June 7, 2021

IT for a Premier League football club

James Grove, head of IT for Southampton Football Club, discusses the unique technology requirements of elite sports


What are the challenges of running IT for a Premier League football club?
 
Well, as James remarked, "There aren't that many businesses out there that invite 30,000 people to their head office every weekend."

In this episode, Ryan and James chat about the fascinating world of elite sports technology and some of the projects James and his team are working on for the Southampton Football Club.

Topics

  • James's professional background and how he went from fan to employee at Southampton Football Club
  • What it's like supporting the unique IT needs of a football club, including digitizing the club's grass firmness reading process to optimise player performance and prevent injury
  • Projects for fans including an app, improving stadium wireless, and replacing big screens
  • The pandemic's effect on sports and looking ahead to the rest of 2021
  • Cybersecurity, business continuity, and moving to the cloud
  • Quirks of IoT in the home

About James Grove
James Grove has over 20 years of experience in IT and currently works as the head of IT for the Southampton Football Club. He got his start working in service desk support and spent 8 years in various technology leadership roles within higher education prior to his current role.

Connect with James on LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/jameselliottgrove

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Transcript

Ryan Purvis  0:00  
Hello, and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast. I'm Ryan Purvis, your host supported by producer Heather Bicknell. In this series, you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines, the problems they face and how they solve them. The years they're focused on from technology, people and processes to the approaches they took, they will help you to get to the scripts for the digital workspace inner workings.

So would you want to maybe kick off with an introduction to who you are and your background? And then we'll go a bit more into some of the things we talked we were going to talk about.

James Grove  0:41  
There? Sure, sure. Okay, so suppose Yeah, a little bit about about me, so I'm the head of it at Southampton football club. And so I suppose it's, it's quite an interesting role. There are kind of very few technology roles in elite football, especially Premier League football, say, and yes, for me, it's, it's really interesting, because I, you know, I like I like football, and I've always loved loved watching football, I've always been a fan of Southampton say, you might say is a bit of a dream, dream opportunity to, to work for clubs that I'm a fan of, but as it turns out, it's just adds to the stress, you know, of working in a sort of technology leadership role. So there's that, I suppose, it's, you know, in terms of the club itself, it's kind of a family, sort of centric club, we only have about 400 staff. So it's kind of a medium sized business, really. And, you know, I've been in the role 18 months. So most of that time is, you know, the pandemic has been happening. And I think, you know, obviously, coming, I came into the role just before the pandemic, and obviously, had a lot of plans had a lot of ideas and wanted to obviously get out and meet people in the business and get the opportunity to really, you know, just really understand everything. And then it was about three months, I had to, I had to stop and say my remotely, which is where we are still so i think that's that's kind of been the probably the biggest challenge overall is, is still you know, that that remote leadership and the remote role, I've had to kind of take up. And while we have been, you know, we've had meetings in the stadium and other bases, but you know, most of my work has been remade. So that's kind of been the biggest challenge. Although I'm not, you know, I'm not a stranger to remote working in my previous role. And my previous company, it was, it was pretty much an international role. And therefore, I was always, you know, working across different time zones, and remotely as well. So that's not new to me. So yeah, in terms of the current role is pretty much traditional IT and mostly, so the football club use a lot of traditional it in terms of infrastructure. So networking, servers, cloud storage, digital applications, or other things, end user. And then there's, there's lots of other sort of technology now that kind of intersects and into different departments across the club. So we have a small team of 14, and my role is really just to be accountable for all the all the technologies that we look after. But in my background, really, I've worked in it for probably about 20 something years now. And I've always worked in I suppose I started out in it as a as a service desk kind of support role. So the early part of my career was always in support, and trying to build up my experience. And then I suppose the More more recently, I worked in higher education in various technology leadership roles there. So if a years that's what I was doing, doing before the role at Southampton, like kind of helped me help me build up my, my experience in this I suppose a leadership role. And over the years, you know, like any any technology leader, you know, you're exposed to lots of different applications, lots of different technologies, different types of industries and the way they operate. So kind of gone through that that whole time of I suppose what used to be legacy it to now where we are. So it's been a it's been a really interesting, interesting journey.

Ryan Purvis  4:37  
So I'm very interested, you say you're a fan of the club. So how did you get the job then? Were you at like a fan? Was it a fan connection that got you in or?

James Grove  4:47  
No, not at all say, I suppose I was just in the market for a new role. And I was I think I was sort of in the process of updating my CV and looking in the market. And he just had just happened, sort of roll come up at the football club on LinkedIn. And I just thought, you know, wow, that would be great. But I also thought, you know, it's a high profile, although it's a it's a medium sized company, but it's high profile as a high profile company, because Premier League club, and I think that the public perception is that, you know, every Premier League club is swimming in cash. But, you know, my, my initial perception of kind of getting, applying for the role would be, you know, Crikey. I don't know, if I'm experienced enough to do that, or, you know, there'd be so many applications, I thought, okay, I'll apply. But, you know, I'll carry on focusing on on other things. So yeah, just, that's how it started. And I think being a fan really has no bearing on whether or not you, you either understand the club, or get a role in the club. It's really it's, you know, it's, it's not applicable, really. And I think, from my side now working there, it's, as I say, I, when when the team are playing, it becomes more stressful, because it's my work as well as, you know, football stress. So that's the only real difference, really, but nine to five, Monday to Friday, it's a very, sort of, I suppose, not normal business, but it's it there are normal business operations.

