London Irish rugby-tackles IT challenges with cloud migration

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman September 10, 2014
The rugby football club has had its problems in recent seasons, but is looking to the future with new management, a new home and a refreshed IT infrastructure with a heavy cloud bias.

[sws_grey_box box_size="690"]SUMMARY -The suburban rugby football club has had its fair share of problems over recent seasons, but is now looking to the future with new management, a new home and a refreshed IT infrastructure with a heavy cloud bias.  [/sws_grey_box]

It’s been a tough few years for players and supporters of London Irish Rugby Football Club. Dogged by financial problems, disappointing match-day results and the threat of relegation from the Aviva Premiership, these (London) Irish eyes haven’t had much reason to smile.

But as the 2014/15 season gets underway, the club hopes to stage a fightback, bolstered by a change in management, a new, state-of-the-art training ground and an entirely refreshed IT infrastructure.

This is a new start, according to operations manager Richard Watton, speaking of the Club’s new home at Hazelwood, in the south-west London suburb of Sunbury-on-Thames. It’s four times the size of London Irish’s previous home, The Avenue (also in Sunbury-on-Thames), but Watton certainly doesn’t intend to clutter up its office space with IT equipment.

Instead, he’s adopted a cloud strategy: a good fit, he says, for a club where operations and training are based in Sunbury, but the professional team plays at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, some 35 miles away. He explains:

We can now work the two sites much better. Here at Hazelwood, we have the commercial staff and the coaching staff, and the players are based here, too. At Reading, we have a four-person team that sells our tickets. So the stronghold is here in Sunbury, in terms of day-to-day operations, but needs close links with the stadium.

IT infrastructure was a major concern in the move from The Avenue to Hazelwood - but in the end, this was the perfect opportunity for London Irish to move some of its key systems to the cloud and introduce more flexible working practices for its staff.

The club has adopted Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 package for productivity and collaboration tasks, for example. It has also replaced its previous customer relationship management (CRM) system with Microsoft Dynamics, a move that will equip the club to better understand its 60,000 registered fans and more accurately target them for email marketing.

Watton says:

For example, we’ll be able to pinpoint particular types of fan - the people, for example, who attend a particular game each season. And if ticket sales for a particular game aren’t going well, we can look back and see who attended that match last season and send them an offer by email.

I know from experience that everyone receives a ton of marketing emails these days. But I also know from experience that I’m more likely to read a piece of marketing email if it’s relevant and more likely to interact with it if it’s personalised.

For now, some IT systems will stay on-site at Hazelwood, such as London Irish’s print server and its Sage financials system, but these are now set to be moved to the cloud over time.

Overall, the adoption of cloud technologies aims to give staff at London Irish a great deal more freedom and flexibility in terms of how and where they work, according to Watton:

Quite a lot of the staff were [previously] on a desktop computer. It wasn’t what they necessarily needed, but it was what they’d inherited from their predecessor. With the benefits of Office 365, we’ve managed to move a lot of people onto laptops, which makes it easier for them to work out of the office at sales meetings, or on the road seeing clients or supporters, and at the Madejski Stadium. Now, working in Reading will be just as comfortable and connected as an IT experience as working in the offices at Hazelwood.

None of this, of course, provides any guarantee of an uplift in London Irish’s fortunes during the 2014/15 season: at the time of writing, the club had already lost 15-20 to Harlequins in its first Aviva Premiership game of this season.

But it’s still early days and the club’s recent investments at Hazelwood seem to have had the effect of reviving flagging spirits at London Irish.  Watton concludes:

There’s a real sense that this place is a lot better than [the place] we had - and we now have to be much better than we’ve been.