New Data Analytics and Video Tools Affecting Defensive Strategies in the NFL and NBA

The on-field play and business dealings in Major League Baseball in the US have for many years now been very data driven. The application of such analytics to the sport is called Sabermetrics. This revolutionary numerical approach was originally developed by Bill James. (Here is a segment of an interview with him on the October 23, 2008 broadcast of 60 Minutes on CBS about his methodology and later work with it for the Boston Red Sox.) This was further popularized by the highly regarded and very compelling 2004 book and 2011 movie Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, about how the Oakland Athletics used this methodology to improve their team.

In fact, so popular has this approach been in other sports and even other non-sports fields, that term “Moneyball” has been transposed into a verb. That is, X has recently “moneyballed” their salaries, recruiting, marketing, strategy and so on.

Other professional sports in the US are also developing and refining their own forms of data analytics and they are starting to produce demonstrable and dramatic results. Two new articles this week appeared this week on how such tech is affecting professional football and professional basketball. Moreover, both features were focused on the changes this has brought to the examination and fine-tuning of defensive play in the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

First, on October 28, 2014, The Wall Street Journal carried a piece entitled How Technology Is Killing NFL Defenses, by Kevin Clark. To briefly recap, during the past four seasons, players have had tablets to review game video and the results of this are now becoming manifest. In effect, everything about every play is known and, in turn, the traditional element of surprise is being neutralized to a certain extent. Offenses can now adjust quickly when they recognize patterns and movements by the opposing defensive formations and adjustments. Even the most subtle changes on the line are now being detected that were had previously been unseen in time. As a result, defenses must constantly remain more flexible. Consequently, the percentages of blitzes are up while sacks are down across the NFL. Please check out the full text of this to get a genuine sense of how this is affecting the players and the sport.

Second, the November 2014 issue of WIRED carries and except from a a book published yesterday (October 30, 2014) entitled Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes –and What We Can Learn from Them by Mark McClusky (Hudson street Press). The WIRED piece is entitled This Guy’s Quest to Track Every Shot in the NBA Changed Basketball Forever. To sum up, this focuses on the author’s development of sophisticated metrics of the player’s offensive and defensive plays mapped against their points of occurrence on the court. For example, from what points around the key are shots most effective for particular player? Are baskets sinking from certain concentrated points or are they more evenly distributed? As well, in match-ups of offenses and defenses, particularly within 5 feet of the basket, how well, in terms of shots made and sunk, are defenders preventing any scoring? I highly recommend a click through to read all of the details in this highly engaging story and to three of these extraordinarily enlightening graphics. They effectively marge data analysis, visualization and mapping.

My questions in reactions to these two articles are as follows:

  • Are there any current or yet to be devised defensive strategies, formations and split second adjustments that, notwithstanding these new defensive-centric tools and analyses, are more resistant to this more transparent game environment?
  • Will teams with historically better records get even better while worse teams grow even weaker, or will new forms of dynamics emerge?
  • Will these analytics filter down to semi-pro and school athletic leagues and, if so, how will they alter the training and levels of play there? Further, what new skills will coaches need to cultivate?
  • Does this present new opportunities for entrepreneurs in sports informatics?
  • Will the New York Jets ever win another game this year?

2014 Report on Mobile Technology’s Growth, Diversity and Pervasiveness

Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape who then went on to become a founding partner in the leading venture capital firm  Andreesseen Horowitz, wrote a very thought-provoking and often cited piece in the August 20, 2012 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled Why Software Is Eating The World. (Subscription required.) To vastly oversimplify his thesis, an ever increasing number of businesses are run almost entirely on software and delivered online. He predicted the velocity of this change would continue to increase for the next ten years.

Yesterday, October 28, 2014, as an update to that, Benedict Evens of Andreessen Horowitz presented a 45-slide presentation at the 2-day WSJD Live Global Technology Conference entitled Mobile is Eating the World. This was also the subject of some very concise coverage on The Wall Street Journal’s Digits Blog in a story entitled Never Mind Software – Mobile is Eating the World by Evelyn M. Rusli. To briefly recap it, mobile technology is having a major and growing impact on nearly everything we do each day and on a broad spectrum of traditional industries. Among many other key points in this presentation:

  • WhatsApp, recently purchased by Facebook, is dominant in mobile messaging and demonstrates how a small develop team such as this was able to have such a tremendous impact on this market.*
  • A widening gap between the increasing aggregate time spent on mobile devices versus the decreasing aggregate time on desktop systems.
  • Mobile platforms are were users are spending more and more of their “waking hours”.
  • Over time, phone calls and emails will decline while messaging and social media will increase on mobile devices.
  • Very significant business and technical opportunities await in the mobile world.

