Racing the Olympic clock

With the 2000 Summer Olympic Games having just crossed the finish line,

officials have passed the baton to the organizing team for the 2002 Winter

Games in Salt Lake City.

Signs of the 2002 Olympics are still rare in Salt Lake City, but the

team integrating and testing the systems that will operate and distribute

information for the games is already racing the clock.

"Just like Atlanta and Sydney, we operate on the idea of dates that

won't slip," said David Busser, chief information officer for the Salt Lake

Organizing Committee. The systems "absolutely, positively have to work"

come Feb. 8, 2002.

The committee's task presents an example for federal IT managers who

face building massive IT systems under immovable deadlines.

Busser will spend about $300 million on IT for the games. Federal agencies

are expected to provide $1.3 billion overall for operations that include

security, facilities, road construction and intelligent transportation systems.

The committee has not outsourced the IT work but is actively building

the systems with the help of sponsors that supply the hardware and software.

One big challenge for the committee is that for the first time in 40

years, IBM Corp. is out of the games. The International Olympic Committee

and IBM ended their relationship in 1998. "No one company does what IBM

does," Busser said. "We put together a consortium of companies to do what

IBM did before."

The consortium is responsible for supplying the hardware and software

used to monitor and manage the games; the telecommunications used to transfer

voice, fax and data; and Internet sites. The consortium is led by Sema Group,

an IT services company based in France and the United Kingdom. Other official

sponsors supplying IT include Gateway Inc., AT&T, Qwest Communications

International Inc. and Lucent Technologies.

"This will be the first nonmainframe

Olympics," Busser said. Midsize servers will handle Olympic data.

In November, the committee will begin testing Olympic IT systems by

using them to operate and record events at live world-class sporting competitions.

Those events rely on the Salt Lake City systems but also serve as a drill

for the unexpected, he said.

Ticket sales, volunteer recruiting and information distribution for

accredited visitors take place online. IT is used to manage the operation

of the games and provide immediate information to TV commentators, Web sites

and other media.

"The Internet from game to game continues to grow," Busser said. "In

addition to being a source of information, it's also really a business platform."

Busser expects the Web site to receive about 20 billion hits, with 15

billion projected to occur during the games. To keep the site up at all

times, the committee has seven data centers that will run more than 100

servers for the Web traffic.

Busser is confident the IT systems will work, and the reason for his

confidence is a valuable lesson, said project management expert Michael

Dobson: Everyone is absolutely clear on what the goal is. "You can trace

an enormous amount of the quality in a project back to who knew what the

goal really was," Dobson said.

Much like government IT projects, the Olympic systems have limited budgets,

they must be ready on schedule, and they involve integrating hardware and

software from several vendors.

George Molaski, Transportation Department CIO, said he expects to learn

a lot from the Olympic team's experience of coordinating with local, state

and federal agencies to manage security, transportation and emergency management.

"Not only do they have to share information...they have to share information

horizontally across governmental agencies [and] also vertically between

organizations," Molaski said.

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