Insights Blog

Data in football: how to build a strong information strategy – part 2

Blog snapshot

In this post, Richard Battle, Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting will look into:

  • What is the first key component of an effective information strategy in football
  • How data professionals can work with and for the rest of the organization

The future success of any elite level football club largely depends not only on access to data, but effective application of the insights derived from it. As I detailed in my first blog in this series, the development and implementation of effective information strategies will be a critical competitive advantage in the industry, just as much as in any other business. In order to get this right though, there has to be an understanding of the core components of an effective information strategy. The first aspect to address is how data professionals work in harmony with, and for the benefit of, the rest of the organization.

Ask the right ‘football questions’

The cornerstone of a strong information strategy is not primarily about understanding the data at your disposal, but having a clear view of the decisions to be made and the insights that could usefully support or challenge them. This is why both the data specialists within a football club and the domain experts, such as coaches, medical staff and recruitment, have to have a strong relationship. Without the right questions being asked, the insights derived from data will be limited in their use.

Still, for this approach to work, there has to be clarity across all departments within a club. It is unrealistic and also counter-productive, for each department to independently design and implement its own information strategy. There has to be a centralised approach which aligns the relevant football departments; this can be done effectively via a dedicated information function.

The first task for this central function will be to get input from all disciplinary leads. This could encompass anyone from heads of recruitment through to performance and performance analysis leads, so that they can articulate their core aims, processes and also the challenges they want to set the data analytics team. This process will make it very clear what insights need to be derived from the data, but this should not be a one-way conversation.

In parallel, the information function has to develop an understanding among practitioners of the relative time investments for different pieces of work, thus ensuring resources are committed to the areas where greatest insight can be obtained. Simultaneously, there are things that can be done now through analytics that wouldn’t have been possible in the past, and it is the role of the centralised function to create a vision which ensures the full capabilities of available technology are brought to bear in addressing use cases. In most cases this will involve the central function demonstrating to other departments ‘the art of the possible’ in addressing their use cases in the most complete and valuable way. A shared vision can be built regarding how each use case can be meaningfully addressed via improved analytics processes.

Keep it simple but relentlessly challenge

With data impacting so many aspects of a football club’s operations, simplicity is key. To summarize, there are some key points that need to be prioritized.  

Clear vision – this has to be agreed between the information function and the domain experts.

Clarity of critical success factors – this vision has to then be broken down into specific goals and clear critical success factors so that data analysis is focused on delivering insights that will make a positive impact in an area that the club has prioritized.  

Agreed use cases – there must be a common approach and understanding of how analytics can achieve these success factors and be measured against the relevant targets.

Relentlessly challenge – clubs cannot afford to stand still, even when positive progress is being made. Teams must always ask whether there is a better way to pose or answer questions to deliver more value from the data.

If these basics are mastered, any club will have the foundations in place for an effective information strategy. But to ensure that progress is sustainable, this must be matched with a focus on the skills within the team.

Move to self-sufficiency for long-term value

To truly embed data analytics within a club, the next step is to start building capability outside of the central information function.

Via formal training, informal mentoring and a culture which places value on information, staff across all departments will become more familiar with data and the technologies that can help to deliver insights. In the first instance this might be via data visualisation tools.

Many organizations talk about creating a culture of data-driven decision making. One of the greatest catalyst to achieving that is developing staff to be data-empowered.

As a direct consequence, this can also create advocates for analytics processes and technologies. The more that people see a positive impact on their roles from a greater availability of quality information, the happier they will be to encourage their colleagues to follow suit. Over time, this positive momentum will help you take your information strategy to the next level. It will naturally give the central analytics team more time to concentrate on gradually developing more sophisticated analysis; as what is considered sophisticated now becomes common place over the next five years, so those techniques will permeate other departments leaving the central function to once again look at what is coming next – and the cycle will repeat itself.

What’s next

At every step detailed here, clubs can gain a crucial advantage over the competition. But to ensure this opportunity is grasped, another critical component of information strategies must be addressed –  matching this approach with the right technology. This is what I will focus on in my next blog, where I’ll give you a guide to getting the technology side of the equation right.

Richard Battle is the Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting, an independent consultancy which supports football clubs and organisations across strategy, information and analytics. His blend of experience in strategic consulting at a global firm and in the day-to-day operations of a Premier League training ground makes for a unique vantage point on the industry.

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