Ryan Purvis  6:25  
Yeah. Yeah. And but I suppose your knowledge of football helps in conversations with people around PETA solving their problems with technology?

James Grove  6:34  
Yeah, absolutely. I think I've always been, in fact, I've always played football as well. So we were saying that I've been involved in amateur football for, you know, as long as I could probably kick a ball. And so and I've also done some coaching and stuff as well. So I think from that side of things, there's an appreciation of the requirements of some of our users, because we do have, probably half the people that work at the club are based around football and coaching and, you know, the medical side, the sports science, the analysts, all that kind of thing. So, yeah, I absolutely understand that they have completely different needs to anyone may be sat at a desk, because they don't have a desk or they don't use don't sit down much. So yeah, they have very different technology requirements. But I suppose when I was playing football, I didn't have any technology requirements myself, because it was just, you know, a very sort of wet and windy, local Recreation Ground nice to play out rather than elite sports facility that we have. But it is really interesting, I think one of the things I'm really keen to, to continue doing and the role that it's not really have the opportunity is just kind of get get over to, you know, the football side of things, because because of the pandemic they've been, they've had to be quarantined, almost. So a lot of staff that work, if at all, especially the first, anyone around the first team, because the Premier League have a lot of requirements for COVID regulations, and making sure that the players are tested regularly, you know, my team, and myself and a lot of other people, we're not able to go there and sort of be near them. You know, especially in the last since the pandemic, really, so, yeah, it's been, I suppose, looking forward to it, and hopefully next season. So from the end of this summer onwards, you know, just going back over there, and, you know, working with the stakeholders a bit more closely.

Ryan Purvis  8:21  
Because I think that I mean, some of my favorite references more more baseball, specific from the data point of view, and then analytics. And I would think that would be the most fascinating thing to be working with the teams on is, you know, how do they analyze compact competition, specific other players in a game plans, but building, you know, Southampton solutions for it, as opposed to buying something off the off the rack to an extent. So how's that worked out for you, then? I mean, how involved are you with the sort of if you've got internal infrastructure, which is, you know, back end back office, that sort of stuff to the actual teams, is that they do their own thing? And then there's sort of a guideline and PR and parameters you give them? Or do they have to you help to have to give them everything they need to do their, their jobs, if that makes any sense?

James Grove  9:11  
Yeah, that's a good question. So yeah, mainly everything, you know, they they use everything that we support. So whether it's a kind of corporate tool, but they they also have their own systems and databases that my team support. So I actually have a couple of people in my team that are focused on the data side. So they look after all the databases and they support the the data requirements for some of the coaching and medical and football side of things. So there's, you know, there's lots of data that they capture in football. So whether it's medical data, whether it's performance data, so there's, as an example, there's a system called stat sports where playable where a bib with a GPS device, and it records their their effort during a training game or Or an actual game. And all that data comes in. And there's, there's a, there's an analyst team that worked there that obviously try and make decisions around that data. So So I have a team, someone in my team that supports that database and works with, with the analyst team to really deal with, you know, whether it's data cleansing or validation or sort of thing, or just just, you know, the visualizations and just making it a bit easier for them to read the, you know, some really, really interesting stuff as well, they, they measure the, the firmness of the grass as well. So they they have, they have a physical tool, it's like a hammer, that they drop on the grass. And they used to be a manual process. So they used to drop the hammer, it used to give a digital reading, but they used to write that down on a bit of paper. And, and they, they would drop it at various points around the pitch. Because, you know, whole football pitches is can be very different, depending on the drainage and you know, the sun and everything. So, once they've got that day stage to kind of go back in as you know, they could see where the where the where the hard bit of the pitch was, or how soft it was in general. And but now we've actually digitized that. So there's a hammer actually connects to our WiFi, it automatically sends the reading there to a database, and then they can just go back into the office and actually see that or visualize Australia straightaway they can they can get the information.

Ryan Purvis  11:24  
Is there is it a coordinate still a coordinate system for you dropping him? Even though it's on the Wi Fi? You know, what, which grid you on the pitch?

James Grove  11:33  
Yeah, so they was I think they said, they said that the hammer to you know, wherever location they may have on the pitch, whether wherever they are, that's the halfway line, or the, the the area or, you know, wherever they're recording, yes. And then it feeds back in. And basically as the the ground staff do that, but then the the the coaches can then read that data, and then they can decide, you know, do we want to use this pitch for training today. Because it may be too hard. If it's too hard, it might mean the players pick up injuries, though, sometimes they need a hard pitch to do some other stuff on. They need a software as a pitch sometimes to do you know, plays that are coming back from injury. So it's really, really important to them to actually understand that. So yeah, there's some really some really interesting stuff that we do around that. And then there's all the medical data as well. There's a gym, as you can imagine, most most, I suppose, measuring equipment. And if they have, they have to see how high they can jump or to see how much they can press. Most most of those have a digital readout that they can either take or some of them are automated. So they can they can see those readings. So yeah, really interesting. Kind of mind boggling.

