the IT team expected to support more than 700 of an estimated 1,000 AFL employees across the country.

Besides traditional enterprise IT tasks, the team also managed football technology such as video analysis, statistics and analytics.

Match day was among the team's biggest challenges, Young said, noting that the league did not own any of the thirteen stadiums it visited on a weekly basis.

Before each match, IT staff spent two to three hours setting up infrastructure to support 15 computers in the coaches box including tablets, Macs and PCs.

"Technology is a really big component on match day. It presents a lot of data and storage challenges for us on the day," Young said.

"Having no control over stadiums also presents us with some challenges. Stadiums weren't designed to be IT shops."

A "good, reliable internet connection" was necessary to transmit real-time video footage from the field and data from statistics provider Champion Data.

Because of fans' mobile phone usage, limited bandwidth was available for GPS devices and equipment that monitored players' speed, heart rate and fatigue.

Pressure mounted after each match, as technology staff rushed to pull together stats and multiple video feeds into a recording for each player.

Last year, the Richmond Tigers were able to distribute videos within 20 minutes of the match's end using a USB flash drive copier and 30 USB sticks.

Looking forward, video would likely remain the biggest challenge for the AFL, Young said, noting that recording one season in high-definition, 1080p format required 97 terabytes of storage.

"That's going to present me with a real storage nightmare," he said, noting information management challenges with governing metadata and the length of time data would be expected to be stored.

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