Every member of the San Francisco Giants IT department has a 2010 World Series ring, and one day during the 2013 season they'll also get their 2012 World Series rings.
Buster Posey, the National League's Most Valuable Player, Pablo Sandoval, the World Series MVP, and 23 other players were on the field, but Ken Logan, senior IT director, Dave Woolley, director of strategic IT initiatives, Dan Quill, director of application development, and eight other IT all stars also made the Giants' Western Division championship, playoff run and final sweep of the Detroit Tigers possible.
This notion may seem over the top, but it is what they believe, and they can draw the chalk lines from technology initiatives to Commissioner's Trophies, from dynamic ticket pricing to the Digital Dugout to a World Series victory, like Tinker to Evers to Chance.
That's the magic of Bill Schlough, the CIO of the San Francisco Giants and InformationWeek's 2012 Chief of the Year: He believes.
Schlough greets me dressed like a banker, suited up for a short trip to HP Pavilion for the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame induction reception. He's chairman of the San Jose Giants, a Class A minor league team where he served as interim CEO from August 2011 through January 2012, before hiring his successor.
Schlough isn't just a believer. He's a doer, a versatile executive who meets regularly with department heads such as baseball operations VP Bobby Evans and sponsorship/business development VP Jason Pearl, as well as with sponsors he insists on calling partners. He often speaks at their customer conferences.
Schlough has been the CIO of the Giants for 14 years, but it seems unimaginable that a former Unix admin could run a baseball team. Giants CEO Larry Baer says Schlough was chosen to run the San Jose team because of his versatility. "He has a breadth of understanding of baseball and the sports industry that goes beyond sports technology," he says. To Baer's credit, he thinks employees with high potential need new challenges. "We don't pigeonhole people," he says.
Adds baseball operations VP Evans: "He has the desire to grow. He doesn't get satisfied with where he's at. He's not afraid to take chances to achieve big things."
In a business where all that matters is winning, what has Schlough, his IT organization and the Giants actually accomplished? Here are some highlights.
» Dynamic ticket pricing: There's no better, or more dangerous, intersection between a team and its customer than ticketing, which usually begins online and ends at a turnstile. And while it's difficult to pick out a single IT innovation among so many, the Giants were a pioneer in this area. In 2000, when AT&T Park opened, the Giants' ticketing team, working with Schlough and the IT team, rolled out dynamic ticket pricing, where competitive forces drive the cost of attending a ballgame.
If a game is part of a crucial series or against an in-division rival, or the pitching matchup is especially compelling, or the game is simply selling out fast for whatever reason, ticket prices rise -- thanks to software from 5-year-old vendor Qcue. Conversely, prices fall if the game isn't a big draw.
Schlough openly admits the Giants borrowed the dynamic pricing idea from the airline industry. The organization won't directly correlate revenue gains to the ticket pricing effort, but it's worth noting that the team's ticket sales have risen 7% to 8% over the past two years, an increase that also lifts concession and parking sales. The Giants have sold out 100% of their home games since Oct. 1, 2010, the second longest such streak in Major League Baseball (behind the Boston Red Sox). The Giants' paid attendance in 2012 came to 3.3 million.
Meantime, the team has increased season ticket sales from 21,000 in 2010 to 28,000 in 2011 and 29,000 in 2012. Knowing that season ticket holders don't normally attend every game, the Giants created a secondary online ticket market, called Double Play Ticket Window, in 2000, before StubHub existed. Working with a now-defunct SAP-Intel joint venture called Pandesic, the Giants invented a way to activate and deactivate the bar codes on tickets, making exchanges simple and safe. After Pandesic went bust in 2000, the Giants built the platform again in partnership with Tickets.com, which was subsequently acquired by MLB Advanced Media, which now licenses the technology to StubHub. While the Giants still make a small profit from Double Play, Schlough considers it a fan service rather than a business venture.
» One giant Wi-Fi hotspot: The Giants have also become the bellwether for enabling a digital fan experience at the ballpark, and a lightning rod for criticism. Baseball purists don't cotton to dancing mascots, eardrum-bursting music and other family-friendly entertainment, and they can't fathom why fans need to use laptops and tablets at a baseball game. But Giants fans live and breathe the fumes of Silicon Valley. Business pros pound out emails between innings; other fans update their social networks and check scores and video highlights from around the league.
