Air Canada Centre

At nearly 20 games over the .500 mark, the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association (NBA) are having a tremendous year. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, who are currently struggling to even make the playoffs. But what marks both professional sports teams as winners is a culture of IT innovation, according to Sasha Puric of Maple Leaf and Sports Entertainment (MLSE).

MLSE owns both the Raptors and the Leafs — who play out of MLSE venue the Air Canada Centre — as well as professional teams Toronto FC (soccer) and the Toronto Rock (lacrosse). Puric, MLSE’s vice-president of technology says coordinating the technical requirements for each property can be a challenge.

And from a senior technology decision maker-perspective, it is about always thinking about the next step, he adds.

Currently, Puric is focused on supporting the upcoming NBA All-Star Game and Weekend, which officially kicks off on Friday (February 12). The three-day event showcases the league’s top players  and consists of a variety of basketball exhibitions and performances, culminating in the NBA All-Star Game held on Sunday night. It’s a huge deal the festival is taking place in Canada for the first time ever — Puric notes that it will be no small undertaking from an IT point of view.

MLSE's Sasha Puric
MLSE’s vice-president of technology Sasha Puric

Think about the average Leafs or Raptors playoff game, says Puric, which involves supporting the technical needs of various local and international media outlets, ensuring the wireless infrastructure and Wifi access points around the Air Canada Centre are ready to handle the increased network access load due to fans and media (think “livetweeting” and accessing video content), and making sure the contactless tap-and-go payments technology installed at its food-and-beverage concession stands are always up and running.

Take that preparation and setup and multiply that manyfold, Puric says. “It’s a massive undertaking… there’s no template for it.”

But MLSE is well prepared for the upcoming weekend, largely due to a “culture of IT innovation” which Puric says involves never settling for the status quo and being pragmatic about growing the business using technology.

Here are a few tips Puric offers to technology decision makers about using IT to enhance operations.

Embrace the cloud and utility computing models

It’s time that organizations take a serious look at how cloud computing technologies can help improve operations, says Puric. “We are definitely a combination of on-premises and cloud services. We’ve actually adopted a cloud strategy as part of our evolution of growth.”

The move to the cloud has been a cautious one, Puric notes, adding that MLSE has adopted the cloud where it makes the most sense. It’s an era of “IT as a service” and it’s truly about the ability to focus on core competencies by using cloud, he added. “We have fully embraced the private cloud. We are fully virtualized and that gives us the ability to keep up with the changing pace. It also allows us to be really efficient and effective in terms of managing the infrastructure environment.

“Look at the core services you offer and look at turning them into utilities. Consider things like voice communications and email communications for cloud adoption,” he says. “Take advantage of utility computing to simplify the business. Get out of the day-to-day mundane stuff and look at things that propel the business forward. I don’t care what’s running that service. My job is to get you that service.”

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Raptors players such as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan indirectly benefit from MLSE’s overarching technology strategy

Collaboration is key

The role of the CIO and senior-level technology decision maker is evolving to one that’s more business-facing and dynamic. This means that the ability to collaborate can be a key driver for success, notes Puric, adding that internally, this means that the business and IT sides must be perfectly aligned and in sync when it comes to corporate goals.

For example, Puric is proactive is collaborating with the franchise owners in other NHL and NBA cities and also outside the sector to share best practices and technology advice. “Whether it’s looking at what Real Madrid is doing, or our friends in New York or Denver, we are constantly sharing and looking at different technologies or solutions that deal with a particular business or need. These are also (vendor) partnerships…that have a leadership and innovation mentality and driven by success in this marketplace as we are.”

Dream big and don’t be afraid of failure

According to Puric, innovation is the effective deployment of solutions that help fans engage with the MLSE brand, teams and events. Most of all, it’s important to be a big believer in continuous forward movement without being afraid to fail: “It’s not being afraid to dream big and share that dream,” said Puric, “and also stay humble in choosing the solutions that make sense for the business. (It’s) the balance between dreaming big but being pragmatic about implementation.”

And while the Leafs might be in a slump, and the Raptors are soaring high, MLSE upholds a commitment of using technology for all its properties to succeed — on and off the rink or court.

“I’d like to take full credit for the Raptors big run this year but obviously I can’t. (Raptors president and general manager) Masai Ujiri would have a big thing to say about that,” he says with a laugh.

 

 



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