March Madness: An Instance of Big Data
March Madness starts tomorrow, and everyone seems to be getting into the act. All of your office mates entered into the company pool, the President made his picks (though he isn’t making them public this year), even Microsoft is in the game. Microsoft? Yep, via its ubiquitous postings of free Excel templates (click on the link to get the NCAA bracket spreadsheet).
But what does the annual NCAA tournament do for/to businesses? If you are the IT manager, you might be gulping at the prospect of bandwidth drain when everyone starts live streaming the Blue Devils, Jayhawks and Tar Heels. Or, if you are the money person, you might be sweating out the many predictions of productivity loss — especially for that person (let’s call him “Spike”) who is managing the office tournament pool. But amid all the madness, there has to be a way to make the whole process more efficient.
And that is where Microsoft’s NCAA bracket template comes into play. It allows the office pool to be downloaded, so you don’t have to worry about the possibility of company policy blocking online pool sites like Pooltracker.com. Besides, if you have the results in Excel, you can get them to anyone with an email address — high speed connectivity not required. But the template is useless without the team data and game results data. So if Spike can’t risk impinging on his day-to-day duties, what to do? Think AutoMate.
This challenge demonstrates a rudimentary case of an emerging interest of businesses worldwide, namely Big Data. The Big Data concept is far ranging, with a significant component being data housed on websites that can’t be easily read or loaded into a database for later use. Not only is the data not easily read, but it can be highly dynamic as well. Despite these challenges, site-based, unstructured data can be critical to a company’s operations and/or decision making. Given that criticality and the difficulty (read: needed sophistication and code development) of a technology-based approach, many businesses resort to manual processes, thereby engaging a “knowledge worker” to monitor the website(s), open up a spreadsheet and basically transcribe the data into Excel. The more times this needs to be done, the greater the cost and the greater the likelihood of data entry errors. The use of Excel as a reporting engine, or middleware, is a fact of business life. But what can be done to make the facts more efficient?
In our March Madness example, it’s easy to imagine Spike taking a manual approach, entering team names into the spreadsheet brackets and then watching for game results and recording those, too. But what if Spike has a copy of AutoMate at hand? Take a look at this video example, where an AutoMate task has been created to run in the background of a server to monitor the CBS Sports site — now, your bracket is accurately populated with the round of 64 matchups and ready for game-time action.
Spike’s next step in handling this Big Data challenge would be to extend the AutoMate task to monitor the CBS site for game results once an hour, load scores into the spreadsheet, and automatically kick off emails to all pool participants to keep them informed on the progress of their bracket picks. AutoMate’s rich library of actions makes this readily achievable without code development.
Now, Spike can feel free to invite anyone at the office to participate — even the boss — knowing that productivity won’t be harmed, and allowing everyone the prospect of seeing the boss’ picks go down in flames. This approach lets everyone concentrate on the fun of the tourney, and supports the debates about Kentucky or North Carolina’s supremacy, instead of whether Spike is shirking his other responsibilities. Which begs the question, who made your Final Four?
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