When the Giants opened AT&T (formerly Pacific Bell) Park in 2000, mobile was in its relative infancy and modern social networking didn't exist. As early as 2004, Schlough sculpted a wireless experience for fans, even if only a handful of them were on the network. But on opening day of 2008, several months after the advent of the iPhone, the ballpark's network was saturated.
Luckily, the Giants had a partner with both the resources and the motivation to help: AT&T. Terry Stenzel, an AT&T VP, won't forget his first phone call from Schlough. "I knew I was in trouble," he says, "but I didn't feel like it." That is, Schlough made Stenzel feel like a partner in solving the problem.
To be clear, this wasn't just about fans being able to access Facebook. Schlough was concerned about employees being able to reach one another, a matter of fan safety. It took almost the entire 2008 season for Schlough and AT&T to build up the wireless infrastructure, and even then, Stenzel says, the problems didn't go away as demand continued to soar. "Every year, it's almost a rip and replace," Giants IT director Logan says.
The wireless network extends from the seats to the concession stands and even outside the stadium. After all, Stenzel notes, the "fan experience starts in the parking lot." From Game 1 of the 2010 World Series through the 2012 season, the Giants and AT&T boosted network capacity to handle an almost eightfold increase in traffic, from 55 GB to 433 GB.
Quill, the Giants' app dev director, remembers when fans started streaming the games in the ballpark, putting even more stress on the network. The Giants worked with MLB's Advanced Media group to arrive at the ability to cache some of that video locally to relieve some of the traffic pressure.
Maps is one of the most used applications at the park, because fans like to connect with friends and family after a game, Stenzel says. Surprisingly, fans also stream a lot of music at games. While 40% of all Web activity at games is just browsing, he says that for the first time ever at a sporting event, uploads have surpassed downloads.
Fans want to associate themselves with being at a World Series or other big game, and there's plenty to associate themselves with, like celebrity national anthems and fly-by military exercises. It's enough to make a purist want to stay home. But then again, this is precisely what Schlough's team fights. As he puts it: "Our biggest competition is the couch."
» The "big rig": There are several ways to look at what The Los Angeles Times called "baseball's big rig," a reference to the clever method Schlough and his team employed to help deliver a few Giants players to last season's All-Star game.
Online fan voting is theoretically limited to 25 times per person, and the biggest baseball markets have always had the advantage. In 2012, MLB allowed mobile balloting for the first time. "What other park in the world has the infrastructure to be able to tell our fans to pull out their mobile devices and vote right now," Schlough says. And that's what the Giants did, starting with a big series with the Los Angeles Dodgers a week before the voting period closed.
The Giants built a voting command center, via kiosks located around the park, and they encouraged mobile voting during games over the high-definition scoreboard. Vote often, the Giants told fans. (Major League Baseball has a rich tradition of cities stuffing the All-Star ballot box. The Cincinnati Enquirer famously started a campaign in 1957 in which it sent prefilled ballots to bars throughout Cincinnati. After the Reds monopolized the All-Star roster, MLB commissioner Ford Frick ended fan balloting -- it returned 20 years later.)
Schlough is unapologetic. Indeed, he's gleeful that players such as outfielder Melky Cabrera (No. 4 in the voting a week earlier -- this was a month before he was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for steroids) and third baseman Sandoval (whose stats at the time paled in comparison to those of the Mets' David Wright) were voted All-Star game starters. Such selections build player and team morale, he rationalizes. So what if a little technology greased the skids?
Evans, the Giants' VP of baseball operations and a 20-year team veteran, is a little more cautious. He doesn't want anyone, especially the All-Star players, to think they didn't earn their votes. "The players who got in deserved it," he says, noting that Cabrera was leading the league in batting average at the time (and was named the All-Star game's MVP); Sandoval eventually was the World Series MVP; and the third Giant voted an All-Star starter, Posey, ended up earning the league's MVP.
"You're going to be able to get an amazing matrix on speed and response time," says app dev director Quill, adding that Fieldf/x "will revolutionize how defense is analyzed," like how fast an outfielder comes in for a ball, moves laterally or reacts to line drives. "In some cases, it's just making the data more accurate, and in other cases it's giving us information that just didn't exist before."
