What I learned at my first Tour de France with Dimension Data

Fans of the 2019 edition of the Tour de France are enjoying their most data rich viewing experience ever as the race heads towards the Pyrenees this week.

And that is due to the evolution of the tour’s official technology partner, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, which earlier this month launched as NTT Ltd, bringing together the capabilities of 28 companies, including NTT Communications, Dimension Data and NTT Security into one US $11 billion business.

Representing NTT within the Middle East and Africa (MEA) territory is Dimension Data MEA, which will retain the Dimension Data brand, along with subsidiary brands Internet Solutions, Merchants and Britehouse.

I had the privilege of attending the Tour de France to see how this massive organisation, which employs around 40,000 people in offices across 70+ countries and regions, is using technology and big data to transform the world of cycling.

While NTT has a mandate to transform the viewing experience of the world’s biggest cycling event through the use of technology and innovative videos and data storytelling, it’s subsidiary, Dimension Data’s legacy within the tour continues through its high-performing racing team, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka.

Team Dimension Data will however, rebrand as Team NTT for the 2020 season, as their title sponsor switches its name from the South African IT company to NTT.

My Tour de France journey began in the NTT visitor experience centre, on the outskirts of Mulhouse, a city in eastern France, near the Swiss and German borders.

Here, a passionate team led by Ettienne Reinecke, chief technology officer, Dimension Data, provided insight into how through live tracking and advanced data analytics, NTT Ltd and Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka is transforming the way race information is delivered to fans during the tour.

This year, a number of updated technology features have been implemented or tested to further enhance the viewing experience:

  • Enhanced TV graphics – enriching the international television broadcast with new graphics including data insights from NTT’s live data team, and 3D mapping of the live race situation.
  • Trialling augmented reality – using technology to create a vision for how home-based fans could watch and interact with the race in the future.
  • ‘Le Buzz’ – a new machine-learning model being trialled for the first time at the 2019 Tour de France. This analyses the movements within the peloton to predict potential key moments such as the increased likelihood of a crash, a split in the peloton, or a change in the race dynamics.

From the experience centre, I moved on to NTT’s big data truck which follows the cyclists around France, providing real-time data on the race and the riders. Through sensors installed on every bike, NTT’s data team will analyse over 150 million data points per stage of the tour and use analytics to provide fans with daily real-time data visualisations on official social media channels.

According to Tim Wade, senior director of technology at NTT, when you need to deliver data in real time to an audience across the world, understanding what the users are actually experiencing is essential.

NTT’s race centre pulls data from a number of sources, allowing fans to watch the race unfold in real time.

“We’ve progressively shifted gears to improve the IT environment that supports the data collection, analytics, and reporting which keep’s fans, followers engaged in the race.

“We’ve gone from taking days to set up our big truck, in 2015, to just about ‘plug and play’. Our goal is to have a fully managed automated environment,” said Wade.

He said that the capabilities of managed services enables the team to focus less on routine tasks, and more on innovation.

Next I got to meet the team headed up by Olympian and Dimension Data team principal Douglas Ryder, on race day. Ryder’s job is based on results from the saddle. He highlighted the importance of the relationship between man and machine – maximising data value, and giving the most relevant information at the right time.

“Technology can unlock rider potential,” Ryder stressed.

And finally I moved to the start of the race itself, to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that attracts 3.5 billion viewers in 190 countries each year. As the riders moved on, so did the cycling circus – it was magical.

Thank you Dimension Data for an incredible experience.

NTT visitor experience centre

NTT’s big data truck

Team Dimension Data

 

Team principal Douglas Ryder

Le Tour’s very own rockstar Peter Sagan

Yellow jersey holder Julian Alaphilippe

Stage 6 of the tour in Mulhouse

When the cycling circus comes to town – the start at Mulhouse


Read: NTT merges divisions including Dimension Data

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What I learned at my first Tour de France with Dimension Data