Ryan Purvis  12:53  
I'm thinking about all the you know, just just just figuring out on the pitch alone, if you're playing against a certain certain competitor, you might make a harder pitch, because they used to a softer pitch, it gives you an edge. Yeah, absolutely. A cricket pitch would be, you know, designed for fast bowlers versus spinners. That hadn't even thought about that as an option to be quite honest. And yeah, I

James Grove  13:15  
think they did they do that on the so the the actual the stadium pitch as well. So before the home game, if we are playing at home does exactly the same on that. So they know, they can tell the coaching staff, you know, actually the pitch is rained overnight, it's very soft here today, or whatever it might be, you know, they've got sprinklers as well, they can they can make it you know, different. They can put more water on it if they need to. So it gives an option.

Ryan Purvis  13:41  
I'm just wondering if it would be considered cheating, if you were to say water, your side of the pitch more than if you know that you got to be on the one side and make it harder to run on their side makes a difference more difficult to strike.

James Grove  13:52  
Yeah, I don't have any Yeah, I think it does say I think you know, you sometimes hear managers, if they've not had a great result. complain about the pitch if they're playing away normally. And yeah, there's there's been there's been instances of maybe the underdog team, making the pitch. I'm also logs, a little difficult for better team to pass and things like that. So but yeah, for us, it's more, I think just around driving better performance from our players and you know, trying to give us the best opportunity to win. And whatever, you know, it's the small things that are the sort of elite sport and this is kind of what I've learned over the over the time I've been in the role is that everything is competitive. So you know, small kind of measures and gains can really have a big impact. So they're always looking at new things, I

Ryan Purvis  14:40  
suppose. Yeah, look at make sense. I mean, it's as I said, my references is baseball. And that's always been a game of numbers and a game of inches. You know, can you can you jump that extra half an inch to to catch a ball spinning over your head or something like that. And the stats around you know, how a player reaction certain situations you know, either Sort of clutch a clutch player versus a non clutch player? So I can I can, I can see their competitive nature, you know translates to every sport, really? And then what have you done around something like the stadium? For example, do you guys do stuff said, with, with your staff in mind and maybe actual fans come into the venue?

James Grove  15:21  
Yeah, absolutely, there's, there's so much there really, I suppose I'll start with, with the staff. So so like, like a lot of sports teams that have a stadium staff normally work in the stadium as the head office. So the same for us, our stadium is also our head office, which, which kind of gives us a very unique environment in which to work in, we have a fairly normal corporate office area in here in the stadium. So your normal sort of desks and WiFi and breakout rooms, meeting rooms, all that kind of thing. So so we support all of that, on the I suppose on the other sort of, fan side of things we have, and we have sort of future plans for, for some some more exciting technology. So at the moment, there's, we have a new turnstile system to to provide us with a with a better way of getting fans into the stadium and also a ticketing platform, which we've recently changed. So hopefully for the fan experience for buying tickets is more improved online for them. We recently launched a new app for fans. So the the aim of the app is really for us to be able to engage more digitally with with the fans. And there are sort of further plans to enhance it on a match day. So you know, they can use the aptitudes and activities and maybe buy things on on a match day. And just engage you know, in more depth with with the with the club. So those those those products in it, there's physical, other physical things as well. So we have a we have hospitality Wi Fi, we don't have in bowl Wi Fi yet. So most fans will find if they sit in the in the stadium, when there's a full stadium due to the density, then they struggle to get 4g, or 5g say, we are looking at plans to to give them a service there, whether it's Wi Fi or sort of 4g 5g. A lot of football stadiums unfortunate in the UK were slightly behind the US I think in that as a lot of the NFL stadiums have exceptional Wi Fi and exceptional mobile signal, but a lot of a lot of the art because because football stadiums in the UK are quite old, most of them and you know, as a lot of people think that Southampton is the marriage is a new stadium that is 2020 over 20 years old. So it was obviously built before the digital age so to speak. So it hasn't got the underlying infrastructure. But we are looking at that as as a project for the for the next couple of years or so. And yeah, we've we've we've recently this this in the last couple of weeks, and the last few months we've been working on on a project to replace the the big screen so like a lot of stadiums, we our stadium already has the big digital screens either end. So fans gonna obviously view replays and adverts and you know that, you know, obviously obviously the score and other things as well. The ones we had were nearly 10 years old, so we've replacing them this summer. So we've we've had a huge project to look at improving that as a service. We're also as part of that we're putting new displays in the concourse of fans. So they will have bigger screens to look at when they go for food and drink at halftime. Also some some other LED screens within the concourse and around the bowl. Just to you know, give fans better engagement and things like that. So that will be a really I think that'd be quite a big enhancement for fans when they when they do return. And we are looking at fans hopefully returning from June onwards if the the UK government restrictions and roadmap kind of fulfills itself. But that's that's what we're hopeful for.

Ryan Purvis  19:15  
Yeah, I can imagine it's, it's this is almost a good opportunity in a way to do those sorts of upgrades. You don't have to worry about the fixtures being been there as well. But I guess I understand you want your fans there and that app experience has become almost a critical thing now to experience you almost expect to have an app for the for the like going to watch rugby or going to watch football you want to adapt it does everything. pre order your beers pod your food gets good data for you from a consumer point of view but also from a service provider point of view, because you know what's coming? Yeah, some more predictability. I could actually see that working in your favor. And then I mean, what is it what is your sort of if you're to compare yourself to other football Organizations mean, where where's the who are the guys to really try and emulate as as being the top? The top dogs?

