Three things businesses can learn from British Athletics’ innovative data strategy

Alex Cooke  Data Intelligence Partner, PwC United Kingdom 05/02/20

The British Athletics World Class Programme has one overarching goal – to win more medals in more events at major championships.

Recognising the positive impact that data intelligence can have on achieving this aim, the organisation is working with us to create a unified data platform that will give its coaches and athletes a competitive advantage.

This partnership is a unique and exciting challenge for our analytics teams, but one that has parallels with performance optimisation for any industry. It’s about thinking differently about how you operate and using data to deliver quantifiable insights that improve decision making. With this in mind, here’s an overview of three things that you can learn from British Athletics’ data strategy.

Understand how to drive value

In simple terms, you need to first understand what you want to achieve and then work out how you can use data to help you move towards that goal.

For British Athletics, we had to look at the different priorities for each part of the programme. This includes senior leaders making strategic decisions for the whole team, through to the coach and athlete pairs who each have their own specific needs. It’s important that we understand the unique requirements for each group and the decisions they need to make, as this determines the insights we need to give them.

This approach can be used within any industry. The board needs to have oversight of what’s happening in their organisation, so we provide data outputs that give a holistic view. You then have functional leaders that need more granular insights related to their specific part of the business and its operations.

Measure success

For British Athletics, the way we measure success is relatively simple. As a result, everything is geared towards winning more medals in more events.

For us that meant understanding the different variables that can impact an athlete’s performance and how they interact with one another. To achieve this we developed a unified probabilistic model with the purpose of tracking the many different actions and interventions you can make to an athlete’s diet, routine, rest, training schedule, etc, and then predict the likely impact if the coach and athlete were to make adjustments.

This model offers British Athletics the possibility to make informed decisions based on the opportunity cost and the potential outcome of different choices. There are restrictions on how many actions we can take based on budget, time, conflicting priorities and other factors, but the probabilistic model means those decisions will be data-led and quantifiable.

Runner Tartan Track Starting

Focus on data quality

Once you understand your goals and the ‘system’ you’re working with – in our case the athlete – you can explore whether you have the data available to help deliver relevant insights. It’s important that your data is complete as well as being tracked over time. It’s difficult to look at trends if a data point has only been measured once or sporadically.

While the area of data quality is generally well understood, organisations seeking insight have a tough call to make. What the data is being used for makes a difference; if you’re reporting on financial results then your data and subsequent reporting needs to be 100% accurate, but if you simply want to make a better decision on something that isn’t business critical, then whilst capturing quality data is still really important, the resultant insight may be beneficial even if it is only directionally correct. A thorough understanding of the level of quality through the information chain is arguably more important than complete accuracy.

It’s been fascinating to work with British Athletics and begin building the organisation’s data strategy from the ground up. Within athletics, this is a unique, innovative use of data analytics and one that will give the coaches and athletes the insights that help them move their performance to the next level.

And while the goal of the partnership with British Athletics is unique, the approach we’ve taken is applicable within any other industry. All businesses are being disrupted by data and technology, the smart organisations are those that use it as an opportunity to gain an edge on the competition.

Contact us

Alex Cooke 

Data Intelligence Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7891 150 219

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