Olympian Efforts

Olympian Efforts

Ben Bradley talks with Xerox's Olympic point-man Vince Schaffer, about teamwork, outsourcing and making mistakes

In his role as director, Worldwide Olympic Operations since 1993, Vince Schaffer has managed Xerox's global sponsorship of Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney, Salt Lake City and now Athens. He is responsible for delivering operations implementation, technology, service, contract management and logistics prior to and during this month's Olympic Games.

Bradley: Let's start with the past. What have been some of the major IT mistakes made in previous Olympics? And how will you make sure these mistakes are not repeated?

Vince Schaffer: In Atlanta in 1996, there were problems with file distribution. Xerox generates thousands of results reports for press and IOC [International Olympics Committee] officials at every Olympic Games. The file issues in Atlanta meant that everything ran a bit behind schedule for the first few days.

We were able to work around the issue by utilizing our backup plan, which allowed a single copy to be faxed from any competition venue to the Village, Main Press Centre (MPC) and International Broadcast Centre (IBC) where the documents were needed, and then printed and made available. For mission-critical applications such as the "results" applications, there are always backup procedures and redundancies built in.

Each Olympic Games comes with a unique set of challenges. Knowing this, the technology providers start preparing and testing two years before the Games actually begin. This allows plenty of time to run various scenarios and devise backup plans. Our weeklong TR-2 [Technical Rehearsal 2] on June 18, 2004, where we tested technology, process and communications, had significant improvements over TR-1.

Bradley: What is it like doing tech in a remote place, in a less than perfect environment?

Schaffer: The Sydney and Greece Games had little or no manufacturing or large warehousing for Xerox. We had to plan as if we were an island unto ourselves. We must guarantee that we can sustain ourselves during the Games. All equipment earmarked for the Games was in the build plan one and a half years before the games and onshore six months before the games. This helps keep the emergencies to a minimum. The same is true for the paper consumables, and so on.

My mantra is "always be ready for anything". And even if you are ready, you still have to have a plan in case something goes wrong. The answer during an event as large as the Olympics is to have a core group of technology sponsors on loan and ready to help out. In Atlanta, there was a drive to use biometrics for accreditation. Even though biometrics was not at that time a proven technology, there was strong desire to push the technology and not use barcode. However, a sage from a previous Games insisted that we not delete the barcode. In the end, the biometrics did not come to pass for many reasons but the steadfast barcode saved the day.

With the changing locations for the Olympic Games, infrastructure is always a concern - taking into account different laws, different technology, the different speeds at which people work, and the like. There is always a learning curve about working with the local culture and how the difference in culture could cause potential IT problems.

For example, Xerox used more fax machines for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games than we ever have. This is because in Greece they still love the fax machine! They feel more secure sending information via fax than e-mail. We had to change our equipment allotment to meet this request.

Also, in Europe there are 220 volts, which was good for us to easily access and plug in our equipment. If there was a blackout, we had generators for mission-critical applications.

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