Interview

London 2012 IT team passes the baton to Rio 2016 Olympics

Angelica Mari

It is all done and dusted. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) has passed the baton to its Rio 2016 successor after a debriefing event to provide the Brazilian Games hosts with the lessons learned from the London Olympiad.

The debriefing event lasted for eight days, three of which were dedicated to technology – the International Olympic Committee (IOC) puts a big focus on IT at the start of the event given the sheer amount of technology-related detail that goes into the Olympic Games.

The event in Rio was attended by 330 people, including the entire IT team of the Rio 2016 committee – currently 40 people, but expected to be 400-strong at the peak of the Games – headed by CIO Elly Resende, and 16 staff from Locog, including the London 2012 CIO, Gerry Pennell, as well as heads of various IT areas from results technology and telecoms services to service delivery and operational readiness.

According to Resende, the debrief conversations started last year. More thought started going into it at the start of 2012 and the fine detail was decided just after the London Games closed.

"At the Paralympic Games, we had a more in-depth discussion of what we thought would be relevant to approach during the debrief, but we didn't decide on it by ourselves – it was something done in partnership with the IOC and Locog," says the Rio 2016 CIO, in an exclusive interview with Computer Weekly. 

"So the end result was an event where Locog provided most of the content and we validated the process as the main receiver of the information," he says.

The Technology Plan for Rio 2016

The Technology Plan follows the Rio 2016 “Master Schedule” model, which determines the main activities, milestones and outputs of the technology programme during the seven key planning phases specified for the next Summer Olympics.

Operational planning – September 2012 to July 2014

The main output expected in this phase is to have an Integration Test Lab live.

Testing – August 2014 to January 2016

The main objectives are:

• Technology Operation Centre (TOC) operational

• Equipment Deployment Centre (EDC) operational

• All Games Management Systems live

Readiness – February 2016 to July 2016

From the start of the year of the Games, the main goals for IT in Rio during the Readiness phase will be:

• All technology at the venues live

• Perform test events

• Perform technical rehearsals

• Deliver radio spectrum for the Games

Games time – August 2016 to September 2016

The key objectives for technology while the Games take place will be:

• All technology at the venues live

• Results system live

Dissolution – October 2016 to July 2017

During the final phase after the end of the Games, the main goals for the technology team will be:

Removal of technology equipment from the venues

• Technology post-Games report

• Financial report

• Technology debrief for future 2020 Olympic Organising Committee

The themes of the debrief

Plenaries took place at the start and end of each day. Pennell presented at the plenary sessions, where he covered themes such as the lifecycle of the IT work for the Games and relationships with partners. His final session focused on the human element of the 24x7 Olympic operational jigsaw.

Between the general presentations, breakout sessions were held, in which the technical details around the technology used in London were discussed. Locog presenters took the delegates through the material and a chairman from the IOC or Rio 2016 would facilitate the session.

Topics discussed at the Rio IT debrief focused on four key areas: time scoring and results; business IT, including areas such as asset management; operations; and venue planning, where aspects such as logistics of fitting equipment at venues were debated.

"The event was divided that way so that we could get as much information as possible about the most critical IT components we deal with during the Games, with IT positioned not only as a provider but receiver of resources from other parts of the organisation," says Resende.

"However, the goal was to get insight of how things worked in London. We didn't have a lot of space to get into a conversation about how Rio would be and what we should be doing," he says.

"As customers of this programme, we requested the information with what we wanted to better understand in mind – it wasn't enough just to know how London did things in IT, but also why those decisions were made. That was very relevant to us," adds Resende.

Key highlights

Resende says that although all of the content provided by Locog during the debrief was "extremely useful", the main takeaways of the event were around mobility and the effect of the internet – especially social media – on the Games. In particular, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approach taken by Locog was of real interest to the Rio IT team.

In London, staff were allowed to use either their own kit or the devices supplied by official sponsors. The consumer angle is also something the Olympic committee watched closely, and offering services such as the London 2012 mobile app, which had 12.5 million downloads, is a top priority. With Brazil becoming the fifth largest social networking population in the world, with internet user penetration set to hit 48% of the population by 2016 according to Nielsen Research, this is a crucial area of focus.

Brazil also has significant challenges around infrastructure to support that future demand. The country has auctioned 4G spectrum for the World Cup in 2014, but the winners were mostly companies that have barely managed to cater for 3G demand and voice services. In July, the government imposed an 11-day ban on signing up new clients on three of the four big mobile phone firms in the country – one of them being Claro, an official partner of Rio 2016.