James Grove  20:08  
I mean, I think yeah, it obviously goes without saying that, you know, we're not the big six club. That's that's just the nature of all history and where we are. And I think the Premier League, any Premier League club is is is a is normally a well run club. And for us, it's just continuing to do that, you know, obviously, we will look at other other people that have had success and, you know, how do we how do we achieve that? Or how do we, how we look to that, but we obviously have our own means and, and our own sort of club strategy to follow. And that's, you know, our values as well. So that's, that's always important to us. And I think as well fan base, you know, we're never going to be, I suppose, like Manchester United, where they've got, you know, apparently a 1 billion fans globally, you know, that's, that's just, you know, completely out of unattainable, really, but I think from a technology perspective, myself and all the other lead technology leaders across the Premier League and and in other sports, we, we do speak online regularly, whether it's just on LinkedIn, or just building better relationships. So by visitors have already visited other stadiums and looked at their solutions and what they're doing. There are some stadiums that have been recently built. So say the news Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, for example, is probably one of it's probably the best example of a football stadium in the world at the moment. terms of, you know, the the way it's been building around technology. And so I had an opportunity to go there and look at all that, and we're really just sort of finding out what, what's working best for them? And how we can kind of achieve some of that at St. Mary's. So yeah, I think I think for us, it's always just within our means, but but also look at what our priorities are, and, you know, what our fans need? And what they what they expect as well.

Ryan Purvis  22:04  
Do you interact much with the fans? I mean, do you have like, trying to get the word now, but like a, you know, a chatbot sort of interface where you hear from the fans what they're looking for?

James Grove  22:13  
Yeah, so so my team, not so much. But the we have a, we have a support services team. They interact with anything, we have a chat bot, so to speak at the moment, that's something that we're looking at rolling out. But mostly, it's been sort of social media communication, email communication, we obviously we, we have just rolled out the app. So looking at how we can communicate with fans in the app, I think we found a lot of our fans, that, you know, they like to either communicate or put their views on social media. So we have we have a media team that manage all of that stuff. So that's, that's really important. And that, you know, goes without saying for any other any other football club. And then yeah, obviously, once we get fans back, you know, it would be great to, to engage with them, you know, in that sort of digital space that we have in the stadium and just see what we can do with that. Because we you know, we haven't had fans for over a year. Now, Phil, you know, we had a small number of fans. In December days, it was only 2000. So she's really looking at getting people back in and looking forward to getting people back in and

Ryan Purvis  23:19  
what's the what's the capacity of your Sir, do

James Grove  23:20  
this 30,000? So okay, so yeah, in terms of Premier League standard is probably sort of, sort of in the mid range, really. And so, you know, I think most most of the stadiums will be, you know, between 30 40,000. And some of the biggest stadiums will be upwards of 60 to 80,000.

Ryan Purvis  23:46  
Yeah, I can imagine that having 2000. They would almost be laughable, but you could hardly see them for the chairs.

James Grove  23:56  
Yeah, that was interesting. So the government allowed us to have fans. It was a very small window that we had between the November 2020 lockdown and December kind of tears that they brought out and Southampton was in a tier two, which meant that we were allowed to have 80,000 fans, but it was Yeah, we were hoping at that point, you know, to build up on coming into the new year this year. We were hoping it would increase but obviously then we had the January lockdown as well. You know, it's been as a we've had the door shot since then.

Ryan Purvis  24:31  
Yeah, no, it's it's, I think we all wish for the normality of watching sport life, which you all took for granted for a bit. I think you'll take these view or take it for granted for a while. And the next iterations. We'll go back and look to the data side of things you're talking about. One thing was was Seth Pro, I think was what you mentioned.

James Grove  24:52  
That sports Yeah. Yeah, that's one of the systems that we have,

Ryan Purvis  24:57  
or what are the other ones that you guys use it and then Is there quite a big focus on on collecting data to use it as part of decision making?

James Grove  25:06  
Yes, I think I think it's probably stuck, I suppose is probably the best example really there, there are, there are other data that we have from any football fans that follow the Premier League will know about after. So that's, that's a really kind of big way that we are a bit a big repository of data that we can access, say, up to collect event information from football games. So they they then sell that data to to anyone that wants it. So whether it's broadcasters or, or football clubs themselves, to their make decisions. So yeah, we have our own sports. One is a GPS is basically a GPS solution. So the data is mostly sort of GPS, and we can see, the player is linked to an individual player, so we can see the player's effort, we can see you know, how fast they were running out what how they weren't, where they were on the pitch, that kind of thing that's heat mapping. The operator and there's other providers of days that do have an inflammation in games. So it can be used for for our own team, you know, we can we can see how many passes a certain player made, how many shots they had on target, that kind of thing. But also, you know, we can we use it for opposition as well. So we can understand, you know, how an opposition plays. And that data is publicly available. So you opt to sell that to anyone and they make it available, you can probably go and search that that data. There is there is other companies as well, I think stats bomb is is another one that does the same thing. Yeah, and it's really just a case of it depends on how you as a football club, want to use that data and what you you know, what you actually think you need from that. Because as it's available, it's just, it's a mass of event information.

