About big data and football

The “internet of things” in practice.
Jeroen Colin

On a beautiful spring evening I let myself drift along amidst the flow of people. The birds were singing, the people around me were in a festive mood and nothing could spoil the evening. Gently swaying and singing at the top of their voices, borne along by the sweet smell of victory after their favorite football team won, this flow of people left the main road, narrowed slightly and dropped down into the metro station.

At the bottom of the station steps, I noticed that the flow slowed down. Some of the people still had to buy a ticket from the ticket machines, while the others had to go through the gates one by one to go onto the platform. I belonged to the first group of people – who hadn’t bothered to buy a ticket in advance because it was a Sunday – and moved in the direction of the ticket machines. By chance I chose the right queue, as after a period of brotherly shoving and pushing the fellow-supporter next to me was confronted with a machine that wasn’t working. The whole time until I could get my ticket and after this, when exactly the same thing happened to me at the barriers, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this unfortunate combination of events could have been avoided.

If it does have to happen, the simultaneous breakdown of about half the peripheral equipment in a metro station, then perhaps the best time is on a Sunday evening when the only people who are confronted with it are football supporters celebrating their team’s victory. It would have been a much bigger problem, however, the following morning, during the Monday rush hour in our capital city.

It was only later that evening, as I was continuing my journey home by car, that I started thinking about a presentation I had attended given by the public transport company that operates the metro stations. In this presentation it proudly showed how all the peripheral equipment was controlled by the IT system and how the signals from all this equipment are monitored. The “internet of things” in practice. These signals are sent to maintenance technicians who no longer have to wait for a phone call, but can react immediately when something goes wrong or equipment stops working properly.

Just before I got home, my thoughts started to race on. I thought about how the public transport company could use the data from its peripheral equipment for much more than ad hoc maintenance. I imagined how the external factors (the beautiful spring evening, the crowd of football supporters, etc.) could be linked to these data to explain or predict equipment failure. I imagined how these predictions could be used for preventive maintenance and how this would be desirable on several levels. It would not only simplify planning for the maintenance technicians (and in this case, perhaps avoid working on a Sunday), but it could also avoid holding up the flow of people on an evening like this – and the next morning. In short, I imagined how the internet of things could result in an organization that gets cleverer all the time and how big data and the corresponding analytics could affect the life of a football supporter on a normal Sunday evening.

I arrived home feeling really enthusiastic about all these ideas and thinking that the future had never seemed so close. It felt like an almost impossible task to explain to my girlfriend how the smile on my face was the result of a breakdown in the metro station. So I simply said “my team won.”

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Jeroen Colin

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