By Richard Bliss - For the Denver Broncos, time is the scarcest resource of all.
When the Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens on opening day for the NFL—September 5, 2013—future Hall Of Famequarterback Peyton Manning will step up to the line of scrimmage. Manning will scan the field, analyzing the defensive formation, identifying threats, looking for weaknesses, and sorting through the noise.
Manning will use his knowledge to execute a plan—including data he received in the prior weeks from watching video of both the Ravens and his own team. He’ll aim to exploit gaps and holes in the Ravens’ defense, while simultaneously exploiting the Broncos’ strengths.
And all in real time, on a live stage, with success and failure recognized immediately upon execution.
As With The Players, So With IT
Before Manning ever runs out onto the field at Mile High Stadium, the Broncos’ dedicated IT staff will have collected, stored, assimilated, managed, protected and delivered terabytes of data to Manning, his teammates, the coaching staff, and fans.
This IT performance is also in real time, with success and failure being recognized immediately. In the modern era of the NFL, no team can survive without peak performance from its IT department.
NFL teams are mid-size businesses with enterprise-level IT needs. The Broncos’ IT staff manages hundreds of terabytes of data, with more flooding in each week.
Gone are the days when your previous games and those of your opponents were shipped in as film.
Today, videos of games are delivered to the Broncos digitally, with multiple camera angles and shots. All this data must be cataloged, stored, and delivered to players and coaches immediately, so that preparation for the next week can begin.
Gone are the days of arriving at the practice facility early or staying late in order to use the film room.
Today, the IT Department issues an Apple iPad to each player and coach. Video of the Broncos’ game and practice, as well as their next opponent’s game, are available to every player and coach instantly via a secure connection. Manning can now watch 24 hours a day: from the practice facility, the stadium, or his own home.
Gone are the days when the photocopier was the most-used piece of equipment in the building. The playbook is no longer delivered as a massive tome that must to be recopied each time there’s a tweak.
Today, all the Broncos’ players and coaches receive the playbook on their iPads; changes can be made instantly. The coaches know that each player always has instant access to the most recent version.
Speed Is Critical
The pace of the NFL schedule is brutal.
When the game ends, there’s less than a week to prepare for the next opponent. Hours of video must be stored, organized and delivered, in time for the team and coaches to prepare for the next game.
A delay of even a day could be disastrous. Downtime is not acceptable. Data-loss would be a tragedy.
The Broncos’ scarcest resource is time. Everything they do is designed around that constraint.
On home-game days—eight times in a regular season—the Broncos’ organization must also simultaneously prepare for a live performance with 76,000 in attendance and millions watching.
During the game, use of live video by the players and coaches is forbidden by the NFL rules. The IT staff nonetheless has a role to play, and one that is again buffeted by time constraints.
Video, still photography, statistics, and other information must be provided in real time—both to the in-stadium scoreboard and to fans via the Broncos’ mobile app. With the fast pace of an NFL game, delays are not acceptable.
Replays and stats must be delivered as quickly as Manning scans a defense, and IT can’t call “time out” if there’s a problem.
No Rest For The Rest Of The Year
Even in the offseason, the IT Department is busy.
There’s a backlog of old video that must be digitized, captured, and made available—to players, coaches, fans and the media.
There are trades to be negotiated, which often call for fast and efficient delivery of video and other data: The coaches and front-office need to quickly evaluate and respond to a trade before it slips away.
The draft process is a season unto itself, with dozens of prospects to sift through, along with video of their college games, workouts and, other information. On draft day, with only minutes to make a decision, the team can’t afford an IT failure.
The Bottom Line
The financial success of the Denver Broncos is incredibly dependent on its IT staff’s ability to put the right information into the right hands—at the right moment.
Like Peyton Manning reading a defense at the line of scrimmage, the IT staff must work within tight time constraints. IT’s success and failure, like Manning’s, is instantly recognizable.
They are the digital backbone of the modern NFL. And they couldn’t do it without fast, reliable, manageable storage.