Ryan Purvis  26:51  
So do you have a data science team? That's, that's looking at that all the time or asking questions? Overton?

James Grove  26:56  
Yeah, yeah, we do. So on the football side, they have various people that work in in data, and whether it's sort of Sport Science, but also sort of in to have a data Insights Team as well, we then are called, and yeah, they, they, they, they work on all that data, they provide analysis to coaching staff, medical staff, on you know, whether it be an upcoming match or training, or helping a player returned from injury or any of that kind of stuff. They they have all that data, and they they they manage that accordingly. Yeah, so you know, most I think most clubs have that I think we historically we've, we've kind of been at the forefront of that, probably more so over the years. So we have quite a large team involved in that. And we're fairly mature now. So we're able to sort of use the data as much as possible to make the right decisions.

Ryan Purvis  27:50  
Cool. And with with having the data, are you finding that that your users that are using that data are becoming more technically savvy. So that so what I'm trying to get to is almost a self service part of this at some stage or is is very much still the separation between the business user and the data science team?

James Grove  28:11  
Yeah, I suppose if you speak to my team that worked with the data that probably say, you know, there was obviously some users that that are, are exceptional with the data and the team that work in the data Insights Team, and the analysts that we have, you know, they they have to have qualifications in all of the the sort of data platform that you have now, whether it's the AI or whatever it is. So they have those skills, the but there are other end users that work in other roles that just want to see, you know, a simple dashboard, or whatever it might be, if that data is to say, I think we just have to work with those users. I know that the guys in my team that working with those individuals, you know, they they have spent a lot of time giving them information and training. And yeah, that self service approach is something that we want to look at going forward. Yeah, it's very much down to, I think there are now as you as you know, there's there's so many platforms out there that, that you can get even read data through and get information from say, I think our users are definitely becoming more savvy around it. And, you know, they they also they have to, you know, they have to have that that information they have to have that those skills and training.

Ryan Purvis  29:23  
Is there any advice you'd give to a person coming into your sort of role that would be help them to be prepared?

James Grove  29:32  
In an IT sense, or from data. So data, is

Ryan Purvis  29:36  
it going into a sporting environment?

James Grove  29:39  
I think, yeah, I think for me, I mean, I didn't have any background in sport. So I think there's a lot of people that really interested in getting into sport because, you know, like me, they're a fan. They're a consumer. And they think it's, you know, it's, they see off as a very glamorous career. But I think yeah, I think the key thing is really just to, if you're interested in working in sport is really just to try and understand how sport works. And if you're interested in working in data, there's a there's a lot of books on on sports data now and Sport Science and things like that, and or data science, sorry. And I, as a fan, I read these things, but just to have a general understanding is really useful. Yeah, and I think that's, that's kind of the key thing, I think, for me, you know, to be honest with you, probably why I got the role was, was based on people, you know, my experience of working with people, and that's, you know, as I mentioned earlier, we are a family orientated club, and we were very much focusing on the people that we have a staff and also the people that are our fans, and we've got some, you know, some really strong values around that. So, you know, for me, it was all around, I want to work in that environment and, and work with people and develop people and one of our values is, these potential interacts limits. And that's, you know, basically means that, you know, you've got someone with potential and giving them the opportunity and developing them to, to give excellence and, for me, I've always enjoyed doing that with people that I've worked with people that I've been a leader for. And I think that's, that's a definite value that you need to understand the value of weight, you know, the values of the, of the organization that you're looking to join as well.

Ryan Purvis  31:27  
It's a very interesting way you put the potential to Excellent, so I can almost imagine that coming out of the football side into the business side. So you take someone who's got potentially some talent, but they need to have channeled and guided and coached and, and the rest of it.

James Grove  31:42  
Yeah. 100% So, you know, probably it's probably the strongest value that we have at Southampton. We were known, I suppose if you were to ask any, any average football fan in the world, you know, and you ask them about Southampton, they'll they'll say they're probably will come back with, you know, they they're very good at developing youngsters, and they've got a really strong Academy. And, you know, over the years, we've we've been able to produce players like, you know, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alan Shearer, matla tears, and, you know, oxlade Chamberlain more recently, and Luke shore. So there's, there's players that have come through our academy, that have gone on to either be successful with us or successful on the sort of global stage. And yeah, they've we've absolutely taken that value from football and worked out through the rest of the business. And, yeah, we have, it's a really good business strong value, because I think, you know, sport, and if a sports organization, like like us, you know, we've been around for over 100 years, you know, we've developed that validates value significantly, and they've matured over a long time. Whereas, you know, some other organizations out there, you know, that are not football or not sport, you know, they don't have these values, so much sort of, within them say, trust, it's very important to be able to leverage that and kind of percolated out through the rest of the business.

Ryan Purvis  33:02  
You make me wonder, I mean, when you hiring someone, do you look at whether they've played sport or not? And what kind of sports applied to see if they are right fit for your culture?

James Grove  33:12  
Not not personally for me. So in the IT team, you know, we're a mixed bunch, really, some of the guys will, you know, we have Facebook, some of them are really into that. And it's not not important for me. But yeah, I think obviously, if you're if you're going into sporting role within, you know, yes, you'd probably have to have had some interest or understanding or qualification in sport. But yeah, no, not. So it's, I mean, the cultural fit for me, again, it goes back to the people. And I think, yeah, it just you we speak to candidates, and we have done recruitment recently around, just making sure that individuals that we're looking to bring in fit the culture, you know, we do ask them about our values, and whether they understand them or what they think of them. So, once they're able to speak about that we're able to sort of understand whether or not they'll be a good fit or not.

