Case study: Fulham FC kicks off IT transformation

Oldest football club in London starts drive to implement series of technology initiatives after revamping infrastructure.

As Fulham Football Club enjoys one of the most successful seasons in its history - the club is playing the Europa League final with Spain's Atletico Madrid in Germany tonight (12 May 2010) - its IT team is focusing on providing system uptime and introducing technology to allow better customer service online and onsite.

Central to that strategy is the roll out of a new local area network (Lan) infrastructure last summer, which enabled more resilience and capacity as well as projected yearly savings of £35,000 to £40,000 on an investment of £120,000 in a three-year deal with Juniper Networks.

The club's network infrastructure was no longer able to deal with the peaks of traffic during home match days and systems such as its RFID-based access management platform were "falling apart" under the previous set-up - a mix of network switches provided by HP, Cisco, 3Com and Nortel and DLink.

Meeting new requirements for voice over IP was also part of the rationale behind the deal, which enabled the club to project yearly cost reductions in telephony of around £10,000. Unified communications is also on the cards to further reduce spend.

A roll-out of IP-based CCTV planned to start later this year was another driver for the implementation of the network. Fulham expects savings of £160,000 over three years with the replacement of its current analogue system.

Choosing a supplier

Juniper was chosen through a competitive bidding process where Cisco was also shortlisted. Advantages offered by the supplier included an all-inclusive deal of Gigabit Ethernet and power over Ethernet (PoE) technology and a single operating system for switch management.

"Our biggest challenge was choosing a supplier who could provide us with a switch that used a small footprint and had all the tools we were looking for as well as the resilience," said Fulham FC IT manager Nicholas Pendlebury.

"It used to take us over two hours to produce a video replay of the match for player analysis; it now takes just 15 minutes. Our network is now capable of managing high-demand peak traffic, such as video, without interruption," he said.

According to Pendlebury, the network replacement was a "massive investment" for the club, but was a strategic move based on an eight-year horizon.

"Of course there is an upfront cost, but we took a decision based on the lifespan of the switches and long-term savings are very attractive," he said.

Online presence

Since the roll-out of the Lan last summer, the club improved its online presence and uptime. It also introduced social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter and started offering regular podcasts.

Future projects will involve the implementation of a new electronic point-of-sale system, which will go to tender this year. The club will also update its Wi-Fi network to provide better wireless connectivity for press, photographers and customers.

According to Pendlebury, there are also plans to offer cashless capability - whereby users simply hold up RFID-enabled cards to a reader to buy goods and services without the need to enter a Pin code - to increase speed and convenience for members, who will be able to top up card balances online.

"A lot of these projects were delayed because we did not have the required infrastructure. Now the business is realising what we can achieve and they want to get those in, but we have to do it right and manage each project individually and choose partners to help us deliver that very carefully," he said.

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