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12/7/2012
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San Francisco Giants' Bill Schlough: InformationWeek IT Chief Of The Year

The Giants' CIO and his team are innovating in areas such as analytics-based scouting and in-stadium wireless, keeping the World Series champions ahead of the game.

The Integrator

When I met with Schlough in November, he and his team had already cooked up 50 IT projects for the off-season, and they had yet to meet with the team's various departments. Many of those projects, he says, are fairly boring: upgrading the Microsoft Exchange system, adding storage, shoring up disaster recovery. After they woke me up, I also heard about plans to deliver video and data to iPads, which players and managers carry around, and about delivering a better mobile experience overall (Quill's team takes an HTML5 approach).

Schlough wouldn't go into details, but the Giants endured a cyber attack during the World Series, so he's also focused on enhancing the company's password and mobile device policies.

The Giants are replacing the homegrown CRM system they've used for years, containing information on 700,000 customers, with Salesforce.com. They've also moved to a new ticketing platform, and these two systems (ticketing and CRM) will come together at a few points. The team is testing mobile point-of-sale systems in stores, for example.

The goal is to integrate all customer data, from ticket purchasers to callers into the Giants' ShoreTel VoIP system, and to "track the value of every customer and accurately assess the likelihood of losing that customer, or how to retain that customer," Schlough says. The organization wants to cater to each customer based on past behavior and interaction.

The Giants just hired a social media director, who reports to three people: the heads of communications, revenue and marketing. But he works most closely with Schlough. The Giants are building a physical social media hub in the ballpark. Schlough wants to install mobile device charging stations at the ballpark -- he tells me purposefully, because if I report it, he says, he'll be committed to following through.

Tech Me Out To The Ballgame
334 Number of wireless access points at AT&T Park
577 Number of HD TVs at the park
805 GB of data that park spectators moved via Wi-Fi during Giants' two World Series home games
870K Total unique visitors to the park's Wi-Fi network at Giants games in 2012 season

The Mensch

Schlough is well connected in sports IT circles. It's worth noting that the top IT execs of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, two fierce in-division rivals, agreed immediately to speak with me about the Giants' CIO.

Steve Reese, VP of IT for the Padres, says Schlough's greatest impact has been helping baseball understand "that IT should be part of the business process." Schlough drives initiatives that aren't just disruptive to the way traditional organizations think, Reese says, but that also impact the bottom line.

Reese goes so far as to call Schlough "the Bill Walsh of IT," referring to the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, who not only was an offensive football genius, but whose progeny is a who's who of former NFL coaches, including Mike Holmgren, George Seifert and Dennis Green.

One of Schlough's proteges is John Winborn, whom he hired in 1999 as a desktop support specialist and later promoted to MIS director, before seeing him off to the Padres. Winborn is now the CIO of the Dallas Cowboys. "I would not be here without his mentoring," Winborn says of Schlough, who's one of the first people he calls with tough problems.

Ralph Esquibel, the senior director of technology for the hated Los Angeles Dodgers, says the Giants "have without a doubt been innovators in the league," and that while baseball hasn't been on the top of the innovation curve, "Bill doesn't fit that mold. ... He has tended not to follow the herd ... and they've been rewarded."

The Giants' technology prowess has rubbed off on many baseball franchises. Esquibel says the Dodgers are building the largest stadium wireless infrastructure in North America -- more than double what the Giants have. Esquibel has a big challenge on his hands, given that Dodger Stadium is the third-oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, but he's undaunted -- a reflection of the pace Schlough has set for everyone else.

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