In Athens this summer, the organizers of the Olympic Games will attempt a technological feat never tried before at the Games: recycling.
No, technology staffers wont be collecting discarded Evian bottles for the deposit, but they will adapt technology used successfully at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City for reuse in Athens. Recycling technology may seem like common sense, but it didnt concern the International Olympic Committee and the host organizing committees in the past. Instead they built a huge infrastructure, ran a world-class amount of traffic across it for three weeks, then tore the whole thing apart and started over in the next city.
That approach not only made developing the systems slower and more risky, it also drove up the cost, a factor the new president of the IOC has sworn to bring under control.
Jacque Rogge—a three-time Olympic yachter, former member of the Belgian national rugby team and an orthopedic surgeon, who was elected president of the IOC in 2001—is reorganizing many areas of the Games to attempt to cut costs.
“We changed our strategy, starting in the Games in 2002 in Salt Lake City,” says Phillippe Verveer, director of technology for the IOC. “Everything related to the [information system] for the media and the Internet will be the same basic solution we used in Salt Lake City.”
The uber-conservative IOC has not announced any cost-savings targets, but the stakes are counted in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With hosting a Summer Games costing $3 billion overall and a Winter Games $2.2 billion, organizers fear the price tag will not allow not-so-wealthy countries to host the Games in the future.
Technology is one of the big-ticket items. Verveer estimates that the technology alone for a Summer Games starting from scratch costs about $400 million, and the price tag for a Winter Games is roughly $270 million. According to press reports, the 2000 Sydney Games information systems cost IBM at least $100 million, but the price tag could have run as high as $200 million. IBM wouldnt comment.
The IOCs recycling policy should keep technology costs from rising as steeply before the next Winter Games in Turin, Italy, in 2006, Verveer says, but it hasnt had much of an impact on Athens. The Summer Games are so much larger than the Winter that the Athens group has had to continue buying new gear, but has reused the scoring systems, scoreboards, servers, PCs, networking equipment and games management systems.
The IOCs recycling policy should keep technology costs from rising as steeply before the next Winter Games in Turin, Italy, in 2006, Verveer says, but it hasnt had much of an impact on Athens. The Summer Games are so much larger than the Winter that the Athens group has had to continue buying new gear, but has reused the scoring systems, scoreboards and games management systems.
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After Athens, however, the IOC will have a full-size technology kit in place and should be able to show some savings through recycling. If Verveers cost estimates are correct, after two of the four Olympics for which it is contracted, systems integrator Atos Origin should hit its budget goals: It will have spent $670 million and still have $530 million—or 44%—left of the $1.2 billion it budgeted for all four Games.
That should be OK if the IOC is able to keep the Games from growing any larger than they were in Sydney, which is Rogges goal. The number of accredited participants—which is probably the best indicator of the demand on services at the Games—grew 54% between 1988 and 2000, from 130,000 to 200,000. The IOC is trying to hold that number steady for 2004.
“We cant promise to reduce the cost of the technology, because the Games keep getting bigger, but we can slow its growth,” Verveer says.
Reinventing the wheel the way Olympic organizations have been doing sounds like the kind of inefficiency global corporations would never tolerate, but in fact its more the rule than the exception in decentralized companies with many business units, according to Chris Curran, managing partner for technology strategy and architecture for DiamondCluster International, a management-consulting firm.
Not that all of the Athens Olympics will match node-for-node with the 2002 version. For one thing, Athens will require twice as many servers (900, mostly from Sun) and PCs (10,500, mostly from Dell) as the Salt Lake City Games needed. Most of the carryovers will be updated, however, and slotted into similar roles. The custom-designed software is a straight carryover, however, as are the data-network designs and other designs, as well as the critical timekeeping and scoring systems.
The main application set is called the Games Management System (GMS), which was written specifically for the Salt Lake City Games by European systems integrator Sema, which had the Olympic technology contract at the time. The software automates the scheduling of events, transport schedules for athletes and volunteers, and accreditation for the 200,000-plus “actors” of the Olympics—media, VIPs, volunteers and staff of various contractors. A separate application, the Information Diffusion System (IDS), collects the scores and times and disseminates them to the media and various Web sites.
IDS runs on Solaris servers with an Oracle database. GMS runs on Windows servers and SQL Server databases, according to Claude Philipps, chief technology integrator for the Athens Games.
The systems that manage the Games and keep results get priority over other applications such as accounting or human-resources software. “The success of the Games is very visible. So what is important is to be perfect in what is visible,” says Verveer. “It is much more important to have the timing [systems] perfect than if there is a bug in the accounting systems.”
To see true cost benefits, Verveer says the knowledge about how to build and maintain the software, security measures and data also have to be recycled. Indeed, the IOC built such a knowledge transfer into the contract it signed with Sema. Good thing, too, because Sema was acquired by Schlumberger in 2001, to form SchlumbergerSema, whose information systems business was then acquired by Paris-based Atos Origin last year.
“One of the things we do is move key people from Games to Games,” says Philipps, who has worked for Sema, SchlumbergerSema and now Atos Origin. “We also have the full process of knowledge capture using Web tools and document-management tools to let us share processes and procedures worldwide.”
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What You Should do to Create an Olympic-Class Project
TALLY YOUR SCORE.
Meet frequently to lay out expectations and make corrections quickly.
KEEP THE TEAM TOGETHER.
Dont keep mixing up who works with whom, from project to project.
Set down procedures, solutions to known problems and best practices, then circulate.
RECYCLE TECHNOLOGY AND IDEAS.
Design network and data infrastructure to outlast generations of hardware and software.