Wimbledon 2015 might seem like history now - and no doubt Andy Murray will want to keep it that way. IBM, Wimbledon's long-term technology partner, is certainly looking ahead to 2016 already, with plans to build on the impressive set of results the tournament served up this year.
As well as dealing with some unwanted tube strikes and a fire at the Wimbledon ground, the tennis club's website also had to deal with half a billion page views during the championships this year.
The updated Wimbledon website served 542 million views, a 14 percent increase compared with the 473 million during the two-week period in 2014, and handled visits from 21.1 million different devices, 23 percent above the 17.1 million last year. In order to support this mammoth traffic, IBM had to scale the infrastructure over 100 times in a matter of days to cope with the increased demand.
But going against the tide, the Wimbledon.com fan base is very much anchored to their desktops rather than grabbing their smartphones. Wimbledon saw huge rises in the number of mobile visitors: 125 percent growth in unique users to the mobile site at 5.6 million, up from 2.1 million in 2014.
These users accounted for 49 million of this year's page views, up 79 percent from the 24 million in 2014 - but still small fry compared with the total 542 million page views overall, meaning almost 500 million of those hits were from the desktop.
Sam Seddon, IBM Wimbledon client and programme executive (pictured left), acknowledged this anomaly, pointing out that 80 percent of users still come from the desktop.
"We have a very active page viewing population on mobile but a very large portion of the views and the dwell time was from the desktop," he said.
"It's not that surprising when you consider the length of day that Wimbledon is on for, the time that Wimbledon is happening and live, they're sitting in front of the computer because they're at work."
The online audience location means that IBM and Wimbledon have to take a different approach to many other website owners.
"When we redesigned the site for 2015, we came at it not from a mobile-first perspective, which might sound counterintuitive to a lot of marketing initiatives, but from a user-first perspective. So where is the user and how can we maximise the platform on which the user is engaging?" Seddon explained.
"We looked at desktop in a different way, so we came up with a completely responsive site. If you had a large form factor like your desktop, you'd actually get on the right-hand side a new tool bar, which showed you all the real-time scores and the live blog. As you scaled down for mobile, you still had the same visual design, but with appropriate content. That strategy helped support and drive the increase in views overall. And the audience statistics are a real vindication of the design approach we took, to not forget and ignore desktop."
IBM's relationship with Wimbledon encompasses the whole range of technology services, from strategy through to website design, build and hosting. IBM Interactive Experience does all the design and creative work, and the club then uses IBM's Global Technology Services, cloud environment, cloud services, systems and software, which support the whole environment. "It's end-to-end IBM throughout the stack," Seddon noted.
Seddon cited MessageSight as a key element of the Wimbledon technology package for 2015. This is the messaging software that drives real-time updates and pushes live scores to any device that has a tracker or the smartphone app open.
"We will push live, point-by-point updates to that device," Seddon said.
"At one point during the championships we were pushing out over 10 million messages per minute through the MessageSight infrastructure to all the connected digital devices around the world. I was sat at the side of Centre Court one day with my smartphone app, and I heard the umpire call the point in the match after I saw my mobile phone update."
The Wimbledon site is hosted on the same infrastructure as ibm.com, using a hybrid cloud setup, a mix of IBM's private cloud and the Softlayer environment, hosted in a local environment.
"We use our own analytics to optimise the cloud," Seddon added. "We look at how you can predict how much traffic is going to come to Wimbldeon.com, that is the challenge. If you've got the Rafa Nadal versus Dustin Brown match, the traffic goes through the roof - how can you know that's going to happen and allow for that in the environment? But you have to - this is Wimbledon."
To make sure that Wimbledon can cope with these unexpected demand spikes, IBM gathers data from a range of points: the schedule of play, how popular players are now and have been in the past, historical web logs and social media traffic, predominantly from Twitter. IBM has a global relationship with Twitter, and the firm takes a feed from the social site and filters out everything not to do with Wimbledon, going through millions of tweets.
