Thursday, August 28, 2008

When Baseball Parallels Technology

This morning I was listening to Red Sox CEO Larry Luchino speak on a local Boston radio show and I realized that there are some distinct parallels between baseball and technology. I’ve written before on analytics use within baseball and the science of Sabermetrics, but today I was thinking more of baseball as a business. If you live in a sports town like Boston, New York or Chicago, you already know that sports is big business and that’s particularly true with baseball, where players can reign in up to $20M in annual contracts and ballbarks are erected with reckless disregard for expense. Yet, the non-baseball research I’m currently conducting centers around acquiring new technology – more specifically: whether to build, buy or assemble? – which has some eerie similarities to baseball.

On the radio this morning, Luchino was asked about the recent trade of Manny Ramirez, (which one reported describes as “the cataclysmic deal that sent Manny Ramirez to baseball Siberia”) and the success that the Red Sox have had with young players on their roster like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jed Lowrie. Sure, relative unknowns to most, but pure gold to the Boston faithful. Anyway, the way I see it, teams can buy big talent like Manny and take their chances; they can nurture players from within their organizations and produce “home grown” (Larry’s words) talent; or they can acquire position players to fill specific needs in their roster. This got me thinking about considerations for purchasing technology to build and manage Web sites.

Here are just a few considerations for buying new technology and their parallels to baseball:
Integration – A huge factor in determining how a new technology will interact with existing platforms, legacy systems and the entire technology stack.
o Baseball Parallel – If acquiring a big star, will he mix well with the existing clubhouse? Does he have a history with other players or coaches in the organization? Will he require his own Lazy-Boy chair next to his locker? Each of these factors determines how well a new player will integrate within an existing ecosystem or upset the delicate balance.

Performance – Technology performance can dictate how well a solution works straight out of the box. Is it fast and reliable? Does it do everything the vendor promised it would? Or does it slow down the entire system? Perhaps it requires extensive customization to make it work properly with other solutions?
o Baseball Parallel – Okay, you probably see where I’m headed with this one… Can you expect out of the box numbers on RBI’s, homeruns and OBP? Will there be significant ramp up time involved? Will production be equivalent to the player’s previous numbers? All big questions in the game of baseball.

Scalability – The ability to evolve with the needs of the business as goals, objectives and priorities shift. Can a technology grow to accommodate the changing needs of an organization?
o Baseball Parallel – When a big star is acquired, can they adapt? A-rod is probably the perfect example here: a long time short stop, he moved over to third base when acquired by the Yankees to allow Jeter to continue on in his favored position. Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon adapted to a role as a closer from his normal routine as a starting pitcher (that worked out well for Sox fans). Bottom line is that the ability to scale allows an organization to grow.

In contrast to these considerations for buying technology [players], building from within precludes many of these challenges. Integration is not a factor because the player has always been a part of the organization. Performance is a known quantity because it has been nurtured all along. And scalability is minimized because with a new player the entire process is about growing them from within the organization. However, with technology (and baseball), homegrown solutions require foresight, time and resources. For organizations that have these luxuries, building homegrown can be an extremely viable option.

This brings me to the last point on acquiring position players, which I align to technology point solutions. Typically these are solutions acquired (compromises considered) that serve to fill a need. In technology, a best of breed approach is generally preferred where expectations of how well a solution will integrate with existing technologies and what the performance will be are usually sorted out ahead of time. These acquisitions can provide immediate lift to an organization (i.e., Jason Bay traded for Manny – Bay drove in 4 runs against the Yankees last night and is batting .347 with 24 RBI’s in just 23 games since the trade).

So, if you’ve stuck with me this far into the extended analogy, you’re probably a baseball fan too. Let me know what you think and share any parallels you’ve observed between baseball and technology.

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