The Cloud Zone: Explore Consulting's NFL Solution

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Clemson’s Jacoby Ford ran the 40 in just 4.28 seconds, the second fastest time in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine. Meanwhile, Arkansas offensive lineman Mitch Petrus tied the record for bench press repetitions, amassing a whopping 45. Impressive numbers from a pair of prospective professional footballers.

The annual NFL Scouting Combine is considered by many to be one of the world’s largest job fairs and this year’s, held through late February and early March at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, was nothing short of amazing. More than 300 college football players were put through a rigorous several days -- testing their physical performance, their mental toughness and their problem-solving skills to determine if they’ll make it on the big stage: the National Football League.

Along with Ford and Petrus, who were drafted by the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants, respectively, Florida wunderkind quarterback and top NFL prospect Tim Tebow -- who ended up being drafted 25th overall by the Denver Broncos -- took the field with his NCAA brethren, all of whom were clocked in a battery of physical tests including the 40-yard dash, bench press reps, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 20-yard shuttle and cone drill. Prospective pros also underwent team interviews, drug screening, medical evaluations and the Wonderlic aptitude test, among a plethora of other assessments. The information collected is weighed, evaluated and heavily scrutinized by the roughly 1,600 NFL personnel on hand, which includes owners, coaches, executives, scouts and medical staff.

The amount of data that stems from the Combine is staggering. And the days of pencil and paper just don’t cut it in 2010. For the past four NFL Scouting Combines, Bellevue, Wash.-based Explore Consulting has provided the underlying data capture architecture and technology, a cloud computing solution that changed the way data was captured and distributed.

Jeremy DeSpain, co-founder and COO of Explore Consulting, said the old method, in which NFL personnel recorded data by hand and later entered it into computer systems, created delays and was prone to errors and possible security breaches, as the data stored was later burned to CDs and mailed.

Explore Consulting, a professional services solution provider founded in 2001, was tapped to develop an integrated suite of applications built on its proprietary Detachable Compact Application Framework (DCAF), a reusable technology platform it deployed to help the NFL and National Football Scouting be more efficient in capturing and distributing player data collected at the Combine.

“Our DCAF application resides in the cloud 100 percent,” said Steve Jones, co-founder and CEO of Explore Consulting. “We’ve made them much more efficient.”

The application suite on the DCAF works like this: NFL personnel capture player data on the field using a Windows application. That data is then merged with a master database using a secure Web connection, and administrative functions are managed in the back office by a Web-based administrative console. Working in concert with the Windows field application, the administrative console can be used to manage data, workflows, processes, operations and communications with users in the field. It also offers a host of reporting options and can be used to publish data and other content to the NFL teams. From there, a secure Web site is provided for the teams to log in and view content, download published collateral and subscribe to direct, secure data feeds once the data is published and released by National Football Scouting.

The addition of a cloud solution not only reduces the NFL Combine’s need to manage its own applications, data and security, but it eliminates the need to hire additional resources to ensure the complete application infrastructure is up and running.

In addition, Explore Consulting designed the DCAF in a way that allows data to be entered offline and automatically sync when it’s back online. Essentially, data can be captured with or without an Internet connection and once a connection is available, the data is merged with the master database.

“It happens whether the Internet is up or down,” DeSpain said.
The DCAF, Jones said, cuts the amount of time devoted to capturing and exchanging player information and statistics.

“We’ve reduced the time from when the Combine is finished to when the teams can get the data,” Jones said, adding that data is now near-instant and available on-demand via the secure Web. The DCAF system also leaves an audit trail, illustrating who downloaded what player information and when.

And putting the application in the cloud was a no-brainer, DeSpain said. It greatly reduced the actual costs of the technology while also leveraging shared resources. It lowered hardware and software costs, reduced manpower and increased availability, backup, security and uptime. “It’s really available all the time for them,” he said. “There are just so many benefits, and it reduced many of those traditional technology headaches.”

DeSpain added that the system doesn’t require the staff to perform upgrades and patches, as it updates automatically. There’s no worry about hard-drive failures or other myriad problems. “They can focus on football and scouting without having to worry about the technology challenges,” he said. “They don’t have to run around and fight the technology fires; we do it for them.”

And for National Football Scouting, the rewards were immediate.
“They’ve delivered solid and reliable systems with utmost attention to availability and security, and the automation has allowed us to reduce our total manpower while growing our service and launching new projects,” said Jeff Foster, National Football Scouting president, in a statement.

For Explore Consulting, the road to the Combine started with the proliferation of reliable Software-as-a- Service offerings, especially from its key partners NetSuite and Microsoft, which played a strong role in DCAF and the Combine system. “One of the things that led us down this path was the success of SaaS with Salesforce and NetSuite leading the way,” Jones said. While investigating SaaS options, Explore Consulting asked: “Why wouldn’t this work for what they’re trying to do?”

Four consecutive Combine successes have proven that it did work, while also greatly reducing the monetary and technology overhead and building a more reliable and scalable data capture and distribution system for one of the NFL’s marquee annual events. “This is the way of the future,” Jones said. “And now they’re really seeing the benefits of that.”

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