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Cricket Australia’s replatforming of online services paid off during pandemic

Cricket Australia was able to keep digital services up and running during a period of unprecedented customer demand

Cricket Australia’s decision to replatform multiple consumer-facing digital services, through an outsourcing deal with HCL in 2019, paid off when the pandemic struck.

With fans unable to attend matches, the sudden rise in demand for online services would have put too much load on the previous infrastructure, potentially causing services to fail.

The organisation, which supports Australian cricket from grass roots to the national team, had several successful digital properties, but they were standalone. These were brought onto a single modern platform through the work with HCL.

Before the pandemic, during the 2018/19 season, more than two million fans attended cricket matches in Australia, and Cricket Australia’s digital services had a global online audience exceeding 20 million a year. 

The arrival of Covid-19 on Australian shores changed things overnight as fans turned to the Cricket Australia app to watch the sport, resulting in millions of extra hits.

Michael Osborne, general manager of technology at Cricket Australia, said the volume of traffic to the organisation’s digital services was like nothing it had seen before.

“I am pretty convinced the previous infrastructure would have crumbled under the load, but [the new one] held up fantastically,” he said.

The impact of the pandemic also reaffirmed the importance of digital services to Cricket Australia, and it now wants to move to the next stage, making use of more data to offer users what they want, added Osborne.

To this end, Australian cricket’s governing body has challenged the wider community to develop technologies that could benefit cricket fans and players in Australia and beyond.

It has launched TechJam 2021, a long-term hackathon that brings together teams of developers, data scientists, analysts and sports enthusiasts.

Through TechJam, it is offering access to its data to kick-start the development of software that could improve services to spectators and player performances. As part of this, with HCL’s support, Cricket Australia has created a sandbox on Microsoft Azure.

TechJam opened to participants on 14 June and teams can sign up until 22 July. So far, 150 teams have signed up. Entries will be judged in September.

The plan to launch TechJam followed the success of a similar, but much smaller, project. “TechJam grew out of an idea from HCL focused on data in the high-performance space. We ran a small challenge and made available a dataset of past performances of national teams and players and we asked people to find interesting nuggets that high-performance staff could use to make the teams better,” said Osborne. “That worked well so we have extended it beyond data, to wider technology.”

The organisation is looking for innovation in three main areas: technology that can help Australia’s cricket team improve; functionality that can improve fan engagement; and technology to improve services for its community of 700,000 people registered. It also has a “wildcard category” for anything that doesn’t fit into these.

Developments from outside are being encouraged by an organisation that does not have the internal software development capacity of large enterprises. Not-for-profit Cricket Australia has a core in-house IT team of about 30 people, most of whom work in user support and infrastructure roles, with only seven software developers.

TechJam is open to sport enthusiasts, data scientists, analysts, developers, statisticians, tech enthusiasts, tech freelancers, university students, coders and technology innovators from the global developer community.

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