People may argue whether Derek Jeter is a better shortstop than Jose Reyes, but they most likely won't debate the success of big-data or the cloud.
Throw in social networking, and you have a trifecta of today's powerhouse technologies. You may not have thought, however, about how fantasy sports bring these three tech trends together -- and the business implications of this growing phenomenon.
Approximately 25 million people participate in fantasy football leagues in the United States today, up from about 16 million in 2007, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Kids under 18 account for almost 3.5 million of that total, representing the second-fastest growing age category.
Fantasy sports have moved beyond the exclusive pastime of (mostly male) adults fixated on the performance of pro athletes to a new group of teens and younger kids who are finding fun in sorting through all the statistics surrounding professional sports.
Why the growing allure in fantasy sports among these young people?
Because it enables them to capitalize on their favorite tech hobbies -- searching the web and social networking.
Today's newly minted young fantasy sports fans have uncovered the joys of discovering valuable information and statistics about athletes, which they can use to predict the athletes' future performances. And they love sharing the information and their predictions, as well as boasting about their results, via Facebook and Twitter.
In the same way that online games honed the virtual collaboration skills of the previous generation of teenagers who are now at ease working in dispersed workgroups via web communications tools like Skype or WebEx, today's adolescents are learning how to assimilate multiple data sources into valuable insight that can help them compete.
This trend has important implications for businesses in the real world.
Today's young fantasy sports fans will become the next generation of corporate workers, and they will arrive more attuned to the power of data, and more adept at finding and using data to make decisions.
These "digital natives" will enter the workplace with proven skills that can help organizations respond to the escalating big-data challenge. They will have grown up unafraid of online services and be very comfortable converting numbers into action.
They will be happy to capitalize on a widening array of rapidly evolving cloud-based business intelligence (BI) apps and analytic tools to obtain the information and insight they need to perform their day-to-day jobs.
These cloud BI and analytic tools are already starting to democratize the way data is dissected and distributed around an organization. A growing assortment of established and emerging players are putting simpler, yet more powerful, BI and analytic tools in the hands of corporate end users who are learning how to employ them to target their marketing and sales efforts, as well as better serve and support their customers. These older workers are also getting more comfortable sharing their insights via social networks.
The next generation of corporate employees, trained on the virtual fantasy sports fields of Yahoo, ESPN, and elsewhere, will arrive at the doorstep of their new employers even further up the statistical analysis learning curve.
Just like those recent college grads who are quickly finding jobs as social networking pros within corporations and other institutions, today's teens will become attractive new recruits for businesses grappling with big-data that don't want to depend on a select group of data scientists alone. That's a winning formula no matter how you crunch the numbers.
— Jeffrey Kaplan is managing director of strategic consulting firm ThinkStrategies; founder of the online directory, the Cloud Computing Showplace; and a loyal Boston sports fan.