Being appointed an organisation's first CIO is a challenge at the best of times, but when you have an international Grand Slam tennis tournament to prepare for in two months things are just that much more hectic.
That's what it was like for Tennis Australia's first CIO, Chris Yates, who began the job in a baptism of fire by managing IT during the Australian Open.
Helpdesk calls average 120 to 150 per month at Tennis Australia, but for January it did 1200 help desk calls. All these things run on technology.
But as Yates puts it, “after the party there is a lot of mess to clean up” and Tennis Australia wants its information systems to offer more just coping with a huge rush for four weeks of every year.
“My predecessors did a great job, but my role is a new position and is on the senior management team,” Yates said, adding his appointment is part of Tennis Australia's strategy to promote the sport of tennis by leveraging IT.
Tennis Australia's basic charter is to “make Australia the greatest tennis playing nation on the planet” and it has approached this objective at a number of levels — from player development at the grass-roots tennis club level to making the game enjoyable to watch, and planning how to put money back to improve it.
When former Nortel Networks executive Steve Wood took over Tennis Australia in 2005 his focus was a restructure with people with business skills and revived a focus on IT which was “lacking”.
Laying the foundations
Before Tennis Australia could attempt its software ambitions, significant reform was required in the data centre.
During the first year of Yates' tenure his strategy was based around infrastructure as “everything had to be rebuilt from scratch”.
The new data centre and server infrastructure cost about $1 million, and a fleet of new desktops with a SOE was an additional $250,000.
“On the server side we are moving to Windows Server 2008 on IBM blade servers,” Yates said.
Tennis Australia is also using VMware to virtualise servers deemed to have a low usage requirement or for testing new software.
Software strategy to expand IT's reach
With the infrastructure now in place, Yates can focus on developing a wide information management strategy at Tennis Australia, which will involve a mixture of in-house an outsourced applications.
“We are putting an advanced coach management system to track athletes and also making more software available to the tennis community which I see as an important direction,” Yates said.
Yates is looking closely at what Tennis Australia can do to help people communicate and “do things more easily”.
“I want to deliver more software to the community, including tournament software for all tournaments affiliated with Tennis Australia and that's going quite well. We used it for two tournaments prior to the Australian Open and it's much easer than using Excel or paper. We're now looking at some competition software.”
Another way to create a “supporting environment” for tennis people is with social networking, which Yates sees as a “big thing”.
“We're having discussions with them so we'll see how that pans out [and] we may set up strategic partnerships with social networking providers,” he said.
Yates, who has held IT director and consulting roles before Tennis Australia, is cautiously optimistic about SaaS and is looking at how it can be best leveraged.