Ryan Purvis  34:01  
Yeah, I mean, what I was thinking while you were speaking, is that, that maybe not playing sport is important, but being involved in things where they've had to collaborate with others, because most of what we do now, specifically, when you're working remotely, it's been able to talk and share and, you know, trust other people, where it's okay to be an individual, but you've also got to be able to collaborate as a team. And there might be different forms nowadays. So

James Grove  34:29  
yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, we've actually brought in a couple of people into my team in the last year that that we haven't been able to meet and, you know, they've been working remotely, so they've had to develop those skills remotely and try and grasp the business remotely as well. A bit a bit like myself. So yeah, I think for us, it's all around. Yes, communication is a really big, big thing for us as well.

Ryan Purvis  34:53  
So what has been, I mean, you you chemises related months ago, you feel now that you're you're settled. I think probably instruments down the road. What do you What are you feeling like 2020? one's gonna be for you.

James Grove  35:04  
Yeah, I think I started talking about earlier. So, you know, I was I started in November before the pandemic, so I had about three months to orientate, myself and me, everyone that I could try and me and really, you know, get going, as I as I was, I was sort of planning and then the pandemic then came in, and we had to work remotely. And actually, at that time, March 2020, the, the whole of football was, was stopped for three months. So it was a huge, huge slap to the business. And so yeah, for me, my priorities changed, as you know, a lot of people across the world. And yeah, I think for us now, where we are a year later, you know, I just looking forward to getting back in into the stadium a bit more regularly, because, you know, most of our staff are still working remotely 100% of the time, working with a team in person. And, and as I said earlier, you know, for us, our operations, our normal operations are having match days and having fans. You know, there aren't that many businesses out there that invite 30,000 people head office every weekend. But that's what we do as a business. And, you know, looking forward to just getting that back, you know, as we were. And then next season as well, we'll start in August, September. So, yeah, just looking forward to the season kicking off and hopefully having a full stadium of fans.

Ryan Purvis  36:32  
I hope. So to just another question, the information security side of the cyber security side, does that fall under your remit? Is that a separate role in the organization?

James Grove  36:41  
Yeah, at the moment, it does, does fall under our remit. So I suppose that's probably an area that we've tackled head on in the last 18 months since I joined and had a had a bit of a strategy around that. So yeah, we look after and sort of driving a lot of change across the business at the moment in that space, I think going forward, but as we mature, you know, it'd be something that we can hopefully have a separate roll for. But yeah, we've got a couple of technical roles in my team that work in security. And then and then also myself sort of driving, driving the maturity forward. And we have other people in in our wider division that are experts in legal and risk and things like that. So we work quite closely as a team around cybersecurity.

Ryan Purvis  37:31  
Yeah, the reason why I asked the question is, obviously, the the amount of people who have come into the into the building potential. I don't say invaders, but there's always the opportunity for something to happen. They've been all remote. Now, you're not physically checking out your urinary or your sodium stuff. For example, you're the Office of how have you managed? Have you had people going into the office to to do pen tests and that sort of thing? Or has been mostly on the remote stuff?

James Grove  37:59  
Yeah, I mean, from a, I suppose, a couple of aspects, really. So we've, we've done a lot of work on sort of cybersecurity maturity over the last year anyway. So we've, we've just gotten through cyber essentials. So there was a lot of work that we did around that. And we've rolled out some new technical controls as well. So we upgraded our firewalls, we've rolled out different security versions of 365. And, and kind of, I suppose, you know, improved, improved, all the technical stuff that we can we do have regular pentesting. Anyway, every year, that's kind of one of our things that we do and obviously work off the back of those recommendations. But yeah, physical security. I mean, the stadium, we've got two sides of the stadium and the training ground, they're both both physically locked. By our I suppose our security team, we have a physical security team there. So people gaining access is is is fairly well regulated. But yeah, there's always that added risk being a football stadium that, you know, when we have 30,000 fans that fans potentially can get into areas that they shouldn't be. We did have an incident A few years ago, where, before I joined, apparently, where some fans broke into our office, I think they were just drunk. So I didn't mean any harm. But I think it was just one of those situations. I think, you know, we look at we look at how we can improve security, and it's more safety of people, you know, making sure that they are safe. And we've got quite a big CCTV system, which my team look after, as well. So that's where we're reviewing the relevance of that at the moment and what improvements that we may have for that. And I think if you probably seen the news, look at what happened in Manchester United a couple of weeks ago, they had protests fan protests break into their stadium, so it shows that it can happen and I'm not sure you know, those fans weren't injured. In doing any cyber security crime, but they you know, they they certainly were there protesting and I think it just shows you that you need to be ready for anything.

Ryan Purvis  40:10  
Yeah. Do you guys do anything around Business Continuity Planning and disaster recovery plans? That kind of stuff?