While BAM CEO Bob Bowman is careful to note that MLB plays no team favorites, he says Schlough and his organization have two essential qualities when it comes to digital media: ideas and execution. "They always say yes," he says.
Fieldf/x generates a million records per game. Schlough does the math for me: 30 frames per second, tracking nine defensive players, the home plate umpire, a batter and the ball, multiplied by the amount of time a game takes (about 30 minutes of action). Quill says that when teams accumulate three years' worth of data -- enough to give them a high level of confidence in that data -- we'll be talking about 5 billion records. As Quill and Schlough like to point out, 5 billion records is on par with the amount of data a typical bank deals with. Indeed, when we met last month Schlough was due to meet with the head of a large bank's data analytics operations, at the bank's request.
Mix into that data pool the stats every team tracks, as well as the information teams are starting to collect about fans, including social media activity and ticket purchasing/sales patterns, and we're talking about a big data (and storage) problem. It's the IT organization's biggest challenge right now, Quill says.
MLB's Bowman adds that the league's big data, which his organization centralizes and manages, requires teams to be "ready to move not within hours, but maybe within minutes and preferably in seconds."
» Scouting: Quill has been in every Giants draft room since 1999. "My systems have been used in the draft room," he says, "and that draft room created Buster Posey, it created [Madison] Bumgarner, created [Matt] Cain 10 years ago. All of those were related to how we scouted and how the organization figured out how to pick those players, and we assisted in that process."
Quill has worked with Evans and the rest of the baseball operations staff to incorporate various systems, including Fieldf/x and Sportvision's Pitchf/x, into the Giants' scouting process. Beyond picking players, the IT organization's data and video analyses extend to advanced scouting, like figuring out how to pitch the Tigers and who to trade for.
» High-definition video: It's hard to say whether AT&T Park was the first to go 100% HD. The Giants were the third MLB team to introduce an HD video scoreboard, Schlough says, after the Braves and the Marlins. But replacing all of the stadium's TVs with HD sets transformed the fan experience, he says. "It's that simple to me," he says. "Change out the TVs and the park feels new."
MLB's Bowman also talks about another aspect of video: delivering live video captured in the ballpark, which the Giants have been doing for years. Bowman's goal is to capture video, edit it and deliver it to the 2 million MLB.com subscribers within 20 seconds. The league can embed an ad, deliver the video to mobile devices and, of course, generate revenue. And Schlough's AT&T Park infrastructure makes such delivery, even live look-ins to other games, possible.
After the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series, Schlough's team produced a 360-degree interactive video of the victory parade. With only two days to get the video done, it mounted three cameras: one on the windshield of Sandoval's vehicle, one on a golf cart and one on the front of the podium at the City Hall stage. The final product, which you can view here, is stunning.
When I met with Schlough in November, he and his team had already cooked up 50 IT projects for the off-season, and they had yet to meet with the team's various departments. Many of those projects, he says, are fairly boring: upgrading the Microsoft Exchange system, adding storage, shoring up disaster recovery. After they woke me up, I also heard about plans to deliver video and data to iPads, which players and managers carry around, and about delivering a better mobile experience overall (Quill's team takes an HTML5 approach).
Schlough wouldn't go into details, but the Giants endured a cyber attack during the World Series, so he's also focused on enhancing the company's password and mobile device policies.
The Giants are replacing the homegrown CRM system they've used for years, containing information on 700,000 customers, with Salesforce.com. They've also moved to a new ticketing platform, and these two systems (ticketing and CRM) will come together at a few points. The team is testing mobile point-of-sale systems in stores, for example.
The goal is to integrate all customer data, from ticket purchasers to callers into the Giants' ShoreTel VoIP system, and to "track the value of every customer and accurately assess the likelihood of losing that customer, or how to retain that customer," Schlough says. The organization wants to cater to each customer based on past behavior and interaction.
The Giants just hired a social media director, who reports to three people: the heads of communications, revenue and marketing. But he works most closely with Schlough. The Giants are building a physical social media hub in the ballpark. Schlough wants to install mobile device charging stations at the ballpark -- he tells me purposefully, because if I report it, he says, he'll be committed to following through.
Schlough is well connected in sports IT circles. It's worth noting that the top IT execs of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, two fierce in-division rivals, agreed immediately to speak with me about the Giants' CIO.