"We use social media as a leading indicator of demand on the site. If people are talking about a particular match, we know there's an interest in it and they're likely to come to Wimbledon.com to look at it. We analyse all those data points in real time and predict the amount of traffic that we're likely to need and then we dynamically allocate our cloud capacity to meet that prediction," Seddon explained.
"We analyse the social media traffic to see which of the 19 matches each day is being most spoken about, so they can adapt and tune their digital and social media content, and Wimbledon site editorial based on what the Wimbledon fans are talking about."
Seddon believes this kind of analysis and data is vital in helping Wimbledon compete for online eyeballs against other websites and media organisations.
"My homepage is bbc.co.uk, so why would I go to Wimbledon rather than the BBC for stuff to do with tennis? If you factor into that, that the BBC is a media partner of Wimbledon and works very closely with them, Wimbledon doesn't want to compete with the BBC but they do need to offer something that's different to entice those 21 million uniques to the site," he said.
Seddon added that Wimbledon copes and competes by offering visual behind the scenes content, data and real-time scores - all enabled by technology advances. IBM made use of its Watson Content Analytics software this year hosted on IBM Softlayer to analyse and provide data from the social media feeds, for example.
"We spin up an environment that allows us to scale that. We're able to analyse 400 or 500 tweets a second. The analytics offers the processing power to provide insights into not just what's trending but why it's trending," he said.
IBM also deployed a new product for the first time this year, IBM InfoSphere Streams, which took all the data from the courts - the numbers for 2015 are not available yet but in 2014 this accounted for 3.2 million data points across the 19 courts - processed this data, and made sure that Wimbledon was alerted in real time to any milestones or key information.
The Wimbledon digital team has a command centre, shown above, with widgets to keep track of developments and milestones during the tournament, with visual notifications if something is about to happen. So when Lleyton Hewitt went out in the first round on the first day at this year's tournament, he also happened to hit his 1,500th Wimbledon winner during that match.
"We alerted Wimbledon at number 1,497, 1,498 and 1,499, so that by the time Hewitt hit it they had the infographic ready to go," Seddon said. "Within a couple of seconds of him hitting that shot they had something on social media."
IBM also carried out a Wimbledon hackathon in June ahead of the 2015 event, taking some challenges for the club around improving the fan experience at the ground, to try and address these.
"How could we use technology to improve access to courts? They've got a limited ground capacity, 38,000, and some ticket resales throughout the day. How can we give the people who come to Wimbledon the best experience ever, giving them more access to the tennis on the high-quality show courts? That was where the challenge came from," Seddon explained. "The idea that came out of it was ticket resale and how to virtually queue for access to the outer show courts. We'll feed that into the annual innovation process we have for Wimbledon."
IBM is already scoping its Wimbledon 2016 planning project, and will use the ideas from the hackathon as part of that process.
Big Blue, which signed a new five-year deal with the tennis club in 2014, has been working with Wimbledon since 1990. "It started off as an agreement to set up and deploy the technology needed to deliver the championships operationally, to deploy networks and cables, and how to bring statistics to life on television, just for Centre Court," Seddon said.
IBM also provides the technology behind Wimbledon staples such as fastest serve statistics, using a combination of a radar gun with software that sits behind the device to pick up a tennis ball coming off the head of a racket.
But the technology used to capture information from the side of the court, for example second serve percentages, has human insight at its heart.
"We have a group of very good tennis players that we train in the software package that allows them to capture that information very very quickly, and then we put checks and balances in the process to make sure the quality is right," Seddon said.
Three people sit at the side of centre court during a game to gather the match data: one to monitor serve placement and validation, and the rally count; one to do the match commentary; and one to input the data. This teams works off two systems at the side of the court, which run in parallel in case one goes down. There is also a fourth person watching the match in the operations room, who also inputs the data into a separate system.
"If these two systems aren't in alignment, they try to resolve it there and then, or otherwise we have two more people in that operations room doing quality assurance and decision-making to validate the data that they can't. So we have three sets of systems and three to four levels of quality assurance," Seddon added.
"The team is set a target of being 100 percent accurate per sub-second. With the 3.2 million data points, that's quite a challenge. We're pretty much there, over 13 days up to 11 hours a day."
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