James Grove  40:16  
Yeah, absolutely. So it's one of those one of the things that we've worked on in the last year, especially with the pandemic. So we've got a cyber security partner that we work with now, where we are doing cloud backups of everything. So we've got an off site, we've got, we've got new off site backups for everything, as well as our site to site and other other backups, we have is obviously really important from a security perspective. And in terms of business continuity, I think there's just like a lot of businesses, you know, when when all of the staff were being told to work remotely at the start of March last year, you know, people were trying to roll out business continuity, you know, in real time, and he kind of made it, you know, there wasn't a business that had we were ready for that. I don't think so I think that it was it was just a case for similarly for us just getting our staff working, and then and then reviewing what we need to improve next time and, and then just adopting, you know, new ideas into those plans.

Ryan Purvis  41:18  
Yeah, I mean, I think we, I think everyone's been running in business continuity for the last year. But you almost need to have a new business continuity flavor. In case you never go back to an office where you would have almost the old fashioned way of doing business continuity to different sites, and whatever it is. Yeah, I think we're in for an interesting change in that sense. What are your thoughts on on working from home versus working in the office versus a hybrid? Sort of half an offer two thirds, that you

James Grove  41:48  
think it's really interesting, actually, because I've heard this discussion probably going around for the last six months or say, and I'm starting to think slightly different things about it, say, you know, I think this let's go back to, you know, before the pandemic, you know, tell me what business didn't have some kind of, you know, remote working capacity. You know, most most most businesses offered remote work into staff, most businesses offered flexible working to staff, most businesses were adopting some cloud in some way. And I think, yes, the pandemic accelerated a lot of that for businesses that were left behind. But I think going forward anything, there's going to be a I think there's, there's already been a shift, and I think there's going to be a shift. And if any, you know, not, we're not going to suddenly go right now, there's a line, where now all hybrid working, I don't think that's going to happen, I think it's very much based on the business that you're in the industry you're in, and it's whatever works best for you. So I think for us, you know, we've got to two locations, a lot of the people that work for us need to be at those locations to do their roles, not from a technology perspective, for people perspective. So I think we'll see, you know, that happen, and people will get back and, you know, and but it also, because everyone's been working remotely, for so long, we've now got digital practices that we didn't have before, you know, people, the adoption of teams went up, you know, from, you know, just a few 100, a few 10s of people to everyone in the company within, you know, within a month of the pandemic. So, now everyone uses that as essential, kind of comms platform. So I think, yeah, we'll see those practices brought into working from the office. Yeah, so I think it's such an interesting discussion, because that anything, there's there's one rule that one fit for any business really depends on on how you need to operate and how you have been operating. And I think those businesses that have publicly come out and said, you know, all our staff can now work remotely forever, and we don't need an office. And that's their use case. You know, that's their priority. And that's what they want to do, but it is not going to work for everyone. So I think, yeah, for us, it's going to be, let's get back in. But then we know now staff, I mean, at the end of the day, staff now have better remote working digital skills. That's that's probably the best, the best benefit from it.

Ryan Purvis  44:19  
Yeah, it's definitely pushed everyone up to the same level, or at least a German General common common understanding of how it could work and what's possible, which is which is great. I think we'll maybe ended up there and this is something else you want to want to add?

James Grove  44:34  
No, no, I think Oh, good. Really? Yeah. I was gonna tell you a story actually. from Phil good. Yesterday is a digital story that you might laugh about. And I just kind of made me laugh this morning. So I was out with my, my wife and two kids yesterday, and we will bring it we had a day out. And we were having a picnic. And we were just about to sit down and have lunch and I looked at myself And I had a notification saying that one of my online cameras had been offline for for an hour, and I thought I didn't think anything of it. I thought, okay, the internet's probably gone down at home. Don't worry. So we had lunch. And then I had a few minutes, I thought, I quickly check the camera now see if it's working. clicked on the notification that went into the camera. And I could see the camera at home, which is the one in the lounge, so I can see everything in the lounge. But I can hear in the background, a high pitched alarm, and I was thinking, well, hang on, what is that? I was on my phone to get right. Okay, let's check the other cameras. So I take some other cameras that we've got in the house and outside and I could hear the alarm as well. And we, you know, I didn't know what the alarm was, I could, I could think inside it's only gonna be the smoke alarm or something. So there I was sat there, we're about a half an hour away from home. I was thinking Hang on, it's my house burning down. You know, I said to my wife, I said, you know, can you hear that alarm? I said, you know, there's something going on for home was, Did we leave the oven on? You know, did we leave the hub on or something and I thought I can't see any flames. And then I checked our thermostat at home think I've been really paranoid now. I'm going to check the temperature in the house. And it was normal. So I thought, okay, it's not burning there. But then I said, What do we do? Do we go home now and find out what's going on. So luckily, my wife's mom and dad were in the area so she could see on, again, another digital city she could see on fine my friends on her iPhone. She could see that where they were she called them and say, Oh, you've got a spare key. Can you go in and see what the alarm is? We can hear an alarm on the camera. Anyway, so 10 minutes later, they arrived. They came in and they found that it was our, our digital doorbell, our front door. Smart doorbell has somehow reset. And was beeping really likely, like a fire alarm? For some reason never had to do that feature. They called us back and said no, it's fine. I think this day says I think there's been a power cut. And I think that's what's happened. It's just reset everything in your house. And that like kind of explains why the camera was offline for an hour. So I just saw when I got home yesterday. So it's so funny, you know, you've, if we didn't have any of these digital products at home, we wouldn't even know that was happening. Yeah, and we've got them all in as a solution. But they caused me a massive problem yesterday, cuz I just had no idea what was going on. So yeah, I just thought it was funny. And I told my team this morning, because I just thought I was in a bit of a predicament yesterday. So