I highly recommend clicking through to all of the above links for this slide deck, conference and report. The slide deck itself is also particularly enlightening about, among other things, growth prospects, market forces, market segments, costs, key companies in different mobile sub-sectors, and mobile supply chain dynamics. There is much to consider here for anyone having anything to do with mobile, which is, by definition, all of us.

For further reference, I also suggest a look back at this July 31, 2014 post on The Subway Fold entitled Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends Presentation which also covered the exponential growth of mobile technologies and put that in context and perspective with many other of the very latest trends in online technology, economics and culture.

See also Facebook’s $21.8 Billion WhatsApp Acquisition Lost $138 Million Last Year by David Gelles in yesterday’s (October 28, 2014) edition of The New York Times, that despite this loss, Facebook has an extensive long-term technological and financial plans for WhatsApp. I also recommend a click-through and full read of this for its full coverage and enlightening details of FB’s corporate strategy for this multi-billion dollar messaging platform.

New Interview Published with Apple’s Lead Designer, Johny Ive

One of Steve Jobs’ paramount concerns throughout his career was the design of Apple’s products. From the very start of the company, he insisted on maintaining the highest possible standards for the truly elegant look and feel of every aspect of his company’s products. In Walter Isaacson’s superb biography entitled Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, 2011), this theme is often appears throughout the book.*

Apple’s lead designer, directly involved in the development of nearly all of their iconic devices, is Johny Ive. He and Jobs had a very long and highly productive professional relationship. Jobs often spoke of their deep friendship and mutual admiration.

Ive has been reluctant to grant many interviews during his career. However, he recently did speak with writer Robert Sullivan for an article that appears in the October 2014 issue of Vogue entitled A Rare Look at Design Genius Jony Ive: The Man Behind the Apple Watch. This is a terrific piece of journalism and a revealing insight into Ive’s background, design philosophy, influences and methods. Moreover, this piece is not merely limited to the recently announced Apple Watch, but rather, to a wide range of interesting topics. I highly recommend a click-through and full read if you have an opportunity. (See also its two sidebar stories about the watch and wearable technology.)

To briefly sum up, some of the key topics discussed here include:

  • His close following of blogs about design, Apple’s products, rumors and speculation about Apple’s pending products.
  • Apple’s top secret design studio were he works.
  • His lifelong passion for DIY drafting and building of real things.
  • How he and Jobs met, instantly “clicked” as a team and, in turn, how this lead to Apple’s laser-like focus on the philosphy, processes, materials and details of industrial design.
  • Professional relationship with another well known industrial designer.
  • The functionality, intentions and design perspectives that have gone into the Apple Watch

Mr. Ive has carefully and diligently distinguished himself as a singular creative force in a highly competitive global marketplace. I believe there is much to be learned from him in this piece for designers and and non-designers alike in many other fields, about how to excel in your work. Miss it not.

*  According to an October 15, 2014 story posted on entitled Christian Bale in Talks to Play Steve Jobs, by Tatiana Siegel, the book is going to be turned into a movie. Negotiations are underway to cast Christian Bale in the lead role, with Danny Boyle directing and Aaron Sorkin writing the adaptation for the screenplay.

Twitter Invests $10M in Establishing the Laboratory for Social Machine at MIT

The astronomical diversity of Twitter users and topics never ceases to expand and amaze. Everyone and their neighbor from #anthropologists to #zoologists and countless others post approximately 500 million Tweets each day. This produces a virtual ocean of highly valuable data and accompanying analytics that have found applications in, among a multitude of other areas, e-commerce, marketing, entertainment, government, sports, academia, science, medicine and law. For example, two recent Subway Fold posts here have looked at the mappings of Twitter networks and the analysis of Twitter traffic about TV shows to examine this phenomenon.

Taking this to yet another level of involvement and sophistication was an announcement on October 1, 2014 that was posted on entitled Twitter Gives MIT $10M and Access to the Firehose to Build a Laboratory for Social Machines, by Matthew Ingram. To briefly recap, Twitter is providing funding for a new undertaking at MIT called the Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM). Its mandate is to examine the effects of social media on society, including the creation of new tools (such as pattern recognition and data visualization), and methodologies for doing so. They further intend to create a platform where the findings can be openly discussed and possibly acted upon by the interested parties.

LSM will have access to the entire quantum of Twitter posts going back to the social platform’s launch in 2006. Other planned participants will include journalists, “social groups and movements”. Their website provides more fine-grained details about their objectives, approaches and personnel. I highly recommend clicking through to the LSM site to learn more and get a genuine sense that this could really be something big. As well, their own new Twitter feed is @mitlsm.

Additional coverage of this story can be found here on The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog and here on the Boston Business Journal’s techflash blog.

What a remarkable and admirable leap forward this is for Twitter and MIT. At its outset, this sounds like a venture that is destined to produce practical and actionable benefits to nterested groups across the real and virtual worlds, not to mention the positive publicity and good will this announcement has already generated.

