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What VAR can teach us about digital transformation

VAR Blog 2

by Laura Harris

There are valuable lessons to be learnt about implementing technology from the recent football controversies

Discussions and debates around VAR have been a regular fixture of the Premier League since it came into place in 2019. However, officials and the technology have come under increased scrutiny recently, leading to conversations about its use going forward. 

For those who missed it, the controversy stems from the recent Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool match. Liverpool scored a goal which was wrongly called offside by the linesman. VAR reviewed the decision and agreed with the official and the match restarted. This was despite replays clearly showing that the Liverpool player was onside. If this wasn’t bad enough, following an appeal by Liverpool, Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) released the audio from the goal. The recording revealed the VAR official describing the offside check as “perfect” before he realises his mistake 22 seconds after the goal and play had continued.

Apologies have been made, internal reviews are being conducted and it will be hoped something similar won’t happen again anytime soon. But hiccups like this, where miscommunication leads to costly errors, aren’t limited to football. They happen in pretty much all industries, and there are things both football and wider organisations can learn from them. 

Training and processes

With VAR, it's usually the technology that gains the most attention. But it’s important to note that the wrong decision in the Spurs vs Liverpool game wasn’t down to technology, but human error. No matter the industry, if you want digital solutions to be a success, people need to be front and centre.

To help prevent human error, employees that are using important technologies need to have the right training and skills in place to use them in the correct way. At the same time, systems can change, so providing training at regular intervals will help limit mistakes down the line. 

Also having clear processes in place that staff can understand and follow will reduce the risk of errors occurring. It will limit confusion while also guaranteeing that mistakes are identified and addressed immediately, preventing them from repeating. 

Co-designing and getting buy-in

With VAR, one of the main talking points around it since its implementation has been that everyone, from coaches to pundits to fans, have different ideas on how it is or should be used. These contradicting views mean that when errors occur they can create more anger and frustration then there needs to be. 

To avoid confrontations like this, it’s important to get the buy-in of key stakeholders when implementing new technologies. Co-designing platforms with the input and consent of all concerned, while also providing clear communication channels to raise issues, will help ensure everyone is behind the decision and minimise any outcry caused by mistakes.

Learning from others

When VAR errors occur, a lot of the talking points you will hear are around how you do not see similar mistakes in Rugby or Cricket. While there are many reasons for this, it should highlight to all businesses and sectors the importance of following best practice. Going it alone when putting in place digital solutions, especially ones that you have not used before, can be a risky undertaking and lead to a range of errors being made. By speaking to and learning from those who have undergone the process before, a lot of that risk can be removed. 

It doesn’t look like the controversies around VAR are going away any time soon. But, while football is a whole different beast to most industries, there are things organisations can learn not just from the Spurs vs Liverpool debacle, but its use as a whole when it comes to implementing digital solutions. Through training, co-designing and learning from others, putting in place and harnessing technology can be a smooth, well run process that benefits everyone.

Laura Harris's avatar

Laura Harris

Consultancy & Change Director

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