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Guest blog - What the Tour de France can teach businesses about digital transformation


Pro cycling is a thrilling sport, but watching it on TV has never been the most immersive experience for the casual fan who hasn’t donned lycra and been caught in the middle of a ‘live’ peloton themselves. Unlike Formula 1 broadcasts, where viewers can hear the scream of engines and see real-time data on each car’s speed or G-forces, cycle racing has largely avoided such bells and whistles. 

Amaury Sports Organisation (A.S.O.), which organises the Tour de France, is on a mission to change this. In recent years, they have married the world of pro cycling with increasingly advanced analytics in a bid to win over modern viewers. Tour de France teams have used GPS units and technologies like Garmin Connect for some years now to gain better insight into their performance, but new advanced sensors and analytics platforms have made it possible for A.S.O. to also deliver a more immersive, fan-friendly experience. 

Like professional sports organisations, companies understand that they must build their business around customers, and can no longer maintain their market share based on their legacy alone. For example, just as the Tour de France allows fans to track gaps and predict race events based on GPS data, leading retailers track the position of vehicles and packages in their supply chain and share this information with customers on demand. 

Data from within the business as well as third parties contains a treasure trove of insight begging to be put into action. In pro cylling, it allows teams to see how riders are tracking against their expected performance in each stage and pinpoint factors that may be affecting their output. In medicine, it allows researchers to more quickly and accurately analyse data from drug trials. For people using smartphone navigation apps, it ensures they get the best possible route suggestion based on the position of other cars, road closures, and weather conditions.

Adding machine learning to the mix

The next phase of digital transformation is now coming as we begin to apply machine learning to analytics. For instance, Dimension Data has been able to add a “brain” to its analytics at the Tour de France with a platform that correlates and integrates multiple sets of data in various forms. This allows teams to calculate the likelihood of race events – for instance that the peloton will catch up to breakaway riders in a given stage – or create more nuanced rider profiles based on previous performances. 

The Tour de France’s digital transformation has been a major success. Originally organised as a means to boost sales of France’s L’Auto newspapers, Le Tour now counts 6 million fans across its digital ecosystem and welcomes 10 million visits to its data-driven Race Centre website. This is only the beginning, and as their analytics and machine-learning capabilities become more sophisticated the fan experience will only become more compelling. 

No major business, whether it is a major sporting organisations or a global retailer, can hope to remain successful if it continues to fall back on traditional ways of working. Customer expectations evolve too quickly and companies must continuously scrutinise and enhance the way they operate to stay one step ahead of change.

The Tour de France has led by example, growing its strong heritage brand with an increasingly modern and relevant and fan experience. This approach is valid across virtually every industry, and those companies who embrace a spirit of innovation will pull ahead in the digital transformation race.

Previous Article: Making magic happen in the business of pro cycling

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