Rugby Football Union, IBM delivering a refreshed digital experience


16 August, 2019 | Written by: 

Staying relevant, maintaining and exceeding expectations for fans and players: for any sporting organisation this is a continual challenge but also critical for the success of the sport. Ultimately fans and players are the lifeblood of the organisation and with the importance of digital channels as a primary access point and expectations of service quality continuing to increase, it is crucial to get the experience right the first time. For the Rugby Football Union (RFU) with over 100 years of heritage and a target engaged audience of more than 10 million their challenge is substantial.

When IBM and the RFU extended their partnership in 2018 digital experience was one of the key focus areas. The RFU realised that with multiple web sites, varying digital experiences and a need to refresh and update their main digital property a new approach was needed. They also needed to capture the opportunity presented by interest in the growth of the women’s game and the Rugby World Cup. So in conjunction with IBM iX, IBM’s world-leading digital agency, we started on a strategic programme to transform the fan experience with a target to successfully launch a refreshed on on 1stJuly 2019.

This wasn’t “just” a new web site project. It was also a way of demonstrating how new delivery techniques could deliver better outcomes. Fast paced, agile and user experience lead approaches drove how we worked as one team. Considering the strategic nature of the programme, we started with an 8-week discovery phase to define the key design and user experience principles, keeping the user at the heart of the solution. This covered the evaluation of the RFU’s existing digital landscape, as well as understanding complex data sets for match data, from community to elite levels, to inform and drive new experience. We used IBM Design Thinking workshops and extensive fan research to help develop numerous design prototypes in conjunction with the RFU digital and content teams.

The discovery phase delivered the key programme principles of cross pollination of experience and data across the site, alignment to RFU brand guidelines and providing consistent experience across community and elite games. The objective was simple but also ambitious: to deliver a differentiated fan experience and drive growth in Rugby participate in all forms of the game.

Numerous immovable dates such as the need to migrate from the old site, the start of the rugby season and 2019 rugby world cup dictated a very tight delivery timeline of just over 5 months from start to finish. To ensure we kept pace and control we adopted Agile scrum delivery method with 3 sprint teams: design, build and test. Each sprint team providing the input for the other I.e. Design team feeding the build followed by test.

The IBM delivery team was truly global with governance and design executed from the UK, build from Belarus, test from India and technical SMEs based in Germany and the United States. The use of communication tools such a slack and webex and collaboration tools such as Jira and envision were key enablers for effective collaboration between the teams. In addition, the strict adoption of Agile ceremonies and effective programme governance principles ensured speedy decision making and delivery dependency, risk and issue mitigation.

Designing a solution fully hosted on IBM cloud using a mixture of Software as a Service and Platform as a Service technologies ensured that the build team could hit the ground very quickly. The highly available, secure and scalable nature of IBM cloud ensured that the new solution met the key performance requirements. The solution was also designed with the future in mind. By adopting an API led architecture the solution has set the foundations for all future RFU digital channels to consume the same data delivering a uniform experience. It has also allowed integration with numerous complex data sources to deliver rugby match and player stats in a reliable and consistent manner.

In addition to visual design, data is at the heart of the new experience. With the further roll out of electronic match card data across all levels of the rugby, the importance of the new website is set to grow further and support the drive to grow in the game.

And this is just the start. The digital platform with its API led architecture will drive further opportunities for innovation and fuel the growth of new digital channels from the RFU and potentially other organisations who want to access their data. So, watch this space for more to come in the future.

Trade marks owned and/or registered by parties other than IBM are acknowledged.

Senior Managing Consultant, IBM iX


This originally appeared in the IBM UK THINK Blogs