CTO: Out of the park

For a guy who started out of college taking tickets at stadium events, helping drive the San Francisco Giants' IT operations is a dream job. 'It's always fun to get up and go work at the ballpark,' says John Wilborn, Giants CTO and MIS director.

          For a guy who started out of college taking tickets at stadium events, helping drive the San Francisco Giants' IT operations is a dream job.

          "It's always fun to get up and go work at the ballpark," says John Wilborn, Giants CTO and MIS director.

          "In the last two years, we've seen the new ballpark and then Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs. It's a really exciting time to be part of this organisation."

          Although Wilborn had little to do with helping Bonds set the major league home run record in 2001, he was a key player when the Giants' Pacific Bell Park opened in April 2000 to rave reviews for technology innovations that measurably improved fan experience.

          More than two years later, Wilborn continues to drive park improvements.

          The 32-year-old Wilborn has seen his career move along a clear path, starting with managing stadium events fresh out of college to helping deploy one of the most tech-savvy stadiums in sports.

          Wilburn helps oversee technology infrastructure that includes automated turnstiles that scan ticket bar codes upon fan admittance, allowing the Giants' database to track attendance and record a wealth of information. Automatic ticket machines allow for easy purchase inside and outside the park. Luxury seating offers voice, modem, and DSL lines. Players and coaches have access to a DVD-based system that allows them to watch videos of Giants hitters and pitchers from various camera angles.

          Since the stadium's unveiling , Wilburn has helped expand the ticketing database to include new features such as the Double Play Ticket Window, which enables season ticket holders to sell their unwanted tickets on the Giants' website. He is also involved in expanding the video coaching system to the Giants' minor league teams.

          "We've launched a lot of exciting things, and we intend to do more," Wilborn says.

          Wilborn's IT strategy has been developed in partnership with his boss, the Giants' CIO Bill Schlough. "Bill and I are a good team," Wilborn says, adding that working at the ballpark isn't just fun and games because he is charged with overseeing mundane tasks such as system monitoring and desktop and server upgrades to Windows 2000.

          The IT executives need to be sure the advanced systems at the park run uninterrupted.

          "We've implemented a very structured environment based on policies and procedures that has allowed us to have great success," Wilborn says.

          A ballpark can be a relaxing place, but the IT department can't miss its marks. At Pac Bell Park, however, it all runs so smoothly that Wilborn makes it look as easy as a Barry Bonds home run.

          The Giants' technology system "creates a more efficient ballpark," says Tyler McDaniel, an analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based Hurwitz Group, an industry research and consulting company. "With its automated ticket machines and the understanding of crowd flow and ticket sales, [the IT system] really helps management of the park plan better and allows them to create a better experience at the ballpark."

          Wilborn followed his interest in event management to grab a job as a manager at the 1994 World Cup soccer games in Dallas and worked as an event manager at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He then journeyed to systems integrator Banctec Inc. in Atlanta.

          Next at bat in Wilborn's lineup for the Giants is possibly extending wireless connectivity for fans to order food and other items from their seats. It is, he says, a logical next step in creating the most comfortable environment for customers. "We want to extend the fan experience," he says.


          John Wilborn, San Francisco Giants

          -- Title: CTO and MIS director

          -- Reports to: Vice president and CIO Bill Schlough

          -- Mission: To provide customers with responsive service and to help the Giants' business units reach their goals and objectives through technology

          -- Education: BA in Spanish from University of North Texas in Denton

          -- Career path: Manager at 1994 World Cup soccer in Dallas; event manager and technician at 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; project manager at Banctec in Atlanta

          -- Biggest challenge: Trying to select technology that will be here tomorrow

          -- Mentor: Mother, Mary Ellen

          -- Favourite website: ESPN.com

          -- Favourite escape: Hawaii

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