Jim Connolly, Director of IT at Columbus Blue Jackets
Bryan Kaiser, Founder and President at Vernovis
Director of IT for Columbus Blue Jackets, Jim Connolly, discusses using cloud technology and data analytics to improve innovation.
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BK: Hello. We are here today with Jim Connolly, who is the Director of IT at the Columbus Blue Jackets. My name is Bryan Kaiser and I'm the Founder and President of Vernovis, also part of the executive committee of Comspark. And I will be your moderator today. So let's get started. Thanks for your time today, Jim.
JC: I'm glad to be here.
BK: So, how has cloud technology changed the way you manage your infrastructure?
JC: I've embraced cloud technology to its fullest that I feel like I have a minimal IT support team with the Blue Jackets and I've done everything I can to try to minimize the impact that is, that it happens with my team. So, moving our infrastructure and some of our critical applications to the cloud is really been beneficial to the way we operate as an IT team and all the support that we do.
BK: So, have you decided to move everything to the cloud or is it a hybrid type model? What does that look like for you?
JC: It's a hybrid right now. You know, we still have a fair amount of on premise that we support some things we cannot do in the cloud, can operate a scoreboard from the cloud. So, maybe we will someday but not today, but we do have what we can and do in the cloud. We certainly take advantage of that.
BK: So, how does your company approach end user support through the service desk?
JC: So, again, we have a small IT team here with the Blue Jackets and we support the front office operations, the business operations. We support hockey operations and all that goes into that and then we also support nationwide arena and all the technology that's involved there. So, it's a lot to support, but we take an approach that's similar to what we do off overall business wise. We try to treat people like we want to be treated. So, we handle things ASAP. We track things in terms of creating tickets and stuff, but it's important to make sure that our business continues to flow, so that when events come into the arena, it's a seamless integration for them to continue to work during the day, before a show at night. And for AKI operations to continue to work throughout even as they work remotely, traveling around, scouting out a talent and things like that.
BK: So you've heard the concept, BYOD. What are your thoughts on that?
JC: BYOD is a sensitive topic with us. I only say that because we're a public facility, so we have probably all the same problems and issues to address as a typical business, but we also take into account, you know, bringing in devices into a public facility so we really limit that, you know. We kind of get our directions from entities like Homeland Security and stuff, so we just don't allow it. But we take a strict precaution in terms of allowing things onto the network. So, when a concert or an event comes into the building, we make sure they're very limited on what they can do and what they can access on our network and things like that. But for the most part you can't get around BYOD. You know, people have devices they want to bring in, they want to use, whether it's a tablet or a phone or any other type of device and it's just a matter of accommodating them so they can do their work efficiently.
BK: So BYOD different than BYOB, but in both cases at the arena, there's limitations in both regards.
JC: Absolutely. Yeah. We have to make sure that, you know, just the world we live in nowadays and a lot of it's about safety.
BK: So, what are some of your top projects at the Blue Jackets?
JC: We cover everything. So it's everything from, you know, a fan engagement type thing where we're leveraged technology to enhance that experience. This year we've got moved to a digital ticketing platform. We're trying to get away from printing tickets. Everyone has a device for the most part, not all, not 100 percent, but we've found a few folks that have devices that are, that can't accommodate a digital ticket. So, we work our way around those things. That's a big one in terms of the season that we've come across and we're upgrading our systems. Those are big projects that we need to tackle: network upgrades, communications. Some of the things that we're looking down road, you know, our scoreboard systems is about 7 to 8 years old. It's a centerpiece of what we do in terms of either entertainment. Everyone looks at the scoreboard pretty much all the time, when they're not watching play on the ice. So, it's an important aspect of partner engagements, promotions and things like that. So, it's a critical piece that we're going to take our time and, and look through and try to get the best value for what we buy.
BK: So, how do you see technology changing and the hockey business over the next three years?
JC: It's a great question. It's ever evolving. It's relatively new in hockey. The analytics aspects of things that are coming down to is critical for a small market team like us, we have to leverage every advantage that we can get. So, analytics is certainly a big piece of that and pulling all that information together and making sure everyone understands it in hockey. So, we worked with a gentleman, Josh Flynn, on our team that kind of puts all that information together and we make sure that he has the resources that he needs to make sure that you can do the job. Video is another aspect of it, we gather a lot of different types of video from amateur hockey players to professional integrate all that into our systems and make sure that people can review that in a timely fashion. So we're not spending more time looking up the video. We're actually spending more time watching the video and making decisions.
BK: So, when you're talking about analytics, I hear that you're talking about player analytics and the acquisition of players and who would fit best on your team and what type of player you're looking for and kind of like this whole moneyball idea back when the A's did that. Is that what you're referring to or is it more? Is it more of a fan analytics or is it both?
JC: It is both. You bring up the fans. Absolutely. It's from a hockey perspective, it is a little bit like moneyball. You know, we're trying to leverage the best value for our dollars. So, some players are worth more than others, you know, because of the skill sets and what they bring to the ice and to the locker room. That's the extent of my hockey operations. I'm not going to pretend to be a GM, but from a fan perspective, we certainly are trying to gather data with that as well. I'm just like any other company for the most part. And we're trying to see what our fans enjoy, what they like to see a while at a game or while they're at home watching an away game or something like that. We want to make sure that, you know, we're gathering that data to make the best decisions possible.
BK: Well, this has got to be a pretty special role for you, I would imagine, because you get to integrate something that I would assume you love and sports and also something that I'm assuming you're passionate about, and that's technology. So, what makes you the most happy professionally?
JC: Yeah, that's exactly it. I have a love for sports. My family will tell you that. I follow it religiously. I like to watch sports on TV. It doesn't matter what it is. And technology, I fell in love with technologies. That's my field and been at for over 20 years now. So , it's a perfect marriage in my world. I'm very grateful for the opportunity that the Blue Jackets had given me and I tell them that I want to, you know, I don't want to resign or leave the organization until I get a Stanley Cup rings. So hopefully that happens soon.
BK: Well, we do hope that happens soon. That would be fantastic for the city of Columbus and for the community. So one last thing. We've talked about a lot of very positive things from a technology perspective, what keeps you up at night? What worries you?
JC: Yeah, it's, mainly security, you know. It’s when you read, you know, items or things that happened to a company like Facebook or something like that. That really makes you sit and wonder what's happening with our little bit of stuff and we're not a Facebook type entity, but it's just really making sure that our assets are secure and our fans are secure with their data. You know, they have to trust us. And that's part of what our ownership has brought in is that you have to gain the trust of the community, the trust of your coworkers and things like that. So, it's important to me as an IT professional, that our staff and our fans trust the technology that's there.
BK: Well, thank you for your time. This is Bryan Kaiser with, for Vernovis, Jim Connolly, with the Columbus Blue Jackets. And to learn more about us, please visit comspark.tech. We'll talk to you soon. Thanks, Jim.
JC: Thank you.
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