Imagine that you are watching a tense football match. Suddenly you start hallucinating, and things start looking very different …

No, it is not a football field; it is a telecom ecosystem. No, it is not a team like Arsenal or Real Madrid; it is a telecom service provider like Airtel or Reliance. No, we aren’t talking of Mesut Ozil or Cristiano Ronaldo; we are talking of key telecom network elements. No, these are not football fans, these are telecom subscribers.

Actually you may not be hallucinating. Like a telecom service provider, a football team too is a business, governed by rules of performance and profitability. With, however, one happy exception; fans hardly ever churn! No Arsenal fan would commit the ultimate sin of becoming a Manchester United supporter.

telecomfootballLike telecom service provider managers, football coaches too have to define strategies that make sense from both a game performance and a business value perspective. The volume, variety, and complexity of elements to be taken into account while establishing game plans – whether in telecom or football – is essentially a big data problem.

As Germany wildly celebrates its World Cup victory, there is already serious discussion on what made this success possible – and many analysts believe that big data analytics made a big difference.

For far too long, football – unlike cricket – wasn’t considered to be a statistical beast. The only numbers that mattered were something like: Germany 1, Argentina 0. But look at the plethora of numbers that swamp us now in a football match: Cesc Fabregas ran 11.7 km during his 80-minute stint on the football field; Barcelona enjoyed 69% possession in their 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid (is there a counter-intuitive story here about possession being negatively correlated to victory?); or this current best-selling story that Germany won the World Cup because their passes happened much more rapidly than other teams.

RooneyMovementBut what is really causing the big data wave in football is the use of video footage analytics. What is a player’s preference while taking penalties, which player is capable of attaining the maximum height as he attempts to head from a corner kick, is a team like France more vulnerable to a counter-attack via flanks than from the middle, does van Persie have a higher probability of being caught offside than a Suarez, what is Rooney’s pattern of movements on the football field (see adjoining picture), and what body feints of a Robben are indicative of willful dives?

All these questions have been perennially discussed in pubs and in adda sessions – but analytics now allows us to quantify such observation and insights, it allows us to model, it allows us to do big data simulations of ‘what-if’ scenarios, and it allows us to compute probabilities. It also provides invaluable data to betting agencies – but that’s another story!

Big data brings in an exciting new dimension by using social network analytics. Who are the players who bring in the largest number of spectators, and maximize the number of TV eyeballs? Does advertising underwear or biting your opponent increase your personal valuation?

soccerdigitalFor a telecom service provider there is a strong sense of déjà vu. All telecom service providers (football teams) have access to the same network elements (players). Why then are some service providers so much more profitable than the others? (Why does Manchester United win cups so much more often than Arsenal?). How does a telecom service provider offer the best revenue or margin assurance (buy the best suited players for the team at the best price), how does he optimize his call routing algorithms (how does a football team extract the best advantage from rapid and timely passing), how does he manage his network faults and performance (how does Barcelona ensure that Messi stays fit the whole year), how does he optimize his bandwidth and spectrum utilization (how does a team juggle its mid-fielders to play both attacking and defensive roles), how does he negotiate offset terms (how does a football team offer his excess players on loan to other teams).

Some of these comparisons may seem tenuous, but surely readers are getting the drift. The insight that analytics offers is just the dribble needed to make telecom service providers (football teams) the leaders in their markets and their playing fields.

— This is a modified version of what first appeared here. This version has appeared in Businessworldappeared in Business Insider and also appeared in InformationWeek..



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