Aug 21 2008

Practicing Change

Keep your staff prepared for change and you can take on any challenge.

Photo: Jensen Hande
Steve Evans, Chief Information Officer, PGA Tour

Ben Hogan was always ready for anything. He was the most practiced, logical and prepared golfer of his day. Hogan went to unheard-of lengths to be ready for change. At the 1953 British Open at Carnoustie he practiced for two weeks using the British-size 1.62-inch ball because he was sure it would play differently from the 1.68-inch ball he regularly used. He also walked the unfamiliar links in reverse — from green to tee — to give himself a better lay of the land.

Rivals sarcastically nicknamed him “The Surveyor” for his exhaustive preparations, but his efforts paid handsome dividends.

In 292 career PGA Tour events, Ben Hogan finished in the top three 47.6 percent of the time. He also placed in the top 10 in more than 82 percent of those matches.

Hogan was actually practicing change. And that’s a lesson not lost on the PGA Tour or the organization’s IT staff. We prepare for change every week.

Prep Work

Why prepare for change? As Ben Hogan did, we want to be the best we can be, and make it look simple while we’re at it. That’s not easy. And it’s only the thorough preparation of a dedicated IT staff willing to learn and deploy the latest technology that makes it possible.

As the game of golf has changed, so have the audience and the players. Both want more details, and they want them now. We make that possible. Just consider these statistics: We collect 10 data points per shot, including the speed of the club’s head, the ball’s spin rate and distance. On average, there are 32,000 strokes taken during a PGA Tour event. These 320,000 data points are dynamically distilled into 500 statistics. All of this information is immediately available to television and Internet audiences, and much of it, including scores and ball distances, is available to players, caddies and those in the gallery.

To ensure that we thoroughly and accurately collect the data and properly analyze it, we wipe our servers clean and reinstall our software every week. With technicians working on the road 210 days a year, the opportunity for unwelcome software changes finding their way onto the network servers is too great. If we’re not all working with the same versions, even small technology problems can land us in the rough. '

There are also business considerations. We have one of the world’s most recognizable brands, as do our sponsors. In 2008, we will present those brands to more than 500 million households in 209 countries outside the United States.

Like any other midsize enterprise, the PGA Tour cannot afford to make technology mistakes — including delaying new technology deployments — when business interests are on the line. So, it’s not uncommon to be six months deep into an 18-month technology road map when business units ask us to reprioritize projects.

Practicing Change

That’s where practicing change comes in. Each month we hold meetings with technical and nontechnical staff to address any problems that have come up or that are expected to come up. Network administrators in the field talk regularly with the network operations center via instant messaging, e-mail and voice communications. There’s also a weekly call to keep everyone on the same page. Software updates, which occur every week, are very systematic.

Such methodical approaches are particularly useful for a midsize company such as ours. We have a small onsite staff of 25, including 10 administrators running up to four events per week who face a steep learning curve with a lot of new technology. Because we practice change, when we do make a change, it works.

We can’t afford to be wrong. What we can afford to be is more like Ben Hogan. Perhaps your business could, too.

Steve Evans is the chief information officer for the PGA Tour.