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SAP-NHL Coaching Insights app enhances real-time game data

A new version of the Coaching Insights app, a joint SAP-NHL effort, includes features that provide coaches with in-game analysis of player and game data.

The National Hockey League and SAP have joined forces to update the SAP-NHL Coaching Insights App for iPad, which expands real-time, in-game statistical analysis for coaches.

First released in 2019, the NHL Coaching Insights app is used by hockey coaches for game strategy development, such as who to play in certain situations. The application runs on custom configured Apple iPads and is built on the SAP Business Technology Platform; it uses SAP HANA Cloud to process data and SAP Analytics Cloud for data analysis.

The first version of the NHL Coaching Insights application included more than 75 individual and team statistics that provided insights on game action and player performance. The latest version expands the available features, including real-time, in-game insights for things like player speed and puck movement.

New features include:

  • A head-to-head face-off matchup planner so that coaches can review potential matchups and choose the best player to take a face-off. This feature tracks players' face-off wins and losses against various opponents at different locations and times of a game.
  • A customizable "Home Plate" visual tool so that coaches can choose one of five variants showing areas in front of the net considered dangerous for scoring opportunities.
  • A player tracker based on RFID tags in their uniforms that log speed and distance skated during a player's shift and the total for a game.
  • Game trends analytics that enable coaches to analyze key data points like shot differentials at various times in a game, helping gain insights into momentum shifts.
  • A puck tracking capability, which has been temporarily shelved because of issues with RFID sensor-equipped pucks.
Head-to-head faceoff matchup feature of the NHL Coaching Insights application.
The NHL Coaching Insights app includes real-time game data for coaches.

Direct input from coaches drives development

Sessions with coaches and representatives from all 31 NHL teams guided the development of the new features, according to Chris Foster, senior director of digital business development for the NHL.

Chris FosterChris Foster

The NHL had been working with SAP and Apple to improve the Coaching Insights app, but the league's pause in 2020 due to COVID-19 provided the opportunity for more extensive and direct feedback from coaches about what they wanted in the application.

"Last year stopped mid-season, so the coaches were still reporting to work but their workload was reduced dramatically," Foster said. "This was a good opportunity to engage the coaching staffs, so we set up 31 different feedback sessions with every single coaching staff in the league. It was a great experience because you normally don't get this type of access to full NHL coaching staff in a one-on-one setting."

This extensive feedback resulted in the development of specific features like the "Home Plate" and face-off matchup planner, he said. Giving coaches options such as the customizable "Home Plate" feature engaged teams that have different philosophies on what's most important to track.

"Teams are moving away from the league's traditional cookie-cutter mentality -- where teams would copy what other teams were doing -- and developing more independent styles," Foster said. "Having features that are customizable leave it up to the coaches to determine what works best for their coaching staffs."

Brant Berglund, senior director of coaching and general manager applications, NHLBrant Berglund

The speed at which the Coaching Insights app can calculate statistics is also critical for coaches, according to Brant Berglund, NHL senior director of coaching and general manager applications.

For the face-off matchup, for example, coaches can get the data about player face-offs within seconds, Berglund said. Having data in hand can help coaches make quick decisions on things such as in icing, where the team that ices the puck can't make changes to players on the ice, but the other team can.

"Before the icing call is even made, the coaches can see who's on the ice and choose their players based on who does better against the players on the ice. That can all happen in ten seconds," Berglund said. "Using filters, you're able to tap and click and find out what you should do in any given scenario."

Designed for ease of use

The SAP HANA Cloud database provides the storage capacity and processing power to deliver the data to coaches quickly, and SAP Analytics Cloud powers data organization and visualization, said Amy Schulz, senior director of SAP global partnerships.

Amy SchulzAmy Schulz

It was important to design the NHL Coaching Insights app to be useful for coaches who are experts in hockey rather than technology, Schulz said.

"Technology should always be there to enable the coaches to do their jobs in a quicker way, and it shouldn't be a hindrance," she said. "Sometimes when you over-engineer something or innovate for innovation's sake, it doesn't get used."

The success of an application depends on understanding what data is most important for the coaches and tailoring the features, Schulz explained.

"This is an iterative process and we knew we had to start with small subsets of data that they were familiar with and then put insights and visualizations into it to get everybody used to using the application," she said.

Ease of use was a critical factor when designing the application, according to Berglund.

"SAP was able to understand both the conventional iOS logic around usage and also the occupational logic," he said. "You're not using the iPad to see what's on Netflix. You're on a bench trying to figure out who's going to take the next critical face-off, with players and sticks moving all around you. You can't randomly click something and get lost in the application. If that happens to a coach once, they won't use it anymore."

Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.

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