• Wed. May 22nd, 2024

The power and pitfalls of dashboards

ByMedia desk

Apr 11, 2024
Erwin Beltman

Erwin Beltman was the head groundsman for stadium De Kuip in the Netherlands between 2013 and 2022. In that period, the field was voted the best stadium field in the Dutch Eredivisie eight times in a row. These days, he works as a consultant and shares his experiences about achieving good turf pitches on Sportsfields.info. Today he discusses the dashboards that help monitoring the effectiveness of products and tools.

Digitalisation is on the rise in the field of groundsmen or greenkeeping. More and more suppliers of technology and products offer access to dashboards that allow users to monitor the work or effectiveness of their tools or products. I welcome this development because it enables groundsmen and greenkeepers to use their investments more effectively and to better support their work or the advice they give to stadium management. The latter is important, given the increasing trend of stadium or golf course owners to maximise the exploitation of the field or golf course. In the past, groundsmen and greenkeepers had to rely on gut feeling or common sense to explain the potential consequences of certain plans. Now, they can use graphs and tables to reinforce their claim. This is information that managers often understand better. So dashboards can be very useful. However, they also deserve some critical attention.

Data from other sources

One of my first experiences with a dashboard was with the one SGL produced for their grass growth lighting system. In addition to being able to switch the grass growth lamps on and off or set the lighting programme, the dashboard also enabled you to see how similar units were being used in other stadiums. This allowed me to learn from colleagues elsewhere.

Integrating data from other similar environments seems to have become common practice, as I hear several other suppliers (of other services or products) also praising this functionality. On the one hand, this is a good thing, but on the other hand, I would like to warn that every situation or environment is unique. Clearly visible results at one location do not necessarily mean that the same results can be achieved at another location by copying the settings one-on-one. Every location is unique, and delivering a good grass surface requires much more effort and coordination.

Required boundary conditions

Another point of criticism I have often made about dashboards is that they are almost always only in English, despite the high standards that are pursued in several non-native English-speaking countries. In recent years, much progress has been made in improving and visualising information that is presented on a screen. In addition, we receive digital information in more and more places, which has conditioned our brains to better read and interpret the data. This is especially true for the brains of the upcoming generation: they don’t know any better than to absorb and interpret digital information. Nevertheless, I consider it a shortcoming when a dashboard is not in one’s native language. Since everything is technically possible these days, a translation should be easy to realise and facilitate.

I also think it is important that such a dashboard is accessible via a smartphone and that it remains clear on the smartphone, given the smaller screen size. It is a fact that as a groundsman or greenkeeper, you need to be on or next to the grass to keep a good eye on developments. You also want to be able to correlate your observations on the spot with what the figures say, without having to carry a tablet or laptop with you.

Not combinable

But what bothers me the most is that you cannot combine the dashboards of the various suppliers for different solutions in one screen, let alone have the different technologies interact with each other. As a groundsman or greenkeeper, you are still forced to keep multiple tabs open, interpret information, and decide yourself how you want to use the different resources and technologies based on the various data. Each supplier uses its own software or computer protocol to present information. While open source is now common in many other applications, it seems to be a long way off for dashboards for products or services for sports field or golf course management. That is such a shame, and we are doing ourselves and society a disservice. If we really want to achieve sustainable management and a sustainable society, then linking information, in order to better coordinate activities so that you can save water, fertiliser or energy, should be a priority.

Understand the material

Many dashboards link the functionality of the solution with input from one or more sensors to achieve a correct calibration. The number of sensors plays an important role here. Three are usually sufficient; one in the centre circle and two at the head of both penalty areas. This gives you a clear picture of the condition of the field. If you choose to have more, you will also need to be better able to interpret all the information.

However, the latter is unavoidable because you cannot combine the input from the different sensors or measuring points of the different suppliers. Technology is therefore an important tool to achieve a certain goal, but it is certainly not the final solution. That remains the groundsman or greenkeeper, regardless of his experience or education. It is those hands and feet that can make the difference. That is why I continue to plead that we should not forget to continue investing in them.

Erwin Beltman is a former groundsman of Stadium De Kuip in Rotterdam. Between 2013 and 2022, the stadium field was voted the best stadium field in the Dutch Eredivisie eight times in a row. Today, he is director of Master in Grass and consults and advises fellow groundsmen.

The views or information he shares in his articles are not necessarily the views of the publisher

Next time I will discuss new developments around autonomous mowers and tools

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