Steve Reese, VP of IT for the Padres, says Schlough's greatest impact has been helping baseball understand "that IT should be part of the business process." Schlough drives initiatives that aren't just disruptive to the way traditional organizations think, Reese says, but that also impact the bottom line.
Reese goes so far as to call Schlough "the Bill Walsh of IT," referring to the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, who not only was an offensive football genius, but whose progeny is a who's who of former NFL coaches, including Mike Holmgren, George Seifert and Dennis Green.
One of Schlough's proteges is John Winborn, whom he hired in 1999 as a desktop support specialist and later promoted to MIS director, before seeing him off to the Padres. Winborn is now the CIO of the Dallas Cowboys. "I would not be here without his mentoring," Winborn says of Schlough, who's one of the first people he calls with tough problems.
Ralph Esquibel, the senior director of technology for the hated Los Angeles Dodgers, says the Giants "have without a doubt been innovators in the league," and that while baseball hasn't been on the top of the innovation curve, "Bill doesn't fit that mold. ... He has tended not to follow the herd ... and they've been rewarded."
The Giants' technology prowess has rubbed off on many baseball franchises. Esquibel says the Dodgers are building the largest stadium wireless infrastructure in North America -- more than double what the Giants have. Esquibel has a big challenge on his hands, given that Dodger Stadium is the third-oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, but he's undaunted -- a reflection of the pace Schlough has set for everyone else.
Bill Schlough is impeccable. His office, bursting with books and memorabilia, feels a little cluttered, but everything has its place, like his bulletin board with inspirational quotes. Several awards and plaques hang on the wall, but they're hidden. His notes and projects are organized in neat stacks.
I had planned to ask him about mentors, but he beats me to the punch, listing among them his late mother-in-law, whom he describes as someone who labeled everything and sweated the small stuff. One of his heroes is Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee, and he's a disciple of Gary Rogers, the former CEO of Dreyer's Ice Cream, who's a big believer in empowering teams. Schlough invited eight of his mentors to join him at his banquet table in Los Angeles when he was named to the Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal's 2010 "Forty under 40."
I confess that it's difficult to find flaws in the man. Either that or he's got something on just about every associate I talked with.
How about this: He doesn't really like music, and doesn't listen to it. String him up!
On the morning I met with Schlough, he was up early stalking Randy Petersen, founder of InsideFlyer and Milepoint and, according to Schlough, the god of frequent fliers. Schlough set a goal early in his career to fly 1 million miles, and after achieving that milestone got United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek (the boss of a friend) to sign Schlough's Up In The Air movie poster. And now he landed Petersen. One more signature to go: George Clooney's. (I'll take the bet that Schlough gets that one, too.)
Schlough is an Ironman triathlete and dreams of qualifying for and competing in the annual world championship in Kona, Hawaii. Sports has always been a big part of his life. In college at Duke, he played club sports and won the Kevin Deford Gorter Memorial Award, given to the athlete who has contributed the most to sports at the university. Friend Christian Laettner, winner of a college basketball national championship and Olympic gold medal, doesn't have one of those. At EDS, Schlough worked on the soccer World Cup.
But Bill Schlough, the technology executive and sports enthusiast, is best viewed as a leader who brings purpose and humility to that calling.
Woolley, the Giants' director of strategic IT initiatives, says Schlough is "a CIO, a VP, but he's the type of guy who leads by example. He'll be right there when we have to clean out a closet." Woolley remembers when one of the Giants' sites in Arizona was down. Schlough volunteered immediately to get on a plane. "He'll do whatever it takes to help the team."
Logan quipped about the Arizona trip: "He probably did it for the miles."
Anne Cribbs, CEO of the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, says Schlough is adept at building consensus, especially among those with big egos. Other associates and direct reports describe him with words like "progressive" and "structured." Before I left AT&T Park, he provided me with a breakdown of help desk trouble tickets and an example of the day-of-game support manual. I hadn't asked for such things, but he must have thought it would be helpful.
Schlough is also someone who "pushes limits," says Pearl, who heads up sponsorships for the Giants. "He doesn't see roadblocks. He sees opportunity."
Baseball, it is said, is a game of inches. A little white ball traveling 90 miles per hour, a skinny stick. Your arm, his eye. A stare, a blink, a swing.
Bill Schlough can't miss.