My own questions include:

  • Will other interested parties be invited to provide funding or is this an exclusive venture between Twitter and MIT?
  • What types of new startups will the work of LSM inspire and support? Will LSM expand itself to become an incubator of some sort?
  • What policies will guide the LSM’s decision-making on the types of studies, tools, movements and so on to pursue? Is establishing an advisory board in their current plans?
  • Will other universities build comparable labs for social media studies?
  • Will professional organizations, trade associations, and other specific interest groups likewise create their own such labs?

A Compelling Case Study of Evidence Based Decision-Making

The amounts of ink and electrons expended on the topic of big data and predictive analytics appear to be nearly endless.* This is area also includes the evolving trends in evidence based management which posits that the best decisions can be made using the best scientific and numerical evidence available.

Whenever I read a new article that takes the reporting and analysis to a more accessible and practical level, I greatly appreciate the author(s) efforts to provide something more tangible that can readily be put to good use. Such was the case when I recently read How AIG Moved Toward Evidence-Based Decision Making by Murli Buluswar and Martin Reeves posted on the Harvard Business Review blog on October 1, 2014. Here they presented a persuasive brief on how to distill and produce genuinely productive policy insights, competitive advantages and best practices using this methodology.

To briefly summarize this piece (and I strongly urge you to click through the above link and read it in its entirety for its details and insights), while these advances data sciences can generate a multitude of patterns and trends, as well as executives motivated to apply them, there is a significant distance towards then actually applting and producing a meaningful decisions and result once an organization has armed itself with all of this numerical might. What is offered here is a compact case study and the lessons learned by AIG** in a large-scale corporate marketplace.

Two years ago, the company inaugurated a new unit called the “Science Team” which grew to include 130 people to study, implement and support evidence-based decison-making. They all come from a wide variety of specialization. This diversity has worked well in producing demonstrable and actionable results for the company. Their work is done end-to-end from conceptualizing to training to implementation.

The authors then do an expert job of synthesizing the six key factors responsible for the Science Team’s success. To paraphrase, they include identifying and prioritizing problems, defining the Science Team’s mandate, winning support, diversifying “portfolios” of projects, acting and adapting quickly, and planning for the effects of their efforts across multiple time periods. Again, please read proceed to the article to fully read the details and implications of these strategic gems.

I believe that all of these points will scale to accommodate almost any sized organization and field. For anyone currently working with evidence based decision-making or else considering an invest of time resources in them, this article make a very compelling case for proceeding and establishing best practices leading to success. That is, these six points, per se, are all highly useful. Moreover, they point towards adapting them as they appear here, then extending them further to meet an organizations particular needs and, thereafter, the critical importance of deriving your own original best evidence based practices.


*   See the April 9, 2014 post here entitled Roundup of Some Recent Books on Big Data, Analytics and Intelligent Systems for just a small sampling.

**  Here is the Wikipedia page for AIG detailing their corporate history.

Digital.NYC Site Launches as a Comprehensive Resource for New York City Tech and Startups

Being a very proud native of New York City, I was thrilled to see an article on posted on October 1, 2014, whose title just about said it all with Launches To Be The Hub For New York Tech by Jonathan Shieber. This announced the launch of a brand new site called Digital.NYC, a hub destination concerning nearly anything and everything about the thriving tech and startup markets here in The Big Apple. For anyone interested in startups, workspaces, incubators, jobs, investing, training, news and access to a gazillion other relevant resources, this is meant to be an essential must-click  resource.The site is the product of a cooperative venture by the City of New York, IBM and the venture capital firm Gust. For additional reporting, see also IBM Starts Online Hub for NYC Tech Firms posted the same day on, by Mike Snider.

I highly recommend a click-through and thorough perusal of this site for the remarkable depth and richness of its offerings, timeliness, and sense of excitement and vitality that threads throughout all of it pages. While the term “platform” is often overused to describe a program or site, I believe that Digital.NYC truly lives up to this term of art.

What also really slew me about this site was its elegant design and ease of navigation that belie its vastness. The site clearly evinces its designers’ and builders’ passion for the subject matter and incredible hard work they put into getting it all just right. What a daunting task they must have faced in trying to meld all of these content categories together in a layout that is so highly functional, navigable and engaging. Bravo! to everyone involved in making this happen.

Indeed, for me it passes the Man from Mars Test: If you just landed on Earth and started out knowing little or nothing about the tech market in NYC, some time spent with this site would handily start you on your way to assessing its massive dimensions, operations and opportunities. Alternatively, very savvy and veteran entrepreneurs, investors, programmers, web designers, students, venture capitalists, urban planners and others will likewise find much to learn and use here.

