Ben Levitt, SDM ’12: Using Systems Thinking for Sports Analytics and Defense

The Monday Morning QuarterbackBen Levitt By Ted Bowen
March 8, 2013

SDM ’12 Ben Levitt excels at the detail-oriented aspects of engineering—whether in his work at Raytheon or for MIT Sloan’s acclaimed annual sports analytics conference. The senior systems engineer at defense contractor Raytheon has won accolades for weeding out bugs and inefficiencies and for guiding complex projects to timely completion. Moreover, as a designer/developer for the Sloan conference, he created two of its most popular events. Now, as Levitt looks toward tackling more technical and complex projects both inside and outside of the workplace, he’s finding the key is not just accounting for more variables, but also factoring in whole new categories of variables.

Levitt, trained as an industrial engineer, incorporated some of that discipline into his work as systems developer, project manager and efficiency expert. He started out as a manufacturing engineer with an eye toward efficiency and minimizing defects. At Raytheon, he adapted his techniques for improving manufacturing processes for use in systems and software engineering, and testing his calculations through complex software algorithms and models. He went on to focus on systems and software engineering for missile defense systems including following his products through the entire product lifecycle. And he received a Raytheon Technical Honor award in 2010.

As an undergraduate, Levitt gravitated to industrial engineering because it draws on other engineering disciplines to produce tangible results. In a similar fashion, he sees the MIT System Design and Management program as a way to tap into and integrate seemingly disparate bodies of knowledge to solve complex problems. He chose SDM for its dual engineering and management focus and for its flexibility, which has allowed him to concentrate on subjects most relevant to his current job and the next stages of his career.

Levitt said the SDM program’s management strategy offerings were eye-opening. For example, he learned how personnel strategies could affect quality in ways that are not immediately apparent, but become especially relevant in tight deadline situations when employees are tired, but there is still zero margin for error.

His academic focus includes engineering systems, interoperability, and corporate innovation. His evolving research delves into the dynamics of system interoperability and systems safety in the defense industry.

As a welcome break from the defense world, Levitt, who competed in cross-country for Division I Lehigh, was a student organizer for the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, held March 1st and 2nd. The student-run conference, named the Super Bowl Of Sports Analytics by Forbes magazine, was in its 7th year and attracted over 2,700 attendees.

Levitt was given the authority to build two panels—an in-game coaching session entitled "Monday Morning Quarterback" and another called "Big Data". He developed the panels and lined up participants from sports, business, media and technology sectors.

The in-game coaching panel used video and audience interactivity to encourage the panelists, a collection of the NFL’s best coaches and managers, and the audience to explore the use of analytics in all aspects of play calling.

The big data panel, composed of the world’s best data experts, discussed how tomorrow’s top athletes, coaches and sports franchises can turn petabytes of ‘motion capture’ and multispectral data into competitive advantage.

The Monday Morning Quarterback: In-Game Coaching Panel included (left to right) Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos; Tony Reali, host, ESPN’s Around the Horn; Thomas Dimitroff, general manager, Atlanta Falcons; Brian Burke, founder, Advanced NFL Stats; Ben Levitt, panel producer/developer and SDM ’12; Herm Edwards, ESPN football analyst and former head coach, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets.
Photo by SLY Photography

Ben Levitt