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CIO interview: Daniel Marion, head of ICT at Uefa

Football might be Uefa's core business, but without IT and the cloud that underpins it, the company's commercial activities would not function

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The IT department at Europe’s footballing governing body is constantly working on future events, and rapid technological change means no event is the same as the previous one.

The organisation has almost all of its IT in a private cloud provided and managed by telecoms company Interoute.

The IT challenge is twofold. Uefa’s B2B systems must provide its customers – the international broadcasting companies – with services to allow them to package their own broadcasts of the European Championship, which run every four years, and the annual Champions League competition.

Meanwhile, Uefa must deal with the substantial logistical challenge of running football events. With 40,000 participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators to co-ordinate, the critical systems must be fail-proof. One failed delivery of equipment or denied access for an official could be disastrous.

Then there are the websites. Uefa.com drew more than 172 million visitors from more than 200 countries last season. This is estimated to rise to over 246 million visitors during this season, which includes the Uefa Euro 2016 competition. 

On top of this, underpinning the organisation, is the core IT system. Uefa’s football administration management environment (Fame) application supports the management of all its tournament logistics for players, sponsors, guests and the media, and is accessed by more than 12,000 users a year from 173 countries.

Harnessing cloud benefits

Cloud computing ensures that Uefa has the elasticity and agility required to run all these things and commercialise major footballing tournaments. The infrastructure that supports the websites and broadcasting is cloud-based and has been provided by Interoute since 2011. Uefa has 98% of its IT services – such as digital media and back-office systems – on Interoute’s platform.

Daniel Marion, head of ICT at Uefa, said it would not be possible for Uefa to use its own infrastructure: “Building capabilities to do this is so far from our core business.”

“The most important thing is having the players and referees on the pitch, the fans in the stadium, but after that a reliable IT infrastructure is also critical for our organisation”

Daniel Marion, Uefa

Marion runs a team that oversees the delivery of all IT systems, ranging from operational IT supporting the organisation and its 500 staff to the systems to provide broadcasters with live coverage.

At a time when digital technology is revolutionising the way people watch sporting events, organisations such as Uefa – which make money selling broadcasting rights – must harness the latest IT if they are to benefit financially. 

Preparing for Euro 2016

The IT team at Uefa has been working on the 2016 European Championships in France since 18 months before the previous event in Poland and Ukraine in 2012.

“Most things have been decided for Euro 2016 and we are in execution mode. From January to April we’ll start going into the venues, making sure everything is connected, and from April to May we will take over the stadiums to finalise the infrastructure and get ready for the matches,” says Marion.

Next year’s event will last longer and have more teams playing at more stadiums than any previous event. “Technologically speaking, we have put in place a lot more solutions for mobile and tablets than we had in 2012, as we and our industry move towards more apps.”

Marion says the foundation of the IT used for Euro 2016 is what is used for every other competition, such as the annual Uefa Champions League and Europa League. “We refresh the solutions for our competitions on a yearly basis. The challenge for the Euros, or any competition, is more often from an organisational perspective, the challenge of working in different countries, than it is the technology.”

He estimates that the European competition will use 70-80% of what was used at the most recent competitions. “The back-office functions will generally be pretty similar from a business process perspective, but then for other things we have to implement different things from scratch, like the network we put in place and the integration with the different authorities.”

Marion also has 2020 on his mind, when 13 cities in 13 different European countries will host the event, with more teams and matches than ever before.

“We are in a planning phase at the moment for Euro 2020, working on concepts and opportunities to change the way we operate, how best to source different resources from local football associations, stadiums in countries, how we move the images and footage from one place to another,” says Marion.

“The biggest challenge I see for 2020 is how we will staff and operate in the 13 different locations in different countries. We are currently working out what is the best way to build the teams to run the event.”

Fail-proof services

When it comes to IT fears, cyber security and natural disasters are the biggest concerns. “In terms of IT we are pretty safe. We don’t like surprises, so we put in place what we need to have – backups and backups of backups. That said, cyber security is always something we take very seriously, and, of course, severe weather could cause problems for the tournament as a whole, not just the ICT department. Cyber security and unpredictable disasters would be the biggest concerns.”

While IT is not the core business of Uefa, Marion says it ranks high as a priority. “The most important thing is having the players and referees on the pitch, the fans in the stadium, but after that a reliable IT infrastructure is also critical for our organisation. This is especially true when, like ours, your services are delivered live. When the football is on, you need the infrastructure working to deliver it to the fans.” 

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