Cricket Australia’s new online services platform has borne fruit during the pandemic

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

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

The organization, which supports Australian cricket from the grassroots to the national team, had several successful digital properties, but they were standalone. These have been brought to a single modern platform through work with HCL.

Before the pandemic, in the 2018/19 season, over two million fans attended cricket matches in Australia, and Cricket Australia’s digital services had a global online audience of over 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 more visits.

Michael Osborne, chief technology officer at Cricket Australia, said the volume of traffic to the organization’s digital services was unlike anything he had seen before.

“I’m pretty confident that the previous infrastructure would have collapsed under the load, but [the new one] held up fantastically,” he said.

The impact of the pandemic has also reaffirmed the importance of digital services for Cricket Australia, and it now wants to take the next step, using more data to deliver what users want, Osborne added.

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

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

Through TechJam, it offers access to its data to initiate the development of software that could improve spectator services and player performance. As part of this, with the support of HCL, Cricket Australia created a sandbox on Microsoft Azure.

TechJam opened to attendees on June 14 and teams can register until July 22. So far, 150 teams have registered. Applications will be judged in September.

TechJam’s launch plan followed the success of a similar, but much smaller project. “TechJam was born 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 performance of national teams and players and asked people to find interesting nuggets that high-performing people could use to improve teams,” Osborne said. “It worked well, so we extended it beyond data, into broader technology.”

The organization seeks innovation in three main areas: technology that can help the Australian cricket team improve; a feature that can improve fan engagement; and technology to improve services for its community of 700,000 registrants. It also has a “generic category” for anything that doesn’t fit into those.

Outside development is encouraged by an organization that lacks the in-house software development capability of large corporations. Nonprofit Cricket Australia has an in-house IT team of around 30 people, most of whom work in user support and infrastructure roles, with just seven software developers.

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

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