How the digital twin of the Tour de France can help build the future organization

by Peter Gray

13 August 2021

Tour de France location view

I’ve been a big fan of the Tour de France for many years and, living in Australia, that means lots of late nights, or trying to avoid the news until you can watch the highlights the next day.

Since 2015, I’ve had the incredible privilege of leading the NTT technology team supporting the digital transformation of the world’s greatest cycling race, something that’s right in the sweet spot of two of my biggest passions – data and cycling.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, over the past two years, I’ve been forced to do so from 17,000km away in Melbourne. However, thanks to the work we’ve been doing to create a digital twin of the Tour de France, I have a front-row seat, not just to the race, but to everything that’s happening around it.

From day one of the seven-year journey we’ve been on with Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) – the organizers of the Tour de France – data has underpinned everything we do. The first step in the process was leveraging the data from sensors on each bicycle to track the riders’ speed and position.

Starting with capturing the speed and location of every rider we’ve shown that by digitizing something – first the race and now the entire event –opens up a host of possibilities, some of which might not be initially obvious.

The remarkable thing about data is that it has value far beyond its original purpose. Once you’ve captured data it can be used in many ways, enabling organizations to create new processes and services and drive efficiency.

Digital version of a TDF stage

Digitizing the Tour de France provides race organizers with full visibility of all event operations

The data gathered by sensors has enabled us to create a digital twin of the Tour de France, mirroring the physical route and incorporating dynamic data about riders, race vehicles and even weather in a digital form and making it available to race organizers.

Digitize as many touchpoints as possible

When we talk about creating a smart organization, we’re talking about digitizing as many touchpoints as possible, be they bicycles in the Tour de France or an oil rig in the middle of the ocean.

Once you digitize enough touchpoints, you’ll start seeing a more complete vision of your organization, enabling you to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to find patterns and correlations. These are critical in highlighting opportunities for changing the way you approach your business.

We’re seeing this idea take off around the world. The New South Wales government in Australia is creating a digital twin of the entire state, giving them visibility into all the elements, natural and human-made that impact the provision of services.

While much of the talk centers around digitizing touchpoints in the physical world, the same applies to digital interactions. More data around customer interactions can enable a more focused approach to marketing and customer segmentation, key elements in optimizing each engagement to drive a better customer experience.

Digitizing Tour de France event

Creating this digital view of an entire organization isn’t a new concept, but it’s only now that we’re seeing the convergence of sensor technology, the networks capable of supporting them and the smart systems capable of interpreting the data and presenting it in a way that creates actionable intelligence. One of the key research initiatives inside NTT is the creation of the Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN), a network that can accommodate the vast amounts of data that the sensor-rich future is likely to generate.

Legacy-heavy organizations have the most to gain

For some organizations, it will be easier to embrace the idea of creating a digital twin. Those operating mostly in the digital realm already have a head start on organizations that operate large, traditionally unconnected manufacturing operations. However, the potential benefits to these legacy-heavy organizations from increased visibility presents significant opportunities for optimization.

Digitizing every touchpoint across an organization isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight. And for anyone looking to move further along the path, there are some key areas that should be considered

  • Use every opportunity to capture data about business processes and customers

Even if you’re just starting on your journey, the data you collect today will form the foundation of the future data-driven organization. Intelligence, driven by AI and ML systems, relies on large amounts of historical data, so your efforts today will pay dividends in better insights later. For the Tour de France, we leverage data from seven years of race results to improve the predictions that our NTT Predictor can provide, allowing it to improve every year.

  • Look at relevant external data

No organization operates in a vacuum. Understanding what external factors can impact on your business allows you to start incorporating the collection of this information early on. For the organizers of the Tour de France, weather data is critically important as it will impact the speed of the race as well as overall safety. Incorporating this into the digital twin model enables them to make decisions quickly, decisions that might prevent serious consequences later on.

  • Don’t try to do this on your own

Creating the appropriate level of digital visibility isn’t something that any organization can do on its own. The level of expertise required across IoT, networking, cloud and security means that multiple levels of specialist skills are needed and with such a rapidly evolving field, staying abreast of the latest technologies while focusing on your business objectives is extremely challenging.

Working with A.S.O. in evolving the digital footprint of the Tour de France has given us unapparelled insight into how to partner with our clients to ensure that they can leverage the latest technologies in pursuit of their business goals.

Fans, myself included, just like any customers for any organization, look for data to enrich and enhance their experience. We’re continuing to do this each year with A.S.O., looking for ways to create novel customer experiences.

I’m so excited about what we can co-innovate together over the next few years, not just for those who follow the race digitally around the world, but for the millions of fans who line the roadside every year as we continue to evolve the world’s largest connected stadium.

The next step in the journey starts at the Grand Départ Copenhagen 2022 and I certainly hope I’ll be there to deliver and experience it first-hand.

Peter Gray

Peter Gray

Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology Group: Sport