Complex software throws a strike for tournament |

Complex software throws a strike for tournament

John Seelmeyer

So here was the challenge:

Develop software to allow the easy management of schedules for some 25,000 women bowlers who will play about 200,000 games in Reno over 81 days.

Allow them to register themselves and their teams from anywhere in the nation, get them onto the right lanes at the right times — maybe even letting them pick their preferred lanes and preferred times.

Then allow them to see their scores and standings in real time no matter whether they’ve just stepped off the lanes at the National Bowling Stadium or returned home.

Oh, and make it so transparent that no one thinks that it’s anything but the way that these things always have been done.

The cloud-based software that keeps the United States Bowling Congress 2013 Women’s Championships in Reno humming was developed by The ACTIVE Network Inc., a San Diego company that specializes in participant-management software.

The publicly held company, which posted first-quarter sales of $106 million, develops software to handle tasks that range from registration for a marathon to purchase of a fishing license.

The project for the United State Bowling Congress proved surprisingly complex, says Philip Rowcliffe, a senior director in the strategic accounts group of The ACTIVE Network.

“Bowling is not as simple as you might think,” he said last week.

And the software development grew increasingly complex as the bowling association’s leadership began seeing possibilities that they hadn’t dared think about before The ACTIVE Network’s programmers began work.

The work began with development of a fairly straightforward online registration process, a process that’s old hat for The ACTIVE Network after it’s developed hundreds of registration systems for events ranging from Little Leagues to corporate conferences.

In fact, the fees that The ACTIVE Network charges for registration account for about 90 percent of the company’s revenue.

But then the United States Bowling Congress started thinking bigger.

Topping the group’s wish list: The ability for approximately 25,000 bowlers in to see, in real-time, whether their preferred lanes and dates to participate were available.

The tournament, which began April 12 and runs through the end of June, involves more than 5,000 five-player teams who compete on 44 specially constructed lanes at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Adding to the complexity is division of the competition into three divisions based on skill level.

“Prior to ACTIVE’s solution, bowlers had to fill out paper forms and wait to hear by mail if they secured preferred dates and times,” says Jason Overstreet, managing director for marketing and communications with the United States Bowling Congress.

Through the 10-week event, bowlers can see real-time postings of team and individual scoring leaders by each division. And, for friends and family who can’t make the trip, a Web cam at shows the action as it unfolds.

After resolution of a few minor problems, the sorts of things that occur whenever complex software is rolled out, The Active Network bowling system appears to meeting its goal of working transparently for thousands of bowlers, Rowcliffe said.

And he said the company’s programmers believe they’ve met their goal of wowing the tournament’s back-office staffers, the folks who otherwise would be shuffling reams of paper.

The project, he said, wasn’t a one-off job for The ACTIVE Network, which works with organizations in about 15 major participant sports.

The company now hopes to market the tournament-management system to the thousands of bowling tournaments scheduled each year around the nation.