Innovating to Optimise Performance: The winning formula of the pros

Success. We all want it. Our personal and professional lives demand the best of ourselves and those around us. For many, it means asking eternal questions. For a subset, it means asking these questions again and again, and striving each time to discover a better answer than before.

How can I be and continue to be the best version of me? How do I ensure the same for my business? What actions should I take to ensure my business runs smarter, more efficiently with maximum productivity? How can we maintain total focus, stay ahead of the game and guarantee peak performance to achieve and improve upon brilliant results?

These questions endure because there is never a single, final answer. Embracing a more innovative approach is always a possibility, and will be a topic of discussion at SAP’s upcoming innovation experience e’ffect.

The environment of elite sport may seem far removed from boardrooms and strategic planning sessions, but the recent drive in innovation in all areas of tennis by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), the organising body for the professional women’s game, is driven by the same motivating factors and principles found in the modern, agile business world. And the commonalities and learnings show that innovation transcends industries,and is an essential part of every business strategy optimised to win.

Best in class – and staying there
For athletes, the dogged pursuit of excellence and unwavering determination to play with power, precision and touch time and time again – and ultimately win – means new approaches to training are readily embraced. Off centre court, traditional techniques are being blended with the latest training tools and technologies to produce that winning formula. And when it comes to performance on court, innovation is at its core.

“WTA players recognise the value of having the most innovative technology to help improve their performance,” says WTA president Micky Lawler.

No stranger to sizing up the competition, Lawler is concentrated on the global marketing strategy of the WTA, uncovering new connections and overseeing an impressive portfolio of long-standing partnerships.

“It’s not only imperative to stay in the game, but in order to lead women’s tennis into the future and thrive, innovation is paramount,” Lawler says.

“We already know how incredible tennis is, but without embracing novel ways to play, consume and market the sport, we can’t inspire a new audience to invest.”

The WTA delivers tennis analytics to the game with real-time, in-match statistical analysis and insight for coaches via SAP software, and recently the ability to go beyond single-point analysis with the rollout of a new coaching tool called Patterns of Play.

“The latest feature addresses a key need for coaches looking for data-based insights into how a rally unfolds and how their player, and opponents, react to match situations,” Lawler says. “It also enables coaches to personalise insights for their player’s next match by going deeper into the data and applying various filters and customisations, spanning opponents, opponent’s rank, playing hand, playing surface and more.”

To Lawler, technology – and the ability to use and make sense of the data being generated with every moment of play – is a game changer. Literally.

“Before SAP Tennis Analytics, professional tennis did not have access to real-time performance data during live match play…This vital information delivers fact-based feedback to the player that can really shape how a player adjusts and manages the outcome of the match.”

And it’s not just the sporting world identifying the transformative potential of data-driven decision-making. It’s a priority for leading organisations, with a recent Oxford Economics study finding that top financial performers reported being 25% more likely to have the data needed to improve upon analytics-based decision-making.

Unlocking new possibilities
Technology has not only benefited tennis players and managers of the game, but also those at the receiving end – the spectators who ultimately get to enjoy an even higher calibre of sport.

“We’re particularly excited about our latest endeavor in using SAP’s Qualtrics experience management technology,” Lawler says. “Without giving too much away, it’s a highly advanced survey tool that we recently started using and it will certainly play an integral role in fuelling women’s professional tennis into the future, including how we work with players, staff, coaches and how we operate with tournaments, media and especially fans.”

When it comes to the viewing experience at home, innovation in over-the-top (OTT) video streaming has served the existing fanbase well, but crucially has opened fresh avenues to attract growth.

“OTT has allowed us infinite ways to engage fans,” Lawler says. “It has unlocked new possibilities for how we can work with our rights holders, how we manage our digital channels, and how we collaborate with our partner, players and tournaments.”

As industries start to make sense of the data they possess, customer-centric avenues for growth will only continue to expand. As the WTA has demonstrated, it’s about understanding how customers (or fans) want to engage and enabling that.

Overcoming obstacles through innovation
With the right technology behind the scenes, the WTA’s top players can run like well-oiled machines and more likely serve that winning ace. However, changing the game hasn’t come without its challenges. Indeed, integral to innovating is a deep desire to overcome obstacles.

“Implementing new technology ultimately leads to growth but there will always be an adjustment and adoption phase to navigate,” Lawler says. “With SAP, we’re extremely fortunate to have partners who truly work through that stage of the game with us.”

Harnessing the power of data and technology in a quest to achieve perfection isn’t unique to the tennis world – it’s also the driving force of today’s competitive global business market. According to a recent report by management consulting firm BCG, leaders of about half of the world’s most innovative companies such as Apple, Amazon and Alphabet posit investing in innovation as the top priority in 2020.

It’s an agenda perhaps more crucial today than ever, with the Covid-19 crisis willing leaders to adapt quickly to tackle shifting supply and demand patterns, and changing consumer behaviour. Although the crisis has undeniably thrown a curveball, Lawler believes being in lockdown has allowed innovation opportunities to surface.

Despite tennis matches taking a timeout, the WTA’s player development team and SAP swiftly launched a new learning management system powered by SAP Litmos for its players, coaches and staff. The WTA University interactive platform supports specifically designed personal and professional wellness tools for athletes.

“These athletes are resilient, ambitious and pursue perfection,” Lawler says. “So even though the season temporarily stopped, their competitive nature did not. The goal is to keep pushing forward, think outside the box and lean into wild ideas that will get you there.”

Join the WTA No 1 Ash Barty in conversation at SAP e’ffect next month on October 1st. Register now

This article was produced for SAP by BBC StoryWorks, the commercial content division of BBC Global News.