IBM and the Raptors: Building an NBA champion and looking for a repeat

While watching the NBA’s defending champion Toronto Raptors begin their season, I thought back to a trip to IBM’s Toronto office in late summer 2018, where we got to play with the technology IBM built for the Raptors’ draft and trade war room. We created teams, selecting college players, current NBA players and even European league all-stars based on stats and contracts, influenced a bit by our own biases (toward the Celtics). And when we visited IBM Toronto again in 2019, when the Raptors were on the march to the playoffs and a championship, we understood that IBM’s technology had made a huge difference in pulling together an underappreciated, under-the-radar team. IBM’s combination of massive amounts of data, AI and a near-flawless user interface allowed the Raptors’ management team to put the right pieces in place to unseat the Warriors. Will the Raptors repeat? Unlikely, but they’re still partnering with IBM.

Later this month, we’re going to publish a special report on IBM’s role with the Raptors in the context of other consultancies and IT services vendors that have invested in analytics and sports, building on the following assessment from our Digital Transformation Insights Report: Cross Vendor, published in March.

“In 2016 IBM partnered with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors to create a ‘war room’ for the NBA draft, pulling together an exhaustive and diverse set of performance, personality and biological data on basketball players in the league, in college, and around the world.

Leveraging a user-centric design approach, IBM worked with the Raptors’ front office to develop an end-to-end platform that revolutionizes the operations experience and provides them with comprehensive and actionable data about players to support front-office decision-making processes.

IBM worked with the Raptors to gather player performance statistics and contract details, allowing the Raptors to get an instant view of all aspects of player performance and the ability to search and filter players, compare players, simulate trade scenarios, and collaborate with decision makers throughout the player recruitment and acquisition processes — how did a player do and what would it cost to have him play in Toronto.

The IBM Sports Insights Central solution was built over six months using a collaborative and agile model. The platform includes a state-of-the-art digital war room located at the Raptors’ facility as well as a mobile application and a web-based service to enable remote collaboration.

The IBM team synthesized and visualized all aspects of player data through an intuitive and highly functional user experience to make this a transformative engagement for IBM and the Raptors. Since the solution deployed, IBM has assisted the Raptors by further enhancing the functionality of the platform with scouting management, players’ social media profiles, and analytics provided by the IBM Watson AI engine via a native mobile app.”

(The Raptors started their title defense with a 130-122 win over the Pelicans.)

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