Only 6% of respondents believed that football clubs still used fax machines.
Jesper Frederiksen

A sign of the times

When you look at any thriving industry, you expect the companies leading the way in the sector to be at the cutting edge of working practices. This assumption naturally extends to the technology that they use in day to day operations. Yet, looking at one of the world’s biggest businesses, football, there are significant shortcomings in the technology that is deployed considering the vast sums of money that are at stake, not to mention the hopes and dreams of many fans.

The latest football transfer window shone a light once more on how these archaic practices continue to feature in the game. Clubs buying and selling players for tens of millions still rely on fax machines as part of the transfer process. Given that the first iteration of the technology is older than the game of Association Football itself, this is surprising, to say the least.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

At a time when organisations across all sectors are making the shift to paperless practices, the fact that such a prominent industry is shunning these advances is an anomaly. Neither is this just conjecture. Only 6% of the general public believe that football clubs still use the fax while only 9% have used one in the last 12 months, according to a survey conducted by DocuSign. People just do not think that the technology still has a place at the top table of business, so why should football clubs expect to attract and retain the best talent to drive business operations?

Employees want to work with technology they are familiar with and provides them with the speed and agility that will help them fulfil their potential. They don’t want to be working with ponderous technology that they have no idea how to use. If the football industry continues to approach back-office technology in this way, it could risk losing its brightest employees to other industries.

For many however, changing industries is not an option; I’m thinking about the players. Clubs send these incredibly valuable professional athletes through state of the art medical examinations yet still consider the fax machine as an appropriate vehicle through which to finalise a big signing. This constitutes a big gamble for numerous reasons.

Speed is of the essence

Firstly, many of these big deals are very time sensitive. Should a club want to get a deal over the line before a competitor is alerted or need to meet tight deadlines, speed and reliability are of the essence. This season’s first transfer window famously demonstrated the limitations of the industry’s current technology. Manchester United’s David de Gea was denied a lucrative transfer to Real Madrid as the fax machines of two of the world’s biggest clubs failed to co-operate. As a result, one club lost out on multiple millions whereas the other lost a potential employee who could have made a big difference to the performance of both the team and the business. A simple technology upgrade in the back office would have avoided this and kept business moving seamlessly at the top level.

Security must also be a concern when such huge sums of money are involved in transactions between clubs. Taking the transfer system totally digital would ensure signatures could be attributed to individuals through multi-factor authentication and timestamps could be applied, which would be a great safety net for those clubs trying to prove that big deals were pushed through before the deadline.

For football to excel as a business, it needs to apply the same level of commitment that it has begun to show in recent years on the field, to operations behind the scenes. If it does it will be able to truly reach its potential and lay the foundations for even greater progress on the pitch.

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