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CIO podcast: Mike Bohndiek West Ham FC CIO on customer goals

“Sports and technology are my two passions and I have been very lucky to comprise a career out of them,” Head of IT for West Ham United Football Club told CIO peers at a recent Horizon CIO event on the need to be customer centric.

Bohndiek has spent just under three years with West Ham and recently revealed to the Horizon CIO podcast that he has formed a sports business technology consulting organisation.

Pragmatic Technological Insight (PTI) Consulting brings Bohndiek’s 13 years at the touchline of sports technology together as a single service.  Bohndiek has deployed technology into 14 venues, including two large stadium transformations, the last being West Ham moving into the London 2012 Olympics stadium in Stratford. Bohndiek told peers via the Sullivan & Stanley WhatsApp group that the organisation will not only focus on technology transformation, but also the people transformation.

West Ham FC dates back to 1895 and took on the West Ham name in 1900. In its history the club has won the FA Cup three times, the last in 1980.

Customer loyalty

“If you are annoyed at Debenhams you go to Marks, if you are annoyed at Tesco you go to Asda, if you are annoyed at West Ham United you keep shouting at West Ham until something changes, so you have a very demand driven customer that won’t ultimately change your business,” Bohndiek tells the Horizon Live CIO podcast. Unlike his peers at the event, customers of the West Ham are unlikely to take their business elsewhere, to another football club. But that comes with challenges too.

“You have a very captive market and that can breed laziness if you are not careful, but that also means you have to work very hard to fight for the bottom of our pyramid especially at a very young age to create our next generation of fans,” he says of ensuring the club regularly captures a  new demographic.

“Every club has its own language, there is a different feel and it is all the cultural piece. You have got to be be able to understand their language. Tottenham having a better website will not see them move, but it’s about the next generation.”

Technology is the way to secure the new customer base and the reason is that the experience the customer demands has changed completely.

“The average age of a season ticket holder at present is 47 and no one needs me to point out that can be a bit of a ticking time bomb,” he says.

“When you have a smaller set of people to target, you can’t target the Tottenham fans, you go with a classic pyramid structure you need to get a lot of kids and it is noted that the fan base is set at 13 years old and before that they are transient, once you have snared them you have to keep them engaged,” he says.

“I’m an Arsenal season ticket holder and I have been going to football matches for more years than I care to mention. When I first started going to football matches I had no way of telling people I was going, I read the physical match programme cover to cover and I watched the warm up and the match and then when I went home I waited for Match of the Day and watched it all again,” he says of the experience many season ticket holders of today will have grown  up with.

“Fast forward to today and where are we? At a complete opposite ends of the spectrum,” he says a sports CIO has to ensure the fans have a connected experience and that technology underpins every aspect of “business engagement”.  And it was this need for connected customer experiences that was at the heart of West Ham moving from its hope at Upton Park to the London Stadium, the former London 2012 Olympic stadium.

“One of the drivers of the move to the London Stadium was taking out manual processes with suitable forms of technology,” he says adding that to do this, West Ham also had to move away from seeing “IT as a cost centre and being the guys with the servers to now we are revenue generators”.

As with any market with a direct contact to the consumer, mobility has been a major striker for change.

“Customer expectations from internal teams and the fans are driven by mobile. You are expected to do all sorts of things with it, you expect it to do access control at an airport as your boarding pass, HIVE controls your home, you route yourself and we are used to that,” Bohndiek says.

“We now shout at the TV to turn it off rather than scrabbling for the remote,” the wide range of mobile and voice activated technology and with the rise of the internet of things means the CIO expects all of these to change the stadium experience. A challenge for football clubs is that with so many experiences available on the mobile phone outside of the stadium, fans complain they can’t use the full power of the device at the game.

“Amazon is a disruptor and is bidding for football rights,” Bohndiek revealed.  “I haven’t watched Match of the Day for years because on a Sky Sports package 15 mins after the game I get a full highlights package of three minutes, so I don’t have to wait five hours. I have seen the action,” the CIO says of his and every fans typical behaviour.

Stadium move

Bohndiek was part of the team that moved Arsenal from Highbury to its new Emirates Stadium.  Moving West Ham to the London Stadium was  not only to give the Premiership side increased capacity, but was also an opportunity to modernise the business processes and technology of the club.

Bohndiek inherited 178 systems and a mass of data when he joined West Ham. “IT was decentralised, it was the back office and across 10 sites,” he says adding that different business units “bought systems when they needed them”. West Ham was also still using Windows XP, tape back-up and had a server estate that was hard to trace and manage.

“Importantly no one saw it as a problem,” Bohndiek reveals and his first task in modernising West Ham was to make the organisation realise it hadn’t made the  most of technology. “Working with the board is usually the hardest place. With them I had to redefine what IT was in the everyday.

“I took them through a tech list for a match day, and what it would mean to take technology out of the game. How do we sell tickets? How do the fans get in if we can sell tickets? It is not a very immersive experience as none of signage or screens work and the robotics cameras for broadcasting,  so can we redefine what IT is?” This exercise made the board realise truly that technology underpins every facet of a football game.

“They needed to understand that the box in the corner was driving their whole business. As a board they are all about commercial outputs. Good commercial outputs come from good business cases and the best business cases come from understanding a problem and creating a solution for it.”  

Once Bohndiek had got the board to understand the opportunity, he was able to work with the rest of organisation.

“Football as an industry and sport tends to be quite insular and it tends to have a lot of people that have always been in the sport mainly because they are a fan. We took our retail team out to other retailers. They organised a trip to Spurs and Fulham,” he says of that focus on the sector you are in. Bohndiek took the retail team on a tour of major retailers to see how they were using technology to improve the customer experience.

“Once you build a good business case one, two or three times,  the rest will float under the radar as you have proved it several times before,” the CIO says. With football club operators looking to capitalise on the next wave of technology such as Artificial Learning (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) Bohndiek believes the sports sector will require more technologists  in the  years to come because it will become essential.

“From a stadium point of view, we see the risk of being left behind as absolutely real. The example I use is hotels with Wifi. 15 years ago it was a value add if Wifi was in the room, you could do some work. Hotels without wifi and now struggling. Stadia have the same problem.”

Horizon CIO Podcast is hosted by Mark Chillingworth and Produced by Matt Gore of icon business media

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