CIO50 2022 #8 Ben Fitzgerald, Tennis Australia
As a major sporting organisation, Tennis Australia was in survival mode through the COVID-19 pandemic, taking extensive measures to ensure the 2021 Australian Open could safely proceed.
In his 2021 CIO50 entry, chief technology officer, Ben Fitzgerald spoke about how innovative technologies drove business continuity. This year, Fitzgerald discusses how transformational projects were rolled out in two months under Tennis Australia’s Tech Advantage program.
Through investment in digital and technology capability and experiences, the program was designed to return the organisation to a state of high-growth in participation and revenue. This would enable Tennis Australia to rebound from the impacts of the global pandemic as rapidly as possible.
“While there are many transformation programs across the industry, this one stands out given its time pressures, its enormous scale in comparison to the size of the organisation and its ambitiousness in terms of what was being attempted," Fitzgerald tells CIO.
“More importantly, it has played an underpinning role in restoring Tennis Australia to growth after the most challenging period in its history".
Innovations delivered for the 2022 Australian Open
Players received a new mobile app to help them plan all aspects of their event. The app provided an Uber-style transport request service for players to be transported to and from the precinct and hotels.
“This new platform was also a significant innovation for our fleet of drivers and workforce, removing significant overhead in the management of player transportation. Additionally, this innovation would result in significant improvements to player and workforce satisfaction scores,” Fitzgerald notes.
More than 9,000 Australian Open media items have been held and managed in an environmentally controlled facility. A new online platform to digitise, host, access and license these items has been implemented. It provides a new channel for media partners to preview and license content.
Every year, the Australian Open employs a casual workforce of more than 25,000 people. A casual workforce management platform provides these workers with improved induction, rostering and attendance experience. And it was a critical priority to make it as frictionless as possible and reduce the manual overhead and expense in doing so.
A network upgrade covering all event sites nationwide has future-proofed against the continuing trends of ‘data-intense’ tennis events, and a bespoke software and data platform was designed and delivered to provide participation insights at a national, state, regional, and venue level.
Under a ‘Customer 360’ initiative, Fitzgerald and his team have also consolidated eight siloed customer data sources into a single source of truth and unified customer record. They implemented a new CRM, customer data, and campaign management platforms to drive highly personalised, relevant campaigns and content for improved engagement and ticketing revenue.
COVID-proof event platform
This year, Fitzgerald and his team built on the 2021 Australian Open COVID-proof tech platform by adding contact tracing, queue, capacity, and quarantine management capabilities. This platform build began when the Victorian government announced a loosening of contact tracing and isolation restrictions significant enough that such a solution was no longer required for the Australian Open event in January 2022.
“A combination of technologies were prototyped together to develop what we felt was the most sophisticated major events COVID-proof technology platform globally,” he says.
Engagement across the organisation
For Tech Advantage to succeed, Fitzgerald needed to convince Tennis Australia’s executive team that such a critical investment could be reliably delivered. After spending two years previously building a capable technology group and operating model the organisation was optimally positioned to do so.
Fitzgerald influenced the selection of project from various candidates and steered a rapid assessment and estimation process to enable the finance department to approve the investment. He drove the need for an accelerated approval process at each stage of the program and the extra commitment required from approval panels to keep the program moving at maximum velocity at times to ensure that highly aggressive timelines could be met.
“I also influenced the need to establish a dedicated shared services panel across finance, procurement, people and culture, and legal to provide dedicated, prioritised support across the entire program".
Humility is a core value of Tennis Australia and one that Fitzgerald champions across the technology department.
“It’s hard to carry influence if other departments find you too difficult or intimidating to speak with," he notes.
"As a technology group, we have to make ourselves as easy as possible to deal with and take the friction out of technology engagement to the point that our internal customers actually enjoy interacting with us."
'Excellence' and 'collaboration' are other core values that Fitzgerald instills in his team, and he constantly motivates his group to raise the bar in the quality of the work they deliver, while driving collaboration by chairing forums to ensure IT has a seat at the table.
“These measures have ensured technology is part of the conversation when it comes to meeting the organisation’s objectives," he explains.
"The fact that a program as ambitious as Tech Advantage was considered let alone approved, embedded and not just successfully delivered, but the way it was so successfully and collaboratively delivered is arguably the greatest testament to our ability to influence".