I Googled around a bit to see whether other cities had similar hub sites. My initial research shows that there is nothing else per se like Digital.NYC currently online. Please post a comment here or send me an email if you do know of any others out there and I will post them. However, In my online travels I did find a site called Entrepreneurial Insights that has compiled on a page entitled Startup Hubs a series of recently posted in-depth reports global startup hubs. These cities include Paris, Toronto, Boston, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, Istanbul, Singapore, Beijing, Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Berlin and New York.

New Startups, Hacks and Conferences Focused Upon Health Data and Analytics

The intersection of digital technology, the Web and modern medicine seems to produce new innovative approaches to health care on a very steady basis. Three reports have appeared within the past ten days that I believe typify the imagination and dedication of the companies and individuals in this space. While the following articles barely scratch the surface, they nonetheless provide an informative sampling of some very interesting trends that likely would not have been possible until quite recently.

1. User Survey Data Mined to Provide Consumer Information on Prescription Drugs: A new company called Iodine has created a database based built upon 100,000+ surveys provided taken from people who have been prescribed medicines. Visitors to the site can use it to look up the consensus findings about the effectiveness, potential side effects, warnings, pricing and other practical information about a vast number of drugs. (Of course, consulting first with your doctor about them is always of primary importance.)

The full details of the Iodine’s origin, current operations*, investor support, use of Google Consumer Surveys and other data sources, and its potential benefits to patients and the pharmaceutical industry was the subject of a very engaging article published in the September 23, 2014 edition of The New York Times entitled To Gather Drug Data, a Health Start-Up Turns to Consumers by Steve Lohr. (See also another brief article entitled Iodine: A Platform to Help You Choose the Best Medicines for You by Ben Woods, posted on on September 24, 2014.) I also highly recommend a click-through to Iodine’s site to view and test out their new approach to producing and presenting this specialized consumer information.

2. Hackers Modifying Medical Devices: A group of engineers have joined forces online to provide a useful hack to the continuous glucose monitor produced by a company called Dexcom. As reported in an article entitled Hackers Tinker With Medical Devices in the September 27, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal, by Kate Linebaugh (a subscription to is required for access), this hack is called NightScout. To briefly sum up this story, NightScout enables data from this device to be uploaded online to permit parents and other concerned individuals to remotely check the blood glucose levels of family members and friends who have Type 1 diabetes, from their smartphones. The Dexcom monitor currently on the market does not do this, although such a connection is planned for a subsequent release possibly next year.

The monitor itself consists of two parts: A small plastic pod which is worn by person with diabetes that transmits the blood glucose readings on a continuous basis to a handheld device within a 20-foot radius (which is nearly the same dimensions of a typical smartphone). This system is used to look for and alert the user to certain helpful patterns in the changes to their blood glucose levels and to record this data. In turn, the data is also quite helpful to the person’s medical providers.

This is indeed a very data-driven approach to treating Type 1 diabetes, which has always required close monitoring by the patient in an effort to maintain normal blood glucose levels. Doing so helps to avoid long-term complication and maintain good health.

Neither the manufacturer nor the FDA has approved NightScout, but they have not tried to stop it. Rather, they are closely watching its ongoing improvements by the NightScout online community and how this is affecting the quality of care for the users.

3. Industry Conference Presentation on Data-Driven Medical Technologies: An article entitled Can a Computer Replace Your Doctor? by Elizabeth Rosenthal in the September 20, 2014 edition of The New York Times, reported on other advances and growing interest by doctors driven by big data collection and analytics. These developments were the subject of a presentation called Health By Numbers at the recent 2014 Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco. This article opens with an account of a doctor asking his audience whether they would prefer an AI to an actual doctor.**

To briefly summarize this story, some of these systems and methodologies discussed, among others:

  • An iPhone app to diagnose ear infections
  • Home kits to check cholesterol levels
  • The above mentioned blood glucose monitoring devices
  • Wearable fitness trackers

Moreover, the attendees discussed many key issues about pursuing these lines of medical treatment and administration including high expectations and mixed outcomes, challenges in quantifying exactly what “health” means, that sometimes good data does not always equal a healthy patient, and how to most meaningfully process and analyze all of the available data. I highly recommend a click-through and full read of this very informative and thought-provoking piece.

My follow up questions concerning all three of these stories include:

  • Will the privacy patient and user data be adequately protected by current laws or do the rapid emergence and adaptation of these systems require new legislation and regulation to ensure patient privacy?
  • Whether and how the roles of doctors and other medical service personnel will be changed? If so, how will their academic training need to be revised?
  • What, if any, will be the impact on the costs, quality, policies and politics of medical care in the US and elsewhere?

*   No stitches were involved as these concern business, not surgery.

** Compare and contrast to this September 1, 2014 post here entitled Possible Futures for Artificial Intelligence in Law Practice.