CIO50 2022 #26-50 Michael Ciavarella, A&S Labels
In the 2021 CIO50, Michael Ciavarella emerged as one of the most influential technology leaders in Australian sport, after working with his team to transform Swimming Australia into a sleek, streamlined data-driven organisation, with a swag of Olympic, and later Commonwealth Games, medals to show for it.
Australian swimmers bagged 21 medals, including nine gold at the Tokyo Olympics, backing it up at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year with 62 medals, putting it streaks ahead of other competing nations.
When Ciavarella joined Swimming Australia in 2019, he entered an organisation with a 120-year history of using clipboards, stop watches, pencils and manual time keeping alongside the pool.
That’s how coaches had always operated, and with Australia’s stunning achievements in the pool spanning generations, who could argue with them?
So began a journey, not only to start amassing repositories of race and training data – which Ciavarella and team increased by more than 9,000 times – but to bring the coaches, state associations and other key members of Swimming on a journey into truly uncharted waters.
With the support of the broader organisation, yet with a fairly tight budget, Ciavarella, his team and multiple departments built a powerful AI engine that has completely changed how the organisation operates, right from making our best even better to helping identify potential champions much earlier and streamline swimming clubs and swimmers on a national level.
Called ‘Atlantis’, the system earned particular praise for transforming how swim teams decide where to place swimmers on the day of relays, by analysing data such as age and race history for different starting positions to determine how to extract the best individual and therefore team performances on the day.
It also means coaches and others scouting for talent are able to visualise the development of young swimmers through data comparing their start time, time to the 15 metre mark, speed at turning, ability to pace a race, their stroke mechanics and individual trajectories now possible, all automated and across a multi-year training program.
“How does an aspiring 14 year old compare to an Ian Thorpe at the same age? This can now be answered in detail, in real time, with data driven coaching provided instantly,” Ciavarella tells CIO Australia.
He adds that while the metrics and of course the actual results in the pool - were extremely strong, one can't underestimate the cultural shift and leadership that was needed to guide the project in the right direction.
"This was a team effort across the organisation. A non-for-profit operating environment, a strong history, a federated model, yet we propelled Swimming Australia the governing body for swimming on the continent, into the digital and data world," Ciavarella explains.
As is so often the case with high-achievers who’ve reached the top, Ciavarella embarked on a new challenge after being approached by Melbourne-based online fashion house, A&S Labels.
It wasn’t the most obvious move, transitioning from applying AI to elevating elite athletes to applying those same tools to enhance brand positioning and audience engagement for a leasing e-commerce fashion brand.
But for Ciavarella, this was his old stomping ground, having previously been head of innovation and data analytics with Target Australia and before that GM of personalisation and marketing with Telstra.
In his first three months after starting with A&S Labels in April 2022, he’s formed the 'technology vision', drawn the organisation's first 'technology roadmap', and started deploying it.
Ciavarella has defined a new way of working, which has seen an uplift in team engagement, output, and transparency. Following these successful results, came additional accountability to lead the Digital department.
“We’re focused on identifying and introducing digital innovation to support our global growth strategy," he says.
"We will scale our technology and e-commerce ecosystem, reimagining experiences and business opportunities, blending fashion and technology. Our customer experience must be personalised and as frictionless as possible.”
Ciavarella’s team is currently working on driving product recommendations across multiple channels using an artificial intelligence engine. With the new way of working delivering measurable results, including an uplift in customer experience, there is growing awareness of the technology ecosystem across the organisation.
A program is now in place to mature this domain, with Ciavarella becoming the natural 'executive sponsor' and leading partnerships.
"I intentionally engaged an external vendor, ensuring psychological safety internally, knowing this was our first go. We now have a baseline to measure against, a detailed roadmap and are executing it to deliver results."
All of this against the backdrop of an exciting new transformation program, for which Ciavarella is currently recruiting, no doubt with an even sharper sense of how to build the best possible team.
He’s also the first chief technology officer at A&S Labels, so kudos to them for nabbing this particular CIO50 alumnus for the job.