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49ers scout for better football players with SAP analytics

At least one NFL team is looking to improve its draft-day decisions with new SAP analytics software.

The San Francisco 49ers, one of the National Football League's most storied teams, is now using a new cloud-based...

SAP analytics application to help scout and evaluate which athletes it wants to draft.

"Every year, there are 12,000 college students that are eligible for the [draft]. Analyzing data across these 12,000 players is no small task," said Rishi Dwan, vice president of sports product management at SAP Labs.

SAP Scouting, which runs on the SAP HANA in-memory database, was co-developed with the San Francisco 49ers NFL franchise.

The application, which becomes generally available today, is aimed at giving scouts, executives, coaches and trainers the ability to assess, add to and collaborate over player-specific stats. The goal is to use the information to make better-informed decisions in the annual NFL draft, though SAP contends teams could continue to use and build on the data long after that for trades and other evaluations.

SAP Scouting pulls in a core set of data from a database maintained by National Football Scouting, based in Tulsa, Okla. Data can also be added from all-star games and the NFL Combine, a week-long showcase in Indianapolis in which players are evaluated by NFL managers, coaches and scouts on a range of physical and mental tests.

Teams then augment that data with their own scouting assessments of athletic performance, as well as more intuitive assessments of personality and character. News reports and information gleaned across social media can also play a role. All of those data sources are critical to the team's efforts to narrow down the pool to a group of about 200 athletes the team is considering drafting, Dwan said.

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The scouting application also lets team representatives compare prospects in real time and benchmark them against current professionals who play the same position, according to SAP, and includes an interactive "draft board" with which they can rank their draft choices in order of preference.

SAP Scouting marks SAP's latest foray into professional sports, which the company sees as a way to build business, as well as expand the brand beyond typical ERP customers. Earlier this month, the National Basketball Association announced it was going live with a HANA in-memory enabled statistics section of its fan site, and SAP has also spoken about its efforts to build out a mobile platform upon which sports organizations can build customer loyalty and related applications.

"They're making a heavy investment in the sports marketplace," said Albert Pang, CEO of Apps Run the World, an IT market research company that focuses on software. Making such a play in the sports and entertainment vertical makes sense, in that it gives SAP a chance to leverage existing technologies around human capital management, the cloud, mobile computing and its SAP HANA platform in order to gain new customers.

As part of those same efforts, SAP also announced last month it plans to acquire a German maker of customer relationship management and ticketing software applications designed for the sports and entertainment industry.

Although SAP created the software in conjunction with the 49ers, which is currently the only team using the application, SAP says it sees the software as a tool for other NFL teams, as well as other sports franchises, and even down into the college level.

"It's something we think we can [also] target for the [National Hockey League], the NBA, Major League Baseball, and eventually down into the NCAA level for their college recruiting," said Mike Morini, senior vice president and general manager of the company's cloud strategy for SAP Americas.

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