Manchester United and HCL Technologies partner for ‘digital transformation’

Picture credit: MarketingTech

Manchester United has announced a 'digital transformation' partnership with HCL Technologies to analyse and enhance the relationship with the club's 650 million strong global fanbase.

The two organisations will create a United Xperience innovation lab, housed within United's Old Trafford stadium, which will essentially become an incubation pod for creating a unified fan experience and increasing engagement through building digital platforms.

HCL already has six similar hubs in operation, including outlets in the telecoms and banking sector, meaning both companies are confident of success. "We are hugely excited about this partnership," said Manchester United managing director Richard Arnold. "It's a very important step for Manchester United...changing the way in which we view the digital world."

Specifics on technologies the two partners will target were naturally thin on the ground, but Ashish Gupta, head of infrastructure at HCL Technologies, cited ideas such as gamification and data and analytics as areas of interest. He argues experimentation is simply par for the course, and adds a unified platform needs to be built for ideas to be innovated on top.

"There are a mish mash of standards in technology," he tells MarketingTech. "The first and simplest thing would be to get this whole thing to a completely new capability set on which you can then innovate.

"After that you can do very simple things; you can start distributing more effectively across multiple devices, and you can customise it by language and by size. All those are platform capabilities you need to have inherent in the platform to be able to give that feature set to the consumer."

The football giant - named the biggest global football brand in a recent Brand Finance report - has been examining this route for some time.

"Manchester United has been thinking about replatforming their whole digital experience for the fans they have," he explains. "They started almost a soft market test, [looking at] the market players who can help them create this new digital platform."

He adds: "That's where the whole process started. They've done quite a thorough evaluation over the last six months, in which they talked to a lot of companies, and then they finally selected HCL as a partner."

Gupta notes the concept of a 'co-innovation lab' arose because the project's ambitions soon outstripped the original idea - not just creating a digital platform, but creating a platform which continued to evolve, with ideas being quickly prototyped in line with agile business thinking.

Anant Gupta, HCL Technologies president and CEO, noted his company's vision of five themes to the 21st century enterprise. While some play on themes which will be familiar to MarketingTech readers, such as service-centric organisations and agile and lean workflows, others - an "ecosystem of partnerships coming together in industries not necessarily suited", as he put it - play directly into this announcement.

Ashish Gupta adds: "Once you've got the prototype then you can get to the software engineering at scale, because now you're dealing with consumers. The consumer could be a million consumers or 250 million consumers, so the software engineering which goes behind it has to be very, very powerful. And that's really what we think is going to work in the United lab."

For United, the goals of the deal are simple: build platforms to improve the global fan presence; boost the club's digital presence; and set a standard of best practice in the business of sport. "If a football team in Manchester can connect with fans on the other side of the world, your business can too," said Arnold.

Disclosure: Your correspondent's travel expenses were paid for by Manchester United/HCL Technologies.


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