Microsoft • May 2015 - November 2018
Microsoft Sports 365
Every year Microsoft employees have the opportunity to join the most waited global event, the MS Hackathon week. During this week, new ideas come to life, allowing both the business and individuals to pursue true innovation and virtual teams to leverage their passions outside established product roadmaps. Being a passionate sports person, I foresaw the opportunity to develop my project by investigating how technology could enable athletes to perform better and achieve higher results.
Illustrate how technology can enable individuals to anticipate gaps in their performances and, by fulfilling those via interactive visualisation and predictive analysis, help athletes of any level win more competitions.
MICROSOFT SPORTS 365
My Role in the Project
I led all the activities and coordinated the tasks, ensuring all the voluntary contributions added value to the outcome. I help the team with the research analysis and the definition of the fundamental question. I also conducted few workshops with the team to identify the opportunities for product development, type of audience and solution capabilities. In this leadership role, I provided design direction on the concept and UX\UI execution. I also directed and post-produced the vision video. This last piece helped inform and sync with engineers about the working prototype to demonstrate the potential of the opportunity. I ultimately presented the deck to a broad audience and acted as the ambassador of the great work the whole team produced in such a short amount of time.
The MS Hackathon Week
The MS Hackathon week is a global event the runs across the whole organisation every year. Thanks to an internal online portal, individuals can either submit their ideas to be developed or join pods to collaborate on the challenge proposed. I have always been a sports person, and I took the opportunity to challenge myself and exploit the matter to see if opportunities could be unlocked, both for the business and end customers. I created the brief and submit the idea to the internal portal. The response was overwhelming, and many Microsoft employees across locations decided to join my design challenge. The final team was composed of circa 12 people, from interns to project managers to program directors. At the end of the week, we presented the solution to convince the audience about the great potential for execution and secure some funding. The proposal gained excellent appraisals and was shortlisted among more than 5000 submissions, creating great resonance across the whole organisation.
How might Microsoft help every athlete in the world be their best and perform at their highest levels?
DESIGN FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
The sports sector has been quite reluctant to innovate for years. This industry has always been thriving thanks to the innate sports passion that fans cultivate since a young age. But in recent years, this segment discovered a new appetite for technology to pursue further achievements enabled by more targeted effort and maximised efficiency. With Microsoft Sport 365, we envisioned a tool that could allow all the industry stakeholders to access industry data at a deeper level. The aim was to give individuals the opportunity to discover more about their performances, addressing the challenge of training with more tangible objectives and clear targets. Also, thanks to big data and predictive analysis, broader teams could access additional information layers to create new forms of entertainment and engage with futuristic solutions sports fans at all levels.
Every day hundreds of millions of athletes around the globe – from Olympic hopefuls in National training grounds to amateurs in the local gym – train to achieve their best. For professionals athletes and amateurs alike, this means gaining a competitive edge to achieve peak performance in their sport with one goal in mind: WIN!
We wanted to investigate which devices, digital capabilities, and user journeys could enable individuals to understand their performances better. Thanks to those learning, they can train and perform more efficiently.
MICROSOFT SPORT 365
We discovered that the sports and the training ecosystem were undergoing a massive silent revolution enabled by the first generation of wearables and digital fitness products. Applications like Strava and Nike+ were in their infancy but already proving that large audiences had a great interest in monitoring health conditions and performances. We could spot the dawn of a new, more advanced era for health tracking devices that would allow the user to analyse average training data at a deeper level and introduce amateur practitioners into new training practices. This trajectory allowed us to foresee a future where these new devices would become the norm, also elevated by the opportunity of spatial visualisation and cloud-based services.
When proposing this solution, we did investigate how the current Microsoft offering could accelerate the production roadmap. The software offering was positioning the Microsoft company at a very competitive level as few of the fundamental elements of this proposal were already in development. Thanks to Microsoft Azure cloud services, users could access information from anywhere, enabling easy data aggregation. Data analytics and Microcrosoft Cognitive AI services could guarantee an excellent level of filtering and predictive suggestion. Ultimately, thanks to Power BI and Hololens, information would be consumed quickly and intuitively, allowing the end-user to take advantage of this solution fully.
Leveraging the double diamond methodology, we went through quick rounds of researches to understand the market landscape, size and user expectations. We prepared few qualitative surveys by interviewing few individuals of the larger team that were practising sports at different levels. The results of these interviews gave us confidence. The majority of the results demonstrated a clear gap in training analysis. Most of the users confirmed they were unsure if their training activity was appropriate for the goals they had set and were producing the right results. We discovered that in recent years, professional sports bodies were moving to adopted new technologies such as sports data analytics, smart stadiums, wearable devices, and digital signage. To enhance their team performance, engage fans, and provide smart infrastructures. Interestingly, we also found that smart stadiums were critical global trends due to the increased number of worldwide sports events. Together with the team, we found all these insights as a validation for our hypothesis, bringing evidence of a great appetite from all the types of audiences to consume sports digital content, statistics and new forms of engagement and training triggered by technological enablers.
Proof of Concept
To persuade and impress the audience, we decided with the team to create a vision video and a working prototype to support our hypothesis and the proposed solution. Because of the logistics constraints, we scaled down the approach and tackle table tennis as representative of any other sport discipline. We create a simple user journey where a teacher faces the challenge of communicating his inputs effectively to the athlete. In this scenario, it was easy for us to convey the product key capabilities and features to demonstrate the idea's potential and quality.
The vision video helped us message the idea quickly and effectively and contributed the engineers to understand the key capabilities and rapid prototyping with a significant focus and scope.
Helped by the team, I scripted, shot and directed the video to demonstrate the idea. Thanks to our intern's help, Alex, we staged an indoor training setup and played few key actions typical of the discipline. With this solution, the aim was to provide cues about all the available technologies and capture the future athletes' opportunities to improve performances with immediate results. By visualising the invisible information typical of this sport, I wanted to give a fair illustration of intelligent sensors able to track the ball movement, rotation and acceleration. Interactive tables to visualise heatmaps with sensible areas, garments nanotechnology, and figure tracking for advanced body performance analysis. In this phase, I was also keen to give hints about the user experience. I created a few augmented reality and traditional user interface concepts to be exploited on flat screens and the Hololens device, always aiming to adopt a design language that feels familiar to Windows.
The video was convenient when liaising with the engineers. Thanks to this low budget artefact, it was effective and straightforward to communicate with the team. By acknowledging our time constraints, we streamlined the key features we wanted to showcase. We then prioritise few user stories, and the developers did an impossible job coding the working prototype to demonstrate the idea. We took advantage of the Windows Hololens framework to accelerate production and used Microsoft Kinect data to demonstrate real-time body tracking, ball movement and table heatmaps possibilities. Ultimately we wanted to show that thanks to a simple technological setup leveraging current devices and sensors, this solution wouldn't require considerable efforts in terms of funding and investments.
Four Years Later
Fast forward three years, in the meantime, I left Microsoft to join Vodafone. But my vision had legs and continue the journey. The whole project was taken on board by the Sports team in Redmond to develop a full-fledged product powered by Azure Cloud services and essentially following our core solution. Even if I hadn't had the chance to work on it directly, it is flattering to recognise that such an ambitious and bold idea took the fly. To help final users achieve their scopes, deliver on unmet needs and ultimately open new business opportunities.
Read the full case study here: https://www.microsoft.com/inculture/sports/coco-gauff-tennis/