Super piece over at Grantland the other day titled The Data Flow Continues: NBA D-League Will Monitor Player Heart Rate, Speed, Distance Traveled, and More, about some of the steps that the NBA, (and its affiliated minor league the D-League), are taking that leverage wearable tracking devices to monitor player movements, player vital signs, and evaluate things like player fatigue levels and stress during the course of play.
These new devices, ones that go beyond the already in-place sophisticated video technology that records player actions like direction of movement, speed, acceleration and deceleration, and move into more precise measurements of a player's biological and physical status and condition, seem to offer NBA teams a rich and copious set of information that can inform in-game strategy, (Is LeBron really tired, or does he just look tired?), and off season training and conditioning plans.
But of course the potential backlash for the NBA and its teams is that no one, not even highly compensated NBA players, will be terribly excited about not only having their actions tracked, but also their physical reactions tracked as well.
But if we move off of thinking about this kind of physical tracking as something that is limited to jobs or activities like playing basketball we could easily see how this kind of technology and data collection and mining approach could have applications in other domains.
Wouldn't you like to know, Mr. or Ms. HR/Talent pro, how a given manager's team members physically react when they are in a performance coaching session, or getting any kind of feedback on their work? Do the team member's hearts start racing when their boss enters the room or begins one of his soliloquies? Do certain team members react and respond differently to the same managerial techniques? And wouldn't that information be valuable to feed back to the manager so that he or she could better tailor their style and approach to fit the individuals on their team?
I know what you are saying, no way are employees going to agree to be wired up like subjects in some kind of weird biology experiment. Too intrusive. Too much potential for the data to be lost. Too many chances for the data to be held against them.
The NBA players are probably going to make similar arguments, but eventually they will succumb.
I will leave with a direct pull quote from the Grantland piece, and as you read it, think about how naturally you could substitute 'organizations' for 'NBA teams'.
Bottom line: None of this stuff is going away. Data of all kinds are already piling up at a rate that is overwhelming NBA teams, and the pace and variety of data available will only increase. Teams are going to have to change hiring patterns, and likely hire additional staff, to mine anything useful out of all this information. And the holy grail, to me, remains what these tracking devices can tell us about health — about preventing injuries, predicting them, monitoring players’ training loads, and keeping them healthy.
Have a great weekend!