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The Tour de France is the premier cycle race in the world. It is hugely challenging for the riders and usually packed with intrigue and controversy, and it is equally challenging for technology partners that must support the race and serve its global fan base as it moves to a new location each day. Dimension Data is now in its third year of a five-year technology partnership with Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the organizers of the Tour.
The solution that Dimension Data provides to ASO has been developed over the first three years of the contract, with temperature, weather, wind, and gradient data added to the tracked data on the location and speed of the bikes. Small detachable tracking devices containing a geospatial sensor, a GPS chip, a battery, and radio frequency components, clipped under the saddles of all 198 bikes, transmit data once per second. They are connected via a mesh network to a road vehicle, which uploads data to a helicopter overhead and then to a plane, where it is multiplexed with TV signals. The data is then transmitted to the big-data truck at the race location, and from there to cloud-based-analytics, machine-learning, and web-delivery platforms. The data is cleansed and combined with external data sources such as weather and historical data. Content and real-time insight are then delivered to broadcast and digital channels, as well as to the teams.
This year, the emphasis has been on using machine learning and analytics to predict the outcomes of events during the race, such as whether the peloton will catch the race leaders, and this will be further developed for the 2018 race. Live predictions are an increasingly important in sports commentary, are of great interest to fans, and could provide new revenue streams. Dimension Data uses complex algorithms using historical data collated from the live tracking of bikes over the last two years, as well as rider performances, stage profiles, and race statistics across all International Cycling Union races over the past five years. Using these, it can build profiles of riders, their strengths under particular conditions, and their likely performance in particular stages. Even without access to biometric data, it can also calculate "effort" based on speed, wind direction, gradient, and weather.
For ASO, the partnership has very clear objectives: it needs to protect its existing broadcast revenue streams and find new ones in a rapidly changing market. It needs to share its content with media companies and at the same time bring a more immersive and engaging experience to its loyal fan base, whether they watch the race at the roadside or follow it through live broadcasts or social media. It also needs to reach a larger and younger audience and deliver new and compelling event-based and interactive content to meet the demands of increasingly digitally savvy sporting fans.
Applying technology live during the Tour is a highly visible way for Dimension Data to demonstrate how new technology, including IoT, data analytics, hybrid IT, cybersecurity, machine learning, and digital workplace, can be used to change established processes and deliver new business models as consumers' expectations change, which is a challenge shared by many traditional businesses striving to remain relevant to their customers.
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