If London encountered challenges with its already stretched mobile network, how will Rio be able to cope during the Olympics in 2016? Resende was keen to stress that the country has what it takes to deliver the required services.

"I'm not sure that our scenario [in Brazil] is so different [to London]. Even though the UK is a more developed country than Brazil, there is still the need for a communications network that is robust and scalable, planning and so on. And London had challenges in that respect as well," he says.

"London had some great planning and preparation for the Games, the delivery took place in the correct timescales. But running IT for the Games is not a very simple task and London also faced challenges that are typical of an event of this size, anywhere in the world. We also have our backbone, our structure, as well as partners which will support our needs," adds Resende.

We learned a lot from London 2012. The challenge is huge, but it's also a great one

Elly Resende, Rio 2016 CIO 

Working in partnership

Rio's main partners – telecoms suppliers Embratel and Claro – worked alongside Resende and his team in the run-up to the London Games and took part in major milestones, such as test events and technical rehearsals.

"All our key partners took part in these events and were also present at the debrief. Just as London did, we are also working very closely with many of them – Atos Origin, for example, has also commenced work at the Committee in Rio, so we start to have more of a physical proximity, building on the London experience," says Resende.

The Rio CIO adds that the work in London allowed a "very good insight" of what lies ahead in four years' time. "Gerry and his team were very helpful and willing to share information they found useful and relevant with us," he says.

Even though London managed to deliver the Olympics seamlessly in all aspects including IT, the Rio IT chief takes nothing for granted.

"I once joked with Gerry and thanked him for raising the bar so high in terms of IT supporting the Olympics. But I actually think that we learned a lot from London to do our own work. It is true that the challenge is huge, but it's also a great one," says Resende.

"Our Games will be different, without a doubt, because they will be the Rio Games, with our characteristics, with our 'Braziliality'. But we are working hard to plan well, execute with quality, and leave nothing to be desired."

From Beijing to London

The Locog IT team that delivered the debrief in Rio

• Paula Booth, head of results technology services

• Brian Cook, head of service delivery

• Adrian Corcoran, head of venue technology services

• Bob Cottam, head of business technology services

• Chris Payne, head of technology operational readiness

• Nigel Swinbank, head of technology programme management

• Emma Young, head of telecommunications services

• Gerry Pennell, CIO

This is the second debrief of Gerry Pennell's Olympic experience – he was on the receiving end of the Beijing committee event in 2008 before contributing in Rio this year. What has changed in that four-year period?

"I would say the big difference between the London and Beijing Games is around the impact of the digital consumer," says London 2012's Pennell.

"In 2008, the iPhone had been out for only a year and didn't have such a big penetration in the consumer market. Now most phones sold are smartphones and there is an expectation to use those devices to get access to all kinds of data," he says.

"That means the organising committee needs to think about these things very carefully in terms of the services it is going to provide to address those consumer needs."

But the London Olympics IT chief says the trickier challenge is around the underlying infrastructure to support spectators' needs.

"You need a mobile infrastructure that can cope with the demand. When you have a lot of people in the same place, at the same time, trying to move heavyweight data around, you can see a problem coming. What we didn’t want to happen [in London] is to have people turning up at the venues and not being able to do these things, or indeed, make a phone call," he says.

Fostering effective relationships with Olympics suppliers is another major learning from London that was covered at the debrief in Rio.

"[The suppliers] are all different, they have an enormous amount of Olympics expertise, some of them have done previous Olympic Games and you have to work with them in a certain way. Then you have others which haven’t done this before, and you have to work with them in a slightly different manner," says Pennell.

"You have to be thoughtful and intentional about how you work with your sponsors and providers to deliver the technology for the Games – you have to think about the kind of relationship you want to have, the number of times you want to interact with the providers and at what level in your own organisation that relationship is going to take place," he says.

"The main guy may be me, but I can’t manage every single part of every supplier relationship that we have. So you have to be very clear about what your priorities are."

However, given the sheer amount of technology work and the tight schedule ahead, Pennell says the key takeaway from London is about getting planning right.

"It is all around the understanding that in the last year of the organising committee’s life you will be going through an extremely busy time of technical rehearsals, test events to getting the operations ready. That is preceded by three years which is where Rio is now, so it is very important to use time effectively," he says.

Photo: Rio2016.com


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