Monday, July 2, 2007

Tracking Every Dunk, Pass, & Coffee Break

New video database software is being developed to closely monitor the ‘moves’ of professional basketball players. Could this trend spread to the business world, allowing for the capture of round-the-clock footage of employees?

For decades, professional sports coaches have dedicated a great deal of time to watching films, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their players as well as their competitors’. Teams used to staff full crews of video coordinators and editors who would cut together reels specifically designed to focus on very granular aspects of individuals’ performances in the certain situations.

Garrick Barr, who was video coordinator for the Phoenix Suns for 11 years, founded a company in 1998 that logged every NBA game, closely tracking every offensive play and then generating an “offensive tendency report” for every player. Several years later, Mr. Barr and Nils B. Lahr, a former Microsoft engineer, started Synergy Sports Technology in Phoenix, to bring together statistics matched with associated video clips. Synergy can capture how successful a particular player is at driving right or left and then display it by season or multiple seasons, differentiating between home and away games and further slice those statistics and videos into sub-sub-sub-categories. Click on any stat and coaches can get video clips from the last three seasons of every time a player executed a particular move.

Four teams signed up for Synergy’s beta service in the 2004-05 season... two of them wound up facing each other in the finals that season. Synergy’s client list has now expanded to 14 teams. The NBA has extended use of similar video archive technology to benefit press relations, auditing officials, and scouting, where Synergy’s archives of college games has opened the door to a whole new level of analyzing prospects.

If coverage can expand from the professional to the college level, maybe high school and junior high will eventually follow. Similar tools will be adopted by other sports too, and maybe even other professions.

Professional basketball provides a working example of the unblinking eye that someday may hover above all workplaces. Until now, we have enjoyed protection from continuous scrutiny simply because subsequent watching of raw, unedited video was too time-consuming to be worth the trouble to supervisors. The breakthrough in professional sports video strips away the inessential and dispenses with the time-consuming editing of linear narrative. By fusing statistics with visuals, a well-indexed digital archive provides answers to an infinite universe of questions quickly, painlessly, and compactly.

In the past, without digital technology, no large company could make use of a multimedia archive documenting employee performance, unless, that is, the company could afford to hire a full-time video coordinator for every employee. In the future, however, the employer will be able, with just a click, to watch specified videos starring… just you.

Please visit The New York Times for the full story.

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