Ryan Purvis  47:45  
I can totally relate to that. I've got cameras back in the house in the UK. And I've got cameras on the car, you know, because the costs are with us. But it's got a solar panel to charge. But when I put the solar panel up, I wasn't really sure if it was on the iPad, it was charging, so I left it, but it got to a point where obviously was not charging just enough. And I had to get a friend of mine to go and move the solar panel to get the right sun. But I was like it defeats the whole object of having cameras at your house. Because if it doesn't charge, it's gonna run out of battery that I'm gonna lose the eyes anyway. So you're still dependent on some some manual intervention, which is where you are with your parents who needed someone to go and check on the house. Which may be you know, if you didn't have all the technology, you wouldn't worry about it. So

James Grove  48:32  
it's very it's very interesting. Do I need to add more sensors in the house cheaper and find out more detail What's going on? there? Yeah, just just just occurred to me that, you know, my wife said, you know, she doesn't really get involved in any of these things. And she said, you know, you've got all those cameras. You know, you know, you shouldn't shouldn't need to watch them all the time. And yeah, it's just it's just funny how we have our homes now as you know it everywhere and smart. They become really ingrained in our lives. They just did a really interesting

Ryan Purvis  49:04  
it's a great story because the other thing that I want to do, which I don't know if you've looked at is having smart switches that turn the lights on and off and you can because we've got a really nice kitchen dining room lounge area, but the sun comes in there. So as as the sun comes over in summer, you get sunlight for about 1130 till seven o'clock Australians that room, but people leave the lights on then it bugs me because I want to get smart spotlights switches with with some silence detection to see to see the strength of the sun and dim the lights appropriately to zero and then bring them up as the sun goes down. The lights come up. Complete complete hobby fetish. I can understand what your mind is. Don't worry.

James Grove  49:47  
Yeah. Yeah, I'm a bit a bit. I'm always a bit of an early adopter for consumer technology. I might say. Some always Yeah, if I see something that's cool. It's not too expensive. I'll try.

Ryan Purvis  50:01  
So what do you think you need to do? You can add a backup system to your current system to doorbells.

James Grove  50:07  
Yeah, I don't know. I think Yeah. Now we know what it is, then that's fine. But we do you know, like, unlike a lot of homes, you know, you have a smoke alarm anyway, don't you know? Not necessarily smart, but everyone has them. So yeah, that's exactly what I thought it was. So yeah, you kind of just hoping you never, you know, have to have to use it at all.

Ryan Purvis  50:27  
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And you almost want to have that that 3d representation of your house, on your photos, you can see a 3d representation, you can see the smoke alarm going off or not, you know, all the sensors that will tell you what's going on each room. Yeah, definitely, definitely. The Dream

James Grove  50:43  
thing. Yeah, I think a lot of modern homes, I'd imagine now have, you know, at least some sort of integration built in automation. For smart tech. You know, as I said, it's a bit a bit like a football stadium where, you know, it was built many years ago, you know, had it been built 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, it probably would have a better fiber connected into it or, you know, better ducting and things like that for wiring. So, you know, it's just shows you how the did did like the age we live in now is not been, you know, we haven't had so much in terms of Connect connectivity hasn't been a huge thing until the last sort of 10 years or so. So it just shows you how quickly everything's advanced.

Ryan Purvis  51:27  
Yeah, yeah. It's funny, because the house we've got in the UK, which it was, it was a new build. And they actually put the Ethernet cables in. There was one of the reasons why I wanted one of that house was it was a new build. And to me fascinates me when you go and look at a house now even when it's built in the last five years, and they haven't done it you like but surely people should know by now that you need these things, especially with like 4k TVs and 8k TVs. You can't miss it. You can't really push this stuff over Wi Fi. We always get a great experience out of that. So the speed or some of the stuff isn't isn't pulling things along fast enough in other areas. Yeah, totally agree. Yeah. What's the best way for people to get hold of you if they want to get in contact?

James Grove  52:08  
I'm quite active on LinkedIn. So yeah, just search my name on LinkedIn. And, you know, I get a lot of messages on there. Try and respond to as many as I can. Just feel free to drop me a message or, or a connection. And that's probably the best the best place. Sounds good. Thanks

Ryan Purvis  52:27  
very much for coming on the podcast. Right. Thanks, Ron. Cheers. Thank you for listening to today's episode. Here, the big nose our producer, editor. Thank you, Heather for your hardware for this episode. Please subscribe to this series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at the DW w podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on the website WWW dot digital workspace that works. Please also visit our website www dot digital workspace that works and subscribe to our newsletter. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues.

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James Grove

Head of IT at Southampton Football Club

I am a Head of IT demonstrating high levels of business acumen, understanding business demands and handling the day-to-day management of the IT department, infrastructure and systems development. I have experience of leading numerous projects from inception to completion, all within time and agreed budgets. I am able to keep a level head at all times, evaluate opportunities and risks and also deliver innovative new solutions to challenges. I bring strong leadership capacity, the ability to analyse services, recommend change and implement improvements.