By Steve McCaskill
The Olympic Games might only take place every four years, but it can be a headache for IT departments. Just like Euro 2016 earlier this summer, many employees will want to watch events while at work and on the corporate network.
Although much of the action will take place after office hours and weekends, a significant number of events will take place in the afternoon, as Rio de Janeiro is just four hours ahead of the United Kingdom. That's before you consider nearly six million Brits work on evenings and weekends.
"Coverage will be hard to escape; more than 4,500 hours of content will be available live online and its potential to disrupt the workday is substantial since a number of events will be conducted during working hours. On Monday, for example, 21 events will start between 1pm and 2pm BST," said Jim O'Neill, analyst at Ooyala.
According to research conducted by Riverbed, the 100m, tennis and 200m are the events most likely to capture attention, with Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray and Mo Farah the three most popular athletes. Many heptathlon events, sprint heats and tennis matches will take place before its time to clock off.
The BBC will live stream just about everything on its website and mobile app, and in some cases will broadcast in data hungry 360 degree video too.
The most obvious issue is productivity. The average Brit is expected to watch six workday hours over the 15 days of the Games according to a survey commissioned by Sporting Index, which predicts workers will be paid £1.6 billion for these 'lost hours'.
But it's an IT issue too. Streaming will inevitably place strain on the network and potentially harm the performance of important business applications or front facing
Half of IT professionals expect employees to access live streams via their computer, 34 percent a smartphone and 18 percent on tablet. Eighty-five percent plan to monitor network and app performance during Rio 2016 and only 38 percent are confident in their ability to safeguard critical software.
So how to avoid these problems? The simple answer is to block everything Olympic related. A quarter of respondents say they will limit network activity to some extent, but that's not going to go down well with the workforce, 88 percent of whom would be happy to watch at work and half of which would be prepared to pull a sickie to watch their favorite events, according to the Daisy Group.
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) recommends employers are flexible and agree to pre-arrange times when staff can watch sport on a big screen and remind them of social media policies.
"Allowing people more flexibility in how and when they do their work makes them happier, cutting absenteeism and raising productivity," agreed TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady.
A blanket ban would also encourage workers to look for alternative streams and leave them vulnerable to phishing attacks on social media.
Security firm Proofpoint found that 15 percent of all accounts claiming to be associated with the Olympics or its partners were fraudulent and the prospect of live streams was one of the methods used to lure in victims. This compares to the BBC live streams which will be more secure.
"While it may seem easier to simply blanket ban any live coverage during working hours, this will only leave employees feeling demotivated and encourage them to look for other means of viewing events," said Chris Hodson, EMEA CISO at Zscaler.
"In turn, this could result in an increase in absence from the office and leave employees open to social engineering attacks, as their vigilance is lowered as they look for alternative means to stream events."
But when the BBC has 24 live streams of coverage a big screen might not be the ultimate solution. Apart from some Blue Riband events, agreeing to watch the same thing could prove difficult. Some might still choose to watch individual streams on their PC or smartphone, using up bandwidth.
The answer, say experts, is network monitoring and traffic prioritization. Admins can ensure critical apps have the bandwidth they need, while less important tasks—such as streaming—are treated as second class citizens.
Admins can review the Olympic schedule and make plans for more popular events, such as the 100m race or tennis, and perhaps limit bandwidth for handball which is not as poplar among British sports fans.
Naturally, this creates yet another consideration. If the BBC website or iPlayer has been blocked, limited or traffic is given a low priority, people might turn to their smartphones. This might reduce network pressure, but people might resent using their own data. And, it could be costly if they’re on a business-owned device.
"We saw a 38 percent increase in traffic during the Euro 2016 tournament," said Eidar Tuvey, Wandera CEO. "The combination of improved stream quality and employees' increased tendency to use internet browsers and data-hungry apps while abroad is a concern for our enterprise customers. Particularly due to bill shock events, security risks and loss of productivity."
During London 2012, the workforce was encouraged to work from home or take holiday, while significantly more events took place during office hours. Rio 2016 won't create quite the same strain on networks or see more people pull sickies, but it's important to make sure your IT department is prepared for the world's global sporting festival.