Why Euro 2016 is a great lesson in providing an excellent digital experience

The way that football fans are experiencing Euro 2016 has changed considerably since Ukraine four years ago. By the end of the tournament, there will still be the usual heartbreak for most of us, along with the inevitable England knock-out on penalties, but like never before, this is an all-encompassing, 24/7 information binge. Long gone are the days when the tournament was simply a case of tuning in to matches on TV and checking the news when at a computer.

The growth of smartphone ownership across the continent (almost doubling since 2012) means the majority of fans are reliant on their devices for 24/7 updates, whether via news coverage, or streaming the games and posting opinions on social media. With this being such a large scale event, presenting a range of services across devices, industries and continents in real time is challenging. However, due to their constant use of technology, fans expect nothing less.

This year’s tournament is the first to truly embrace smartphones - fans now have new ways to engage with the action whenever and wherever they need it. But if this fails to work, especially during an important moment of the match, all eyes will move from the performance of the team, to the performance of the tech that is letting everyone down. Of course, tournament organisers are aware of this, with UEFA starting work on the tournament 18 months before the previous one.

As providing such a huge volume of content across so many channels is no mean feat, Euro 2016 is setting the bar on how to keep users happy in 2016.

30 years of hurt — never stopped me streaming

Euro 2016 is the biggest in the tournament’s history with twenty-four countries taking part and an estimated total audience of 1.9billion. For UEFA, the task of recording the footage and providing this to the broadcasters in each country is colossal.

In partnership with its outside broadcasting suppliers, UEFA is using a minimum of 38 high definition cameras to record each match, creating huge amounts of data in real time, before sending this on to broadcasters. This is made even more complex, with digital components, such as a live match streaming player, and data feeds for tablets and smartphones also being provided in the form of software kits to broadcasters. With organisations such as the BBC integrating these streams and alerts to provide additional services, the number of parties involved, along with the potential for integration and coding issues is huge.

In the case of the Euros, due to the massive number of broadcasters involved, the level of complexity is particularly large. However, by setting up an excellent level of communication where tech is concerned, all those involved in delivering these services are still able to provide a great experience - even at a time of such high demand.

As glitches are inevitable at some point along the way, software that monitors performance is essential, to pin-point exactly where problems lie and fix these issues before they impact fans. In the case of the Euros, from the huge International Broadcast Centre in France at the heart of the tournament, down to the third party IT teams responsible for delivering this content, there will need to be an excellent level of understanding on performance to keep this working for Uefa and the broadcasters involved.

A game of many apps

Along with streaming, there has also been a huge selection of business apps created for the tournament too. For example, hospitality guests at matches are provided with an app with information on match timings and services, while volunteers and staff have been given apps to receive instructions and manage lists. There have also been specific applications created to gather statistics on TV graphics, ticketing, accommodation and transport, creating a massive pool of software for operations to deal with. This is an excellent example of a tournament that has transformed digitally and fully embraced the use of smartphones to improve productivity. Along with introducing these apps, it’s just as important to make sure they perform well.

As is increasingly common for times of high demand, UEFA has created an IT command centre set up specifically to manage the technology at the event, with a team of IT professionals ready and waiting to deal with any problems as they arise. With development and operations teams literally sat next to each other, any issues are able to be spotted quickly and dealt with, without the need for phone calls to different offices or time zones. For those outside of football that experience periods of high demand, notably retailers on Black Friday, creating a command centre such as this, can also be set up to maintain optimum performance.

With apps playing an increasingly important role in almost all aspects of businesses, taking precautions to prevent downtime and having the right professionals available to deal with issues if they do occur is essential.

Lifting the silverware

Along with the huge task of broadcasting, Euro 2016 is also a massive digital event with vast complexity. However, even for other industries such as retail, this is the way technology is going, as customer expectations shift towards multiple channels. In many ways, the tournament is acting as a benchmark of what can be achieved when providing services in real time. As well as being a masterclass in football, from at least a couple of teams that is, this Euro 2016 is also a great achievement from a tech perspective, providing businesses with ideas on how to improve.

From looking at the digital services delivered at the tournament, and thinking about ways this could be applied to their own businesses, technology teams across a range of industries can pick up ideas that just might get them out of the knockout stages.

John Rakowski, director of technology strategy at AppDynamics

Image Credit: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock