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Data and IoT kick goals at the MCG; hit a six for customer experience

For many Australians the Melbourne Cricket Ground is hallowed ground; whether it’s for the Boxing Day test, the AFL Finals, or simply the experience of being one of 100,000 like-minded individuals turning up at the G for a packed house at a sporting or music event. 

Behind the scenes are the 160 employees who work at the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), the organisation which manages the MCG. Come Grand Final day another 3,000 people will be rostered on to man the ticket booths, the turnstiles, the bars and food kiosks. 

What visitors to the MCG probably don’t notice are the 6000+ sensors located in everything from smart bins to turnstiles. There are CCTV cameras to monitor crowds and enhance security as well as light and motion sensors throughout the venue. 

For James Aiken, the MCC’s business intelligence manager, the data collected by those sensors is as important as every boundary shot or goal scored. The MCC now has more than 40 data sets that it is analysing for value, insight and to enhance customer experience. 

Aiken and his team’s mantra is borrowed from the legendary management consultant, Peter Drucker; “what can be measured can be improved.” At the MCG just about everything is being measured. 

The focus now is on taking the data and turning it into actionable insights. Ultimately, Aiken dreams of a 3D digital twin of the MCG that can be measured and managed using real time data feeds and AI-enhanced decision making to roster on staff, or route foot traffic to avoid customer delays, and in the process enhance customer service and customer experience. 

Aiken describes; “A command centre where we had all our data streaming into a central location. What we want to try and do on a match day is have a command centre where we have real time catering, security incidences, repairs and maintenance jobs all logged in the same place. And our visualisations such as a map visualisation, so we can have that sort of central command centre and everything connected around that.” 

MCC is exploring its options to seek out enhanced efficiency, potential savings and the opportunity to accelerate innovation through greater use of data and the Internet of Things (IoT) making the MCG not just an Australian icon – but a global beacon for sporting venues.

Data transformation  

To bring that vision to life Aiken has been working on a data transformation program – bringing data out of various silos and making it accessible and actionable. 

For the last three years the MCC has worked with Microsoft partner, data and analytics specialist Revenite. MCC looked at other warehouse offerings in the market, before identifying Microsoft’s Azure Data Warehouse as the best and most price-competitive solution for its needs. Revenite provisioned the warehouse for the MCC and set up Stream Analytics to allow data to be collected in near real time. 

Aiken’s plan is to migrate all the MCC’s data sets into its Azure Data Warehouse over the next one to three years. Catering, ticket sales, attendances, weather and event details have already been migrated and part of the CRM is also now migrated to the warehouse. 

Aiken explains; “What we’re trying to do is bring science to decision making. We’re obviously a very experienced organisation with lots of experience in management and people who’ve worked here for a long time. A lot of decision making was that sort of gut feeling based on history. 

“What we are trying to do is bring factual information into running our events. And then improve the customer experience. So, we’re looking at ways that we can use all types of data sets to estimate the crowd better, not just estimate the crowd size, but also when they’re going to turn up. So we have the right resources in the right place at the right time. 

“We want to try to be a bit more dynamic, have this sort of real time information flowing through so we can make decisions in real time. Rather than waiting for something to actually happen, we can start to predict that something’s about to happen. So we want to become more predictive and more automated. That’s kind of our overarching sort of strategy and the focus is on really trying to improve the customer experience, not just for the patrons, but also for the venue hirers, people who pay us to actually have their events here. The AFL are big beneficiaries of what we do.” 

One of the key projects underway now is MCC’s attendance prediction model. Using turnstile data from IoT sensors, the MCC collects data on patrons’ arrivals and attendance. This data and other variables are included in a predictive regression model to predict attendance, arrival patterns, members turn up rates and so forth. 

It’s proving very reliable – the delta between the model’s estimate and actual attendance is just 4.8 per cent on average. In the past, forecasts based on gut feel tended to be out by around 14 per cent. 

That increased accuracy helps the MCC with pre event planning, during event decision making and post event analysis. 

Data and IoT are also delivering significant savings. The MCC has installed IoT electricity run meters on major assets which have provided the intelligence to rein in annual electricity bills by $140,000. 

Aiken adds; “We are doing an IoT project with the Australian Sports Museum at the moment… putting some fisheye cameras in, so we can start to understand which exhibits in our new sports museum are being looked at and which ones aren’t. Then we can make decisions around the flow of movement of the exhibits going forward. 

“We’re also running a number of proof of concepts with asBuilt around using existing cameras to understand how many people are on the concourse at any one time. We count the queues, look at emergency management scenarios and obviously improve security as well”, says Aiken who has also worked with Quantum IT to explore how LiDAR sensors might be used at the MCG in the future. 

Data ecosystem 

At the heart of the MCC’s data-rich solution is Microsoft’s Azure Data Warehouse, Stream Analytics and Data Factory. The team use Power BI to visualise the data and is using Power Apps to create innovative new data rich solutions. 

“What we really want to try and do is get every single data set to flow through our data warehouse and so we have a fully connected stadium; create our own sort of data ecosystem. We have a large membership base of 130,000 members, over 200,000 on the waiting list. So we really want to start to add some value back to our members, understand their preferences,” says Aiken.  

“We would also like potentially to look at the facilities management, how we can become more predictive with our maintenance.” 

The immediate focus remains on ensuring security for customers, enhancing venue management and in turn elevating the overall customer experience – ensuring that a day at the G is a day to remember forever.