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September 4, 2011   Posted by: admin

Holy Grail : A single software package that does all analytics tasks…

In my interactions with sports folks I get a range of really good questions (I also ask my fair share). The single most common question I get asked is “Is there a single software package that we can buy that will do all the analytic stuff” People have an understandable desire for a single ‘thing’ that does everything. In fact, some of the largest software companies in many different industries have tried exactly this approach over the last 20-30 years with little success. Unfortunately this kind of ‘super tool’ is not something that can exist in nature for very long. …here are a few reasons why:

  1. Each one of these areas of expertise Data Management, Analysis, and Visualization alone are extremely complex and require full attention to build a product that does it all well. To do more than one you need completely different experience and expertise, which makes it a big challenge for software companies. Even the biggest companies that make corporate software have failed to do this…even after having endless resources over decades and decades to try. [There are some that claim to do all three, but if you dig under the surface, you'll see it's mostly marketing hype or subject to point 2) below.]
  2. If someone manages to build a ‘super tool’ it will likely do one thing extremely well, and maybe another well enough, but accomplish the third poorly. So in the end, you end up with strengths and weaknesses…it’s extremely difficult to do everything perfectly. The killer point…is that if there is a product that does one of those things better than the ‘super tool’, staffers will start asking for the other thing and start to abandon the ‘super tool’. These other ‘best of breed’ tools will make it a point to attack the weaknesses of the ‘super tool’. This is a key reason these approaches don’t last…the free market won’t let them…
  3. A ‘super tool’ ends up being a hugely complex beast and can be difficult to manage, modify, and improve on the timescale that athletic teams demand. Athletic teams work very quickly and expect to have features that they need now…not next month…or worse, next year. Slow development turnover makes the ‘super tool’ appear to be rigid and gets staffers thinking about how they can quickly build something to serve the team needs. In turn, this creates miscellaneous internal projects creating home grown solutions, defeating the whole point of the ‘super tool’.
  4. Any ‘super tool’ that does come to market will be extremely expensive…they are ‘super’ after all….and will demand top dollar. They are not within reach of smaller clubs and amateurs. Even modular approaches of buy the ‘core’ module and add on later don’t work very well if you can never really afford to buy more modules. Why not spend that money on something cheaper that goes beyond the ‘core’ features. A few stories of less expensive solutions tends to put tools like this in question and make for a hard sell.
  5. If everyone can buy the same software package, there is no difference in advantage between teams. It is the ability to take advantage of the latest technology, techniques, and software that allow leading teams to maintain their leads.

The top clubs have learned these lessons (some the hard way) and don’t put much stock into single comprehensive packages from vendors and have instead built their own internal architectures that they control. This approach allows them to use the ‘best of breed’ tools where they make sense and have the flexibility to make changes when needed. While this do-it-yourself approach has typically been an expensive endeavor, the costs of the tools necessary to do this are becoming cheaper and even more powerful. The tricky part is knowing how to put together an architecture that is suited for a club…their staff….their budget…the future…etc. If done right, this results in a system that is affordable, flexible, easy to manage, and fast to modify for ideas and innovation, which is